Friday, 27 November 2009

Really and Truly Literary Knitting.

An amazing thing happened last night - yarn and books came together in a way I couldn't have imagined being any better: a "Knitting Extravaganza" in an antique bookshop.

I heard about this over on the Stitch and Bitch London board on Ravelry - " a special yarn sale in an antiquarian Georgian bookshop opposite the British Museum." Um, yes!

So I made it over there on my way to my London Thanksgiving alternative: Japanese food with my cousin. On my way there,
I was thinking, "Oh this will take maybe 5 minutes or so...", not realising that I was about to step into this:

Jarndyce Yarn Sale

It was so lovely - hanks of gorgeous yarn, the gold from the Georgian books sparkling on the shelves, the soft bookshop lighting, the lovely people showing off the fibres - it was heaven! I could have bought loads (and believe me, I wanted to) but settled on one skein of Louet Gems Fine/Sport Weight - a yarn that's not readily available in most London yarn shops.


In fact, most of the yarns there weren't readily available in most shops, which is what made it so special. I got the impression that the event was run by the very nice ladies who do The Good Yarn Stall in Spitalfields Market on Sundays, but there was also a woman selling mostly Habu Textiles yarns and kits. And then there was the most amazing piles of chasmere, yak, and goodness knows what else.

I had to be basically dragged away by my very tolerant husband. Books, yarn and a knitting-friendly husband - all good things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Mmmm... doughnuts...

I am up to a bit of a spring clean - about 7 or 8 months late, I know, but we are having people over for a little Thanksgiving celebration on Saturday (We are in England. Sadly no 2.5 days off from work.) and then a friend is coming all the way from Oz to stay for a while. It was time.

So, I am filing away stacks of unsorted mail, making stacks and stacks of books look tidy, scaring the dust bunnies out from under the sofa - and, of course, dealing with the untamed wave of wool, haberdashery and pages of knitting patterns that have engulfed the house.

This morning I decided that this major operation included everything down to the last, little pin. And so I made this:


Productive, no?

Anyway, I like it and it will make a nice little addition to my newly organised desk. (Not that I need justification or anything.)

It is: the Donut Pincushion by Nevadamama, made with scraps of yarn and stuffed with dried lentils and some other bits of unwanted yarn too.

Monday, 23 November 2009


Just back from the laundrette. We have a washing machine, but it's not big enough for our duvet (or comforter, depending what country you're in) so I lugged it along to the one down the road. Plus, they have a big dryer which is handy too.


So the big duvet is in the big dryer and with my cup of tea I settle in to knit while waiting. There was an older lady waiting for her drying too (it seems that she had washed her clothes at home, but brought them in to dry...). She hadn't said anything to me previously, but when she saw me get the sock (Smiley Socks on Ravelry) on double pointed needles out she tried to catch my eye. I smiled at her and then she went into this super-friendly chatter about how she didn't think young people knit anymore and how wonderful it was to see me doing it.

It's not the first time I've had older women come out of their London-barriers to speak to me about knitting - it especially happens on the tube, and I'm sure I'm not the only younger knitter to have experienced it.

The woman was lovely. She told me about how she has knit since she was a little four-year-old girl in Bosnia and how she came to the UK in the 1950s, where she had her children and continued to knit for them. She asked me about the sock pattern I was using and said that she never uses patterns herself - that she can just look at a garment and either replicate it or do something her own way. She said she used to knit a lot, but has trouble finding the 2-ply yarns that she used to use. I told her that these can often be found online, although it seemed to me that wouldn't be much help to her. She said she also used to crochet, embroider, make table cloths, and outfits for her daughters. It seems strange, but it felt like, I, the young knitter, was inspiring her, the experienced knitter, to get back into it! She seemed really nostalgic, telling me about how when she came to the UK in the 50s, it was actually cheaper to knit things yourself than buy them. And I, in turn, told her about how I like to re-knit charity shop sweaters.

It was so lovely to speak to her - and it was nice for once to feel like I have nice neighbours here in the big city - I suppose knitting does that. Her husband came in not long after we started chatting and sat down next to me. "Oh, you are doing that very well, young lady. Are you making socks for your boyfriend?" Me: "Well, yes, for my husband." Him: "Your husband! Good girl." Although probably bordering on infringing on my feminist principles (not that there is anything wrong with knitting your husband some socks), he was very sweet and told me he had never seen an English woman knit on 5 needles before. He said that was the continental way. "But you are not English, are you?" When I explained where I was from he said, "Yes I knew you were not English," with a smile.

Then the conversation turned to the fact that I looked young to be married. "Are they not getting older before they marry in America?" I said oh yes, people are waiting longer before they get married, etc. etc. and the lady said, "Yes, you see, they get to have a life first, like the men always have! I was married very young and look where it's got me!" She pinched her husband's cheek.

"Oh you're very happy and you will have been very happy for 50 years soon!" replied the husband and she winked back. They were so cute.

I love hearing stories about knitting. Every knitted item seems to have a narrative, and now my sock will too. They soon left but had made me feel all warm inside. They wished me good luck with my sock and said, "See you next time!" It's enough to make me want to wash my duvet weekly.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

November Sweater.

I am very excited to be writing this post: I have just finished making a sweater that I more or less made up myself! I know people mod and improvise their own patterns all the time, but not me - I usually follow patterns to the letter, not changing sleeve length, stitch pattern, or waist shaping.

But this was different - I was inspired so, without further ado: the November Sweater!

Photo 21

Now, as you might expect, this is not the most complex of patterns. What happened was, I was on my usual trawl through the charity shops of Ealing, looking for knitwear I could unravel and knit into something else, when I spotted a dark purple-y sweater that was a bit tired, but that I was sure I could breathe new life into. The original stitch was quite lacy (how I wish I had taken a photo of it in its original form!) but fairly easy to take apart. While undoing all those machine-made stitches, I thought about what to re-knit it into. Having seen a few cap-sleeved sweaters out there recently, that's what immediately sprang to mind. I thought a smaller, more defined lace pattern than what the original sweater had would also work.

So, I borrowed the lace stitch from the ever-popular February Lady Sweater, which, in turn, had borrowed from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Sweater on Two Needles. I drew out what I hoped it would look like (excuse my extremely poor drawing skills):


It was basically just a basic T shape - the sweater would be worked in 2 pieces: front and back, and side to side so that the lace pattern would be horizontal in stead of vertical. There are no increases, no decreases, and probably the most advanced technique used was picking up stitches around the bottom of the sweater to add ribbing.

Now, not that it is necessarily required that I actually write out a pattern this unbelievably simple, here it is, posted more because of my little, private happiness at having done this on my own than for any assumption that anyone couldn't have figured this out themselves!

Photo 23
(Excuse the messy house behind me!)

November Sweater

  • A short-sleeved sweater's worth of approximately DK weight yarn (find an old sweater in your local charity shop or thrift store)
  • One 26" 5 mm / US 9 circular needle
  • One stitch marker
Lace Stitch Pattern:

Row 1: k1, k2tog, yo, k1, yo, ssk, k1
Rows 2 & 4: purl
Row 3: k2tog, yo, k3, yo, ssk



Cast on 42 stitches.
Row 1: k2p2 - repeat to end of row
Row 2" p2k2 - repeat to end of row
Repeat rows 1 and 2 3 more times

Begin lace pattern.
Repeat lace pattern, rows 1 - 4 twice.
Cast on an additional 42 stitches.
Continue in lace pattern for 18" ending with a right side row. (Or width necessary for individual fit)
On wrong side row, bind off 42 stitches, leaving 42 stitches remaining.
Continue in lace pattern for two repeats.
Change to k2p2 ribbing for 8 rows.
Bind off all stitches.

Repeat exactly for back.

Seam sides of front and back together. Seam shoulders 5" in from end of sleeves.

With front and back sewn together, and starting from a side seam, pick up and knit 116 stitches evenly around the bottom of the sweater. Continue in k2p2 rib around for 2.5".
Bind off using Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy bind off from Knitty - this is really necessary for actually being able to get the thing over your head!
Weave in ends, and voila! I "designed" a sweater.

Photo 13

Now it is entirely possible that there are mistakes in the above, and also that there a million better ways to achieve the finished product - but I do like the way it turned out.

Also, I apologise that I haven't actually worked out different sizes (as written, it works on a size 10 UK or 6 US). Clearly I am not yet that talented. One day...

Listening to: Alela Diane

Monday, 16 November 2009


Where do I start?? So much happened in the last week while we were in Wales, that I don't think I'll be able to document all the lovely little moments in one post. Will another mosaic do? We took hundreds of photos. Unfortunately Murray forgot his Lomo, but we still got some good ones.


We started off driving west in our new little Fiat 500, which was a lot of fun because we are so used to taking public transport everywhere. Now, while I will be the first to sing the praises and benefits of public transport, it was so lovely to have our own little bubble of space to explore the country in. And it was nice to go somewhere without having to have my passport and visa, or to have to pack all my liquids in small bottles or checked luggage, or squeeze everything into an easily navigable suitcase, or wait in security queues, or ... well you get the idea. And most of the countryside we was so spread out that public transport wasn't really an option.

It only took about 4 hours to get from London to the Brecon Beacons National Park, where we set ourselves up in a little cottage adjoined to an old farmhouse run by the most lovely people that we have perhaps ever met. We explored the waterfalls in the park, enjoyed the most amazing views, and saw every castle and abbey in the surrounding area (no small feat, that).


We also went to some lovely little local pubs - which as a rule, seem to always have a cosy fire. My favourite meal was Welsh laverbread gnocci with leeks and cockles (how much more Welsh can you get?) and the cockles didn't scare me at all - in fact, they were delicious. (More on the British relationship with cockles here.) The best night we had was probably at the most local of all local pubs, which opens only in the evenings and closes, well, as one regular told me, "Whenever we stop drinking." Of course. They were so friendly in there they even asked us to join in their monthly quiz night, and while we didn't win, we like to think that we at least helped our team to get joint second place (there were only 3 teams...).

There was one wool shop stop (well, I found a few stalls in the markets, but this one was sadly the only one I found in the area worth buying from) and picked up some delicious Artesano Alpaca 4 ply which I plan to make into knee high Lakeside socks one day. As far as I could tell, the shops was only called The Cross Stitch Shop, but it was run by a really lovely, friendly lady in Llandeilo. (This friendliness did seem to be a real trend in Wales... maybe it was just that they weren't Londoners?)


After the Beacons (the castles, the cottage, the abbey, the waterfalls, the pubs) we made a snap decision to head down the coast to Tenby, a walled medieval city (well, town, I suppose - I learned on the radio that for a place to qualify as a city, it must have a cathedral...I guess Centreville, VA doesn't qualify then? ;) ). Tenby looked as though it would be lovely - candy coloured houses in a row on the seafront, pristine beaches, yet another ruined castle...but as it turned out, we arrived with the gales. At one point we were stuck in our B&B as the little Fiat couldn't make it through the flooded roads. I suppose it was all very atmospheric, and we didn't have to worry about this seaside town being mobbed with tourists, but it would've been nice if my Star Crossed Slouchy Beret could even stay on my head. But alas, the gale gods were not willing.


We did have a couple of hours while the rain let up to take some pictures and explore the grounds the B&B was set in - which in addition to the newly planted orchards and chickens running about, included a 12th century church with medicinal spring wells and Celtic remains from who-knows-when. I even braved the slippery rocks to have a taste of the water - very iron-y but apparently very good for you - pilgrims used to purposefully stop off here in the middle ages and it is said that a king (though I can't remember which) used to send for the water to be delivered to him specially.


Oh - so much more, but I'll let the pictures do the talking now:

George Eliot
The place where George Eliot wrote her first novel - note the For Sale sign. Buy it for me?

Alpacas(!) hanging out near Talley Abbey. Okay. I'll settle for an alpaca if I can't have George Eliot's house.

The lovely plant life at Aberglasney House and Gardens.

These tree roots made me want to sit down and knit something with a cable needle.

The slouchy beret staying firm at Carreg Cennen Castle.

And finally, a pair of pairs. I would not like to hear about the resemblance between the two. How did my shadow get so fat?!


Friday, 6 November 2009


So while my fingers have been keeping busy, my hands have been staying warm :)

I finally figured out this mosaic hullaballoo, so here's my first one.

Fingerless Mitts Mosaic

With winter practically here, I have been getting lots of requests for fingerless mittens. This is good, mainly because I hate knitting fingers. I cannot think of anything more tedious and fiddly. People are lucky to get thumbs, that's all I can say.

The mitts have been a bit of therapy for me really. Nice quick projects (most finished over one or two days) and usually I learn some new technique with them. (Warning: Lots of ravelry links coming.)

First there were the Dragon Scale Guantlets for myself. These were made using leftover yarn from my Soft Kid Bubble - Rowan RYC Baby Alpaca DK. These are so soft and snuggly - not to mention warm! - and aren't too scratchy to sit against my skin (see blog title above!). The pattern kept me pretty interested too, which can sometimes be a problem when I have to knit two of something (sleeves, socks, etc.).

Then there was my second-ever Dashing - a request from my friend Naomi, who was gifted the first set after I realised I really can't handle Kilcarra Aran Tweed on my arms. I used Rown Kid Classic on these - a yarn that's lovely and fuzzy, with a nice, soft stitch definition that produces pretty professional-looking results no matter what the pattern.

As you know from my last post, I have also been working on Eunny Jang's Endpaper Mitts. These are obviously going to be a bit more slow-going than the others due to the stitchwork, but I have run low on the Baby Alpaca DK (even more leftovers from the Soft Kid Bubble and Dragon Scale Gauntlets!) so may rip back and shorten the wrist portion.

Then there's Veyla. This used the tiniest amount of RYC Cashsoft 4-ply and is the extremely well-written pattern from Ysolda Teague. These were originally intended for my friend Lara's birthday present - she being an aficionado of all things Victorian, but I decided that the sheen from the yarn was a bit too much for these - if you look at Ysolda's original, the halo from her use of an alpaca blend is really what clinches the vintage look. So I stole the buttons off these and used them instead on...

The Plain Talk Ruffled Mittens by Laura Irwin (in the lovely book Boutique Knits). I think these are my favourite. I decided to not to go full-mitten (Lara's a smoker), so shortened the hand portion, adding some ribbing on the top and keeping the thumbs open. The ruffles are glorious, and the first thing Lara said when I gave them to her was, "How Victorian!" Mission accomplished.

I am off to Wales tomorrow for the first time and am looking forward to so much: walks in Brecon Beacons Nation Park with the Australian, cosying up in our rented cottage in front of the inglenook fireplace, wearing wellies in the mud, sitting in warm pub with a pint of cider, visiting the National Wool Museum... and knitting of course.

The Australian and I are both bringing our cameras (he his big SLR and the Lomo my dad gave him, and me my little digital Fuji) so expect lots of photos of our adventures.