So yes, as usual, I have to apologise for my absence! Hopefully you'll think the wait was worth it however, because I have such exciting news!
Since January my friend Lydia and I have been working on something really special. It's a new quarterly knitting publication called pom pom! Here's a draft of our first-ever cover:
It's a quite small-scale, homegrown little mag at the moment, but it's full of lovely, hand-picked goodies that we hope knitters will love! We're also multi-craftual, so there will be a little bit of everything, from embroidery, to articles, to a cocktail recipe!
Did I tell you guys I am on vacation in the US at the moment? The Australian and I are on a road trip - we started in Nashville, headed to Memphis, and are now in Natchez, Mississippi, where the picture above was taken. If you're into Americana, alt-country music, the blues, or food that is generally deep fried, then we've got something for you - our blog nashvilletoaustin.blogspot.com.
Next we're in the bayous of Louisiana, tracking down gators and then off to New Orleans, and then Austin, Texas! There hasn't been a lot to report so far, yarn-wise, but I'm trying. It seems these laid back southerners don't like to open their yarn shops til noon, so I have missed out on a couple. But I will let you know if I find any gems!
One of my favourite things when teaching a knitting class is to talk about the cultural history of knitting a little bit. It's fun to think about how us knitters have centuries of knitting background to draw from and to feel like we're carrying on a lovely, important tradition.
Over the past couple of weeks I have had some lovely knitting history surprises! First up is this lovely copy of a notice of prizes for "home made woolen articles" in 1850. It was sent to me from a very kind online friend. Isn't it lovely? It says that the prizes are to encourage "trade in home manufactured articles." Not only is it a great little piece of typography, it tells us a bit about what it may have been like to be a knitter in Victorian Britain. Queen Victoria was a bit of a knitter herself, but I have a feeling the word "industrial" wouldn't have been applied to her handiwork! Thanks, Jo, for sending this!
Also in the post last week was a parcel from Australia! While visiting Tasmania, my mother-in-law came across a gem of a fibre arts shop called Spindle Tree. It seems like a really interesting place; they are a cooperative that promotes fibre arts in Tasmania and provides studio spaces, classes, and a shop to sell Tasmanian-produced textile products and yarns. Everyone we know who has been to Tasmania loves it, so it will have to be a stop on our next trip to Australia. Also in Hobart, my mother-in-law found a this vintage knitting booklet and was kind enough to send it over to me here in London. There's no date on the booklet and we've been debating which era it may have come from... any ideas?
The illustration on the cover is fantastic, don't you think? My favourite pattern (or "recipe" as the booklet calls it!) is one for "knee caps." Funny, huh? MIL thinks women may have used these when washing floors.
There's a bit of handwriting on the front cover - I did a little research and I think it says, "B Backhouse, Kingston Beach." Turns out Kingston Beach is a coastal suburb of Hobart in Tasmania and it looks like a lovely place. I just love imagining Ms Backhouse knitting by the sea!
The last little knitting surprise I have to share with you came to me via my last post, dedicated to garter stitch. I babbled on for a while about its virtues and also about one of its most influential proponents, Elizabeth Zimmermann. I also shared a few of my favourite garter stitch patterns out there at the moment. Lucky me, the designer of the stunning Piper's Journey from Quince & Co's Scarves, etc collection was alerted to my mention of her shawl, and got in touch! As it turns out, Paula is a lovely knitter and bagpiper from Illinois, as well as host of the podcast The Knitting Pipeline, and shared with me that EZ"was,or is, the biggest influence on my knitting. I kept a correspondence with her for years when I was a young knitter. Occasionally I read one of these letters on my podcast." Needless to say, I was delighted and immediately began downloading Paula's back catalogue. I highly recommend tuning in to her show, and not just to hear these letters. I am absolutely in love with the idea of Paula sharing her correspondence with a knitting legend as with knit along with her.
So that was my exciting week of knitting history! Do let me know if you have any "vintage" knitting stories to share - they're always welcome here.
There is something about the repetition of all those knit stitches (and maybe some purls if you're knitting in the round) that's rhythmic and soothing, and the simple garter stitch is especially useful if you're into sub-titled Scandinavian television crime shows. Sometimes it's nice to switch from a complicated lace or cable pattern, get back to basics, and just enjoy every stitch.
Aside from the pleasantries of knitting garter stitch, it does produce a fantastic, wearable result when used properly.
Take this classic and oft knit design by Melissa LeBarre, the Garter Yoke Cardigan. I knit it ages ago and still love the end result. The simple structure of the cardi looks great on so many different people, as you can see from the projects on Ravelry.
There some other really stunning garter stitch projects out there; my friend Rikke loves garter stitch even more than I do and she's a real pro at choosing patterns that use it wisely.
Here's her grellow version of Stephen West's Clockwork:
And last, but not least, THE Rikke Hat, named in her honour by Sarah Young:
She's got lots of other garter-lovin' projects on her Ravelry page, so if you're still not convinced (or just crave a bit more garter squishyness) do check out her page here.
Ok, just one more... this is a delicious new pattern from the Quince & Co Scarves etc. collection. Yum!
Some knitters I know are not so keen on garter stitch. My very vintagey friend downright despises it. Is it that garter stitch has a too rustic, or on the other hand, a too modern look? Stripey garter stitch is a popular trend at the moment, but for me, not so much. In garments, you also run the risk of getting that Michelin Man look if the yarn is too bulky, or doesn't have the right drape.
So tell me what you think. Are you hot for garter? Does it make you break out in hives? Or are you wondering what all the fuss is about - it's only a stitch pattern after all! Cast your vote below...
So, yeah, I was gabbing on about the bloody joys of winter last week, extolling the virtues of cold weather, blah, blah, blahdy blah. Now I'm cold.
And to pile wind upon rainy days, I went and made a resolution to start cycling to work again. In January. (Please refrain from calling me names amounting to "fool", "idiot", or "chump" in the comments section please, I already know.) But with cycling apparently comes lovely things like "good health" and "all the money I'll be saving" by not riding the nice, warm, cosy bus. (Ok, I also know that London buses are at best only mildly gross, but still.) And now it's even snowed here in London, so I am really feeling a little bit like a crazy person, thinking I could cycle in winter.
So some investigations were made and as always, knitters never let me down. I am thinking I need to stay WARM. Type in "bike" into the ravelry pattern search and more than a few pretty awesome projects come up. For instance, I am intrigued by these bike helmet ear warmers by Amy O'Neill Houck. They're clever because they're like little cosies that slip on to the straps of your helmet without making you look like a complete dork (and it's a free pattern - extra points). Saying that, I tend to look like a dork anyway with my bike helmet on, but I'd rather look like a dork than, say, crack my skull open if I get into an accident, which, let's face it, with my cycling skills... I digress. Ears warm, non-dork, all good.
Alternatively, there's this also very nice under-the-helmet hat, which, if I didn't have ginormous hair, I would totally go for. Plus, let's face it, it's modelled by a very handsome man:
And then there's the rather lovely collection of patterns from Natalie Selles called Knitting Cycle Style. I am particularly taken with the Pennyfarthing Legwarmers and Armwarmers (pictured top). How cute are these? Would need to wear them over tights and such of course.
So, warm ears? Check. Warms arms? Check. Warm legs? Check. Now for a giant wrap to keep my neck warm. The knitting equivalent of winter's worst enemy, or kryptonite, if you will. Jared Flood to the rescue: I think either his Guernsey Wrap or the stunning Terra would do the job very nicely indeed.
I also love this pattern from last autumn's Interweave Knits by Andrea Rangel:
Now we've got all the patterns sorted, what about yarn? Cycling-inspired yarn, you say? Your wish is my command. I present to you this lovely hand-dyed blue-face leicester in the colourway "Gentleman Cyclist" by cycling dyer extraordinaire Made in Hackney.
No excuses now.
I'm a sunshine kind of girl. I have the kind of skin that benefits from sitting on a beach (I never burn, even without sunscreen), and I'd happily wear flip flops for the rest of my life if I could. I can think of nothing better than spending my time outside in the heat, until I can bear it no longer and jump into the nearest body of water.
I got a lot of that in December in Australia. It was absolute bliss - the kind of summer I dream of here in mild and generally soggy London, where it's not unusual for me to still be wearing tights in July. We drove around the Yarra Valley with the top of the car down, I drank a seemingly endless supply of gin and tonics and ate my dinners outside - without a cardigan! Having grown up in Virginia, where you can veritably see the heat in summer, all things felt right in the world again.
All things but one - it was, after all, December. It's a strange thing for a Northern Hemisphere native to experience Christmas in what actually feels like July. Christmas tress make no sense, the fact that Santa has a sleigh is bizarre (how about a jetski?) and you just don't get that comfy, cosy, mulled wine-drinking feeling. So while it was lovely to have a barbecue with the family outside on Christmas day, I have to say that's just what it felt like - a barbecue. I'd spent Christmas in Australia before, but perhaps was too wrapped up in the trip last time to really notice. This time though, I was feeling that lack. Who knew that so much I felt about Christmas was tied up in the cold weather? It turns out that keeping warm is half the fun.
So now back in London where the temperatures are firmly in the single digits, I am surprised to be relishing it. Normally I spend as little time as possible outside in January, but since we've been back I've been enjoying weekend walks to the local cafe where hot chocolate with a giant marshmallow is made even more delicious by drinking it outside, mitts on. I suppose as knitters, winter is our time to shine and really enjoy woolliness and cosiness. Lots of countries claim this saying as their own but it's true no matter which cold climate you're in: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad dressing."
So bring on the snow! I've got boots, I've got hot chocolate and I've got eleven hand-knitted scarves and wraps (yes, I just got up and counted). I am loving being outside in January. So how about you? Has knitting changed how you feel about winter? Are you enjoying basking in knitted glory rather than summer sunshine? And how long will this feeling last...?
I know, I know, I have taken an extended break (again!), but like most people at the beginning of a new year, I've got good intentions for keeping this ol' blog bang up-to-date from now on. I do have a few excuses for being out of commission for a while, the most recent and most interesting being a month-long trip to the southern hemisphere (yes, you should be jealous).
We set off for Melbourne via Singapore and made our way up to Port Douglas and through Country Victoria during our trip. It was blissful summer, but don't let that fool you into thinking I neglected all things knit-related while we were there. This was one of our first stops:
Needless to say, I bought some yarn. Okay, I bought loads. In case you haven't heard of it, Bendigo Woollen Mills is one of Australia's biggest hand knitting yarn producers. At the mill, there is a great shop where you can buy their current yarns off the shelf, but what I would recommend is delving into their back room, where discontinued yarns and colours hide out. It's all great quality stuff for a bargain.
Lucky for my husband, the mill also makes a good stop on a road trip of the Victorian countryside. Bendigo itself is a former gold mining town with a whiff of the wild west about it and we used it as a stop on our drive up to Echuca, where paddle steamer boats chug up and down the Murray, Australia's longest river. (The fact that my husband's name happens to also be Murray made for many a hilarious joke on this trip, let me tell you.) We took a lovely little ride down the river on one of these babies:
From Echuca we moseyed over to Wangaratta (Australian town names just get better and better), where we checked out Australian Country Spinners, with a mill shop similar to Bendigo's, but with a less exciting range. Driving back down to Melbourne, I kept my eyes peeled for famous Australian wildlife (I am but an excited school kid at heart) but the only kangaroos I saw were sadly dead at the side of the road. Not cool. Eventually I decided it best to keep my eyes on the socks I was knitting.
We did lots of other fun, non-knitting things too, of course. Like head up to Port Douglas in Queensland, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. As you can imagine, it was amazing. We snorkeled with the sea turtles, we swam in the rainforest, we ate A LOT of amazing food.
Back down in Victoria, we wandered about wine country and spa towns and came across this lovely lavender farm:
And this adorably retro pitstop. (And yes, that is a mural of the infamous Ned Kelly with a sausage roll.)
On the way to and from Oz, we stopped in Singapore and it was much more exciting that I had imagined: cheap delicious food, interesting neighbourhoods, amazing architecture, and one hell of a zoo.
So now we're back in London, putting our knitwear to good use, but for once it really feels like I've been on vacation. Until next time I can reminisce, right? My new favourite thing to keep me feeling the vibe is the truly fabulous Frankie Magazine, which I highly recommend you check out. That and, well, Vegemite. No, really!