Taking Refuge in Tea

Well, today has been one of those landmark days that I have been trying not to think about.  My small person had her last day at nursery today.  They had a little party planned so we parents all packed them off this morning with cake and other sources of sugar, deposited them at the nursery door, and ran before anyone could get too emotional or before the nursery staff realised how much sugar the children were due to consume and tried to call us all back. I was kind.  I put booze in the teachers’ goody bags to get them through it.

While I have been on leave I have taken to nipping to Toft once a week for a brew and some crochet time, and my friend has started to join me. Toft is pretty local to me so it is a nice place to go and hang out and they don’t look at you strangely if you get out a hook and start crocheting as that, after all, is what they are all about.  Today I headed there to distract myself from the events of the day, and indulge in my other daily ritual / obsession – tea drinking.  I take tea drinking to Olympic levels, and have to regulate my intake.  Most of it is driven by the ritual of doing something comforting, and so tea and yarn go hand-in-hand for me.  Plus a cheeky cake. Nom nom.  They do a fine brew and chew at Toft.  Plus you get to say hello to their adorable alpacas and fondle yarn.

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Toft Studio is a barn conversion with a cafe at one end, a workshop space at the other, and lots of yarn and other knitting and hooking goodies in the middle. It has the most peaceful atmosphere and the friendliest staff working there.  You feel welcome there, and welcome to linger.  I don’t make many toys, although I do have a copy of Edward’s Menagerie, but I have made one of the Toft shawls.  It was in a fine alpaca and silk mix yarn (which was a so-and-so to frog when you needed to fix a mistake), worked on a tiny 2.5mm hook, but the finished scarf looks amazing (much better than these pictures would suggest) and it is one of my favourite makes, even though it was one of my early projects and therefore full of mistakes.

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Anyway, back to today. I managed to finish the new version of the Christmas shawl (minus edging) and get that on the blocking wires before I headed out for my cuppa.  So I was bathed in an air of mild smugness that only comes from finally nailing something that was on the to do list. Fruit crumble shortbread was in order. With tea. I think this habit of going there once a week is one I am going to try to maintain when I am back at work.  It has been good for my soul.

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I have test shawls to make for the pattern photos, but other than that I feel on top of my ‘must do’ commitments.  The problem I now have is that I am itching to either make something totally new so I can challenge myself a bit, or something that is just as a treat for me (i.e. socks in one of the special yarns I have been keeping for just such an occasion).  I am not sure which way I will wobble. I probably just need to find the right thing in my masses of books and patterns. And a brew will probably help too.

The Frogathon

So this week hasn’t quite been the hive of creativity that I had hoped it would be.  On the positive front, I have finished Shawl Number 6 and I am really pleased with how it has come out, and Shawl Number 5 has come back from the pattern testers with a thumbs up and only minor tweaks and so all I have to do now is one final check of that one and it will be ready for uploading.

On the less productive front, I finished and then frogged the Christmas Shawl I was working up.  The pattern was getting very complex and the finished product was a bit too flouncy and old fashioned.  I like traditional shawls, but this was just a bit meh.  So I sat and re-balled the whole skein I had just used, slept on it, and came up with something much better.  I am now whizzing through this new one and it is much better. Phew.

Frogging and generally screwing up a good idea is an essential part of my design processes.  I often start something full of enthusiasm and high expectation only to find myself staring at it after each row, worried that it isn’t working, or that parts of it seem ok but others are not, and the decision to either frog or even bin the thing has to be taken.  I don’t bin very often, but there are various abandoned projects around my room, like this wrap (see below) that I started and had to give up on.  I kept what was left because I liked to colour mix, and I liked some parts of the stitch pattern, and I wanted to remember that.  What I need is a big yarn scrapbook to stick these remnants into.

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But messing up a good idea, or accepting that the idea wasn’t good enough in the first place, is always a good thing in the end.  It makes me focus on what doesn’t work, and the brief of what I am supposed to be doing, rather than going all self-indulgent.  And goodness knows that I am self-indulgent enough in other ways.  You just have to look at my stash to know that.

I was planning to get some garment designs nailed this week but I just haven’t had the time.  Lots of family stuff and a small person who just seems to be in overdrive at the moment means that I haven’t managed to achieve the list of 1000 jobs I had set myself.  Anyway, I have some more time before I have to go back to work for playing with yarn.  I will see what I can achieve in this short time.  Maybe I will get the Moo-Ra pattern out finally (still need to type up the updated version) and a few other bits.  But I have to remind myself that this isn’t a race.  I will get it all done eventually.  I just need to be patient with myself.

Sketching with Yarn…

So last week was all about roughing out some new shawl designs, but I have been trying to reflect a bit on how I go about coming up with a design.  It has been pretty hard to pin shown, as I guess most creative processes are.  It is also a pretty personal process and so this is just how I manage to do it and I am sure it is a process that I will refine as I do more of it.

I tend to start off with a bit of a concept that I am trying to explore.  Often I will sketch out (usually on a piece of scrap paper with a biro) the type of shawl (or other garment) that I want to try to achieve.  I have a think about the stitches I could use to achieve the shape or to create some texture in the pattern.  At that point I have to grab some yarn and a hook and start to play with some opening stitches.

At this point the yarn tends to inform how the pattern and shape of the shawl will develop.  Often I succeed in recreating in yarn the design I had in my head, but somehow it lacks interest once it is made up, and I will end up frogging the work to start again.  Free-styling stitches until I find a combination that pleases me seems to be the best way to develop a project.  It feels a lot like I am still sketching, but with yarn rather than with pen and paper.

Once I have a few rows nailed I can start to write up the instructions for the pattern as I go.  I have to work a few rows at a time, as sometimes you realise that Row 10 isn’t working because of something about Row 8 which needs to be tweaked.  For the shawls in particular what I am aiming for is to find a set of rows which can be repeated (and memorised) and which will maintain the shape and texture that I want to achieve.

I don’t always have a fixed shape for the shawl in my head.  I like to try out different shapes, just to see how easy they are, and sometimes I will see how the shape develops as the shawl grows  I enjoy playing with the overall shape of the shawl and the shapes I can create within it.  I try to keep the stitches fairly straightforward so that a beginner could achieve the final project. Often it is the use of hand-dyed or variegated yarn that makes a pattern look special, or the use of colours (as in the Beating Heart Wrap), rather than the complexity of the pattern.

I wish naming shawls came a little easier to me.  I find that part really hard. It is hard not to come up with something really obvious or really naff.  So here is my challenge to you:  give me some new shawl concepts to work with by suggesting some names that could inspire me to create a shawl around them.  Maybe that way it will be easier, and you can join me on my creative fumblings!

The Yarn Emporium

This week has been strangely productive.  I am not used to this. I confess that on Day 1 of being at home on leave I wandered around the house, too afraid to settle down with a hook in case I discovered I was hallucinating.  I eventually stopped pacing the house and settled down in my yarn room for a bit of a tidy up, a yarn squidge, and to have a think about some project ideas I had been playing with. Tuesday saw two of my yarn friends dropping by to invade my yarn room.  Now, to put this into perspective, my yarn room is my office with a big 4×4 Ikea unit in the corner which contains all my yarn, books, sewing machine (I have a dinky one) and other yarn paraphernalia. But I do have quite a bit yarn stash – about 50% shop bought commercial yarn and 50% hand-dyed loveliness.  I was in denial about how much yarn I had because it was all tidied away, but this also meant that I had lost track of what I had.

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So my lovely friend, who is now on maternity leave, offered to come and catalogue my stash into my Ravelry account.  She has recently done it for her own stash and has slight OCD compulsions and so enjoys this.  She also just wanted a chance to squish my yarns and be nosy, but I don’t mind as other people’s stashes are always interesting. Our system was that she typed in the yarn details into my computer and the yarn was then ferried to me (initially by a small child) in another room with good light where I took pictures.  After about 6 hours we had managed to get through most of the hand-dyed and all of the commercial cotton yarn, but I still have other yarn to add in.  The best bit was when she emptied one of my bins of hand-dyed yarn on the floor and just launched herself, baby belly and all, into the middle of it.  I couldn’t get to my camera fast enough, but let’s just say her expression said it all. This was the aftermath.

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When you have had your yarn catalogued, there is no getting away from just how much yarn you own.  Its even worse when you know it only represents half your stash.  I don’t have a stash, I have a yarn emporium.  I toyed with the idea of a de-stash, but to be honest now that I knit socks there isn’t a skein of yarn that I can’t think of a project I could use it for.  So I have decided that I really, really need to go hard on the yarn ban until I can empty at least one of these bins.  I am not sure what a respectable stash size is, but I am pretty sure I am not respectable.  I am a yarn harlot.

The best thing about it, however, is that I have a fantastic range of yarns to use when I am designing something.  For example, I decided to elevate this example of a Dye Candy OOAK baby camel and silk yarn from a yarn pet (it is sooo soft) to project yarn.  This has been a revelation to me – it moves and behaves completely differently to a standard merino sock yarn and its a pleasure to work with. My friends have suggested a new blog feature entitled ‘squish of the week’.  I may yet initiate this.

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So now I am busy hooking up prototypes for new shawls.  I have Shawls 6 and 7 on the hook, and the concept for Shawl 8 is on the sketchbook and is next to be played with.  This is so much fun.  And I haven’t even got onto the non-shawl projects yet!  Time to go squidge some more yarn…

Beating Heart Wrap

So the other thing I was working on whilst I was away last week was a quick final test of the Beating Heart Wrap.  This is shawl number 4 of shawl club and I designed it a while back using yarn from Unbelievawool and Jo.Knit.Sew that I had in my stash.  I am not normally a pink person but I love the way that the pink contrasts with the black and white variegated yarn.  The spike stitch reminds me of an EEG trace and so that is how the wrap got its name. The shawl pin is a Knit Pro one which works well with the colours I used.  The  shape is a bit unconventional but when it is folded over is creates a nice shape around the shoulders.

To make it practical for shawl club, I needed to change the colours to 3 x 50g skeins.  Sam sent the new colours to me a while ago, but they arrived during a particularly crazy time.  Then time caught up with me and I realised that I needed to get the new colour way version done immediately.  So the long drive to the south coast and the first day or so of the holiday was spent hooking up the shawl club version, which also showed off the alternative ending of a button to secure it, rather than a shawl pin.  Personally I still feel a shawl pin gives you more flexibility about how to wear this, but the button is often more practical, and is certainly less expensive.

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So the shawl club colours give the wrap a very different look – sugar sweet candy colours with a glittery handmade button from the amazing Cross Crafts which matched the yarn perfectly.  If you fancy making this yourself, you can find the pattern here.

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Hot Beverages and Sandy Balls…

So, I have just returned from a week by the seaside with the family.  It was a much needed break for all of us – a rest for the head and the heart.  As normal, I overpacked yarn, and came home with more than I took because I was able to meet up with Sam from Unbelievawool whilst I was there and she gave me some more to take home with me – one set of yarn for the next shawl, and another set of skeins which are part of a blanket club that I belong to.  So much for reducing the stash… But as you can see from the main picture, there was a lot of sitting on beaches or the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a project on the go.

I did manage to get some crocheting done (more of that in my next blog), and once that was done I had a go at the Arwen pattern from the new Truly Hooked sock book, using a merino / mohair mix yarn from Jo.Knit.Sew.  Those socks turned out to be the main project for the holiday.  I am not a very confident knitter, and although I can do the basics and a bit of intarsia (badly, usually), lace work and mock cables are new to me.  I also had to use YouTube to learn how to do long tail cast on, which now I have mastered it I can see will feature a lot in my future projects. The yarn overs between knit and purl stitches are what drove me to despair initially though.  I got there in the end but not before ripping the first sock back to the beginning about three times.  But once I nailed it I was pleased with the results.  I have the socks on the blockers now -I have just finished the second sock in the last half and hour – and so I will try to get a good picture to show you how well they look.  I am not sure I would make such pretty sock very often, but I learned a lot from making them, and I am sure someone will appreciate them for a gift.

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The price of creativity, however, is pain.  I have developed a hole in my right index finger from repeatedly using it to push the tip of the circular needles through the stitches.  It doesn’t look like much but trust me its quite deep and very sore.  Apparently I am not the only one who has one of these little holes in their finger, which makes me feel a bit better, like I have now earned some sort of badge of knitting honour.

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When I got back home my DK socks I had just finished before I left for holiday were ready to come off of the blockers.  These socks are special for two reasons: they are for me, and they are made with yarn I dyed myself at the retreat last year.  They look amazing and are so soft.  And they have blocked so well. These DK socks always looks a bit of a funny shape when they are done but they are so smart when they are blocked.

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It is late now so I am going to got to bed, and I will blog again about my crochet exploits in the morning.  The knitting needles are being put away for the next two weeks whilst I go into crochet overdrive.  It is time to get some of my project ideas out of my head and into reality…

Newborn ‘Scraps’ Hat

As promised, I have written up the instructions for making the little newborn hat that I made for my friend’s baby from the scraps left over from the baby blanket I made for her.  The yarn I used was Sirdar Snuggly DK in cream and one of the Snuggly ‘Crofter’ colourways.  Any super soft baby yarn will do and you only need small amounts. I used a 4mm hook.

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UK crochet terms are used throughout.

Row 1. Using the main colour yarn (in this case cream) make an adjustable loop, chain 3 (counts as 1TB here and elsewhere in the pattern) and then 11TB into centre of loop.  Slip stitch into top of Ch3.  Pull tail to close the loop. (12 stitches)

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Row 2. Chain 3, TB, then *TB between the stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along, then TB into that next stitch**.  Repeat from * to ** 10 more times so that you have 24 stitches (including the Ch3), and then slip stitch into the top of the Ch3 to close the circle.

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Row 3. Chain 3, TB, then TB between the stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along. *2TB, then TB between the last stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along**.  Repeat from * to ** to the end of the circle so that you have 36 stitches (including the Ch3), and then slip stitch into the top of the Ch3 to close the circle.

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Row 4. Chain 3, 2TB, then TB between the stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along. *3TB, then TB between the last stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along**.  Repeat from * to ** to the end of the circle so that you have 48 stitches (including the Ch3), and then slip stitch into the top of the Ch3 to close the circle.

Row 5. Chain 3, 3TB, then TB between the stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along. *4TB, then TB between the last stitch you have just trebled into and the next one along**.  Repeat from * to ** to the end of the circle so that you have 60 stitches (including the Ch3), and then slip stitch into the top of the Ch3 to close the circle.

 

These five rows (rounds) form the top of the hat.  We next start to shape the sides.

Row 6. Chain 3, then 59 TB. Slip stitch into the top of the Ch3 to close the circle.

Row 7. Repeat Row 6.

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Row 8.  Change to contrast colour. Chain 1 and 60DC. Slip stitch into the first DC to close the circle.

Row 9. Change to main colour. Repeat Row 6.

Row 10. Repeat Row 6.

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Row 11. Change to contrast colour.  Repeat Row 6.

Row 12. Change to main colour. Repeat Row 6.

Row 13. Repeat Row 6.

Now onto the final row, which gives the picot edging.

Row 14.  Change to contrast colour. Chain 1. *2 DC, (DC, Ch2, DC) into next stitch**. Repeat from * to ** all the way around.  Slip stitch into the first DC to close the circle.

Sew in ends.

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To make the hat bigger, carry on increasing the size of the circle by 12 stitches each round, following the pattern indicated by the first five rows.  Then when the crown is large enough, carry on with extending the sides to the desired length by TB into each stitch around without increasing, again, following the pattern set above, before finishing with the picot row.