Sunday, 8 May 2016

What to knit for your boy

My boy is off at University for most of the year studying (hard???) to become a medical engineer. (Actually I think he is really majoring in drone construction, social dorm living, light partying and online computer gaming).... Boys will be boys...

His university campus is in Victoria's second largest city, Geelong. Geelong is lovely sprawling town on the edge of a bay - the gateway to the famous Surf Coast and the Great Ocean Road - with a country town feel but still all the humming bustle of a big city. There's only one draw back (apart from the up to 5 hour journey by public transport to come home for a visit). It's cold in winter. No, not snow kind of cold, more biting winds straight off the Antarctic.

This gives me a valid excuse to knit all the hats for him. He definitely wears them and appreciates them, both as the edge to an outfit and as a way to keep his ears warm. I love knitting for an appreciative audience - though I may have got a little carried away this year so far.

So it's perhaps not surprising that I began my knitter's year of 2016 by casting on a hat on New Year's Eve and finishing it up on New Year's Day. So I got bored. It’s holidays after all and a I needed a small diversion. That’s what a hat is, isn’t it? I can almost knit one in day.
This was a little bit of subtle geekery for the boy (He's a massive Dr Who fan) but it’s a tiny bit of a failure.
Oh, its nothing to do with the knitting or the sizing. It’s lovely even colorwork and fits nicely. (I may just have blocked it by wearing a wet beanie on my head). I just didn’t choose two shades of grey that have enough contrast for the pattern to show up. Also I am using recycled yarn and there are some stains in the yarn on the crown which didn’t wash out… They almost look deliberate though…

This is a really nice pattern (Thanks Amy!). Well written and easy to follow.
Pattern: INSULATE! hat  by Amy van de Laar  - a free pattern.
Needles: My absolute favourite antique Aero jumper length 4mm dpns
Yarn: Blue grey Machinewash 8 ply from the Lifeline Op shop and leftover Bendigo Woollen Mills Stella in Shell.
It's a real pity those Daleks aren't sufficiently visible

I still had the hat bug in my system though. It clearly wasn't going to be a quick fix this time. It was about this stage, I hunted down a hat group on Ravelry and decided 16 hats in 2016 was certainly a doable and admirable goal.

I was feeling some colourwork next.. Anyone who has followed my blog for a while may have noticed the odd fox related thing sneaks onto my needles / hook every so often. Foxes are a sort of obsession of mine. I love how you can evoke a fox with just a stylised shape and colour. This particular pattern has long been in my queue. I swear I didn't actually set out to knit this specifically for the boy, but he begged exceedingly nicely when it was finished...

Pattern: Fox Hat by Eline Oftedal
Needles: 3 mm antique Aero jumper length dpns
Yarn: Cleckheaton Country 8 Ply in a fox-like colour, Moda Vera Pure Wool 8ply in gunmetal grey and Panda Machinewash 8 ply Crepe in cream

This flew off the needles (slowly). It only took a week but the three colour rounds of colour work were tediously slow. I’m slightly meticulous about exactly where to carry the yarn on the back to get the best effect on the front and this means concentration, constant untangling of yarn and slow rounds.

As this is knitted at a very small gauge for DK there were a lot of stitches (144 per round). I am really pleased with the result (But I won’t knit this one again - the colour work would get tedious in quantity). The boy tells me it is soooo warm and snugly.

I photographed this by sneaking into the boy cave, catching the boy in his natural environment in front of a a computer, plonked the hat on his head and told him to ignore me as I randomly photographed the back of his head. In hindsight this may have been the moment I lost this hat to his clutches...

The next hat off my needles for the boy was a re-knit of the INSULATE! hat - Exterminate! 2.0.

Yes, I know I’ve made one of these already this already this year. But the contrast between the two greys I used is not strong enough to really see the Daleks. And it’s too much of a watch cap fit to please the boy. He likes slouchy beanies. I needed to make another one.

This ended up being the first cast on for Village Hopelessly Over-committed Cast On Month (VHOCCOM12016) on February 1st. I still want to use the Bendigo Woollen Mills Stellar but as the main colour this time. And after running several potential colour combinations past the boy we have tweedy reddish brown Daleks (Slightly rusty - I think these are the old school Daleks that were conspiring against Winston Churchill in World war II - he called them ‘Ironsides’ - ep 3 season 5 - Victory of the Daleks).
I made some modification to the pattern for this version. I did eight rows double rib instead of six as the longer slouch the boy wanted needed a firmer longer band to maintain adequate head connection. I did fifteen rows of plain stockinette in the MC (grey) before starting the colourwork to extend the hat for some slouchiness and changed the shaping from Slip 2 K PSSO to Slip 1 K2tog PSSO.
Pattern: INSULATE! hat  by Amy van de Laar - a free pattern.
Needles: My absolute favourite antique Aero jumper length 4mm dpns
Yarn: Bendigo Woollen Mills Stella 8 ply  in Shell and reddish brown tweed upcycled  from the Lifeline Op shop.
Once again we have photographed the boy wearing a hat in his natural environment - rebuilding a quadcopter drone on my kitchen table after a particularly nasty encounter with the neighbour's fence...

The boy also got the 11th hat off my needles this year as a request. I had previously knitted Father Cables from this yarn (You'll get the see that one in another post). Whilst the boy doesn’t like that particular hat enough to snaffle it - the cables are too elaborate for his taste -  he loves the softness and feel of the yarn. So he wanted something suitably masculine made out of this yarn… He also is the person who pointed me towards this particular yarn in an op shop scrounging expedition orginally so he deserved something made out of it.

We decided on Antler by tincanknits. I’ve had this one printed out for ages now waiting for the just the right occasion. Looks like the marriage of this yarn and pattern was set to be it. So I cast on early in the week and did a few rows of rib and then a few more another day. Then on Saturday whilst manning my stall at a car boot sale (and making a perfectly respectable $8.40 profit after stall cost! - I was selling essentially trash rather than treasure) I finished the rib and worked up about three repeats of the pattern. It was quite a talking point. It still surprises me the reactions you get when you knit in the round on dpns in public. You get elderly people remembering their sock knitting years when everyone knew how to knit a sock and turn a heel. You get bafflement about how do you work with all those extra needles. You get safety admonishments about using all those sharp pointy things and accidentally taking out your own eye whilst cabling…

And then I came home and promptly ripped it all back to the rib. I hadn’t changed needle size from the 4 mm used for the band to 5 mm as the pattern suggested as my 5mm dpns are only 20 cm long and I find them a little short to work with comfortably and stitches like to commit suicide by jumping off the end of the needles. So I tend to avoid them if I can. But I needed to up the needle size to accommodate the pull-in of the cables. So I came home and started the patterning again on 5 mm. By the end of Saturday I was back to five completed repeats. The pattern calls for eight repeats for the small size but I did nine as suggested for the large size as the boy likes a really deep slouch to his hats. This was not promising straight off the needles… Long thin and weird looking. I love what blocking does to this yarn. It makes it bloom and soften till it feels like cashmere. Gorgeous hat in the end.
Pattern: Antler Hat by tincanknits - a free pattern
Needles: 4 mm antique Aero jumper length dpns and 5 mm dpns
Yarn: Cleckheaton Nature Merino 8ply in gray
The boy and I shared a lovely photographic road trip last time he was home around some abandoned refuse from the heavy industry in our area taking photos of this hat. Photo credits for the pictures of the flat hat to @larkinsmark (on instagram).

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Spreading rainbow joy

So randomly one Wednesday in February last year I got a day to just wander the city and enjoy the delights of Melbourne. I love Melbourne. It has a beautiful European vibe, quirky laneways with amazing graffiti and a food and coffee culture the envy of the rest of Australia.

I wondered passed the City Square and was transfixed with the yarn covered trees. Bright and colourful rainbow yarn bombed trees. I may have hugged a few and definitely patted the knitted one admiringly. I couldn't help but smile.
This is my favourite. Perhaps it's because it's knitted or maybe it's the cleverness of the arrangement of the strips around the tree.
Whilst I was communing with the trees I discovered the Yarn Corner business card tied to each tree. I snaffled one, took it home and looked them up. Next thing I know, I'm a signed up member thinking I have the skills to do this and with a burning ambition to tackle a City Square tree next year.

As soon as the sign-ups were open I put my hand up for a tree. I spent the next few months knitting sporadically on a nearly three metre long tree blankie.
The rules were rainbow stripes using only the traditional rainbow colours. So I decided knitted chevrons were the go and hunted for free knitted chevron blanket patterns on Ravelry. The kids argued for a single rainbow from the bottom of the tree in purple to red at the top. (This turned out to be a really inspired choice on their behalf as it made for a unique and eye catching tree).

Pattern: Loosely based on Chevron Colour-Block Blanket by Espace Tricot - a free pattern
Needles: 5 mm
Yarn: What can I say? I worked my way through my stash. There is now no purple left... And not a lot of orange or yellow...

Install day arrived and the boy and I caught the red eye train (which turned out to actually be a bus) to the big city. We were all prepared with yarn, sewing needles, scissors, mega safely  pins, our hi-vis vests and of course a giant knitted rainbow in a bag as well as a camera ready to document the behind the scenes magic of the installation process.

And then it rained. In fact it sort of slightly poured. (The weather totally disrespected the fact that it was sill late in January and high Summer). It threw a giant spanner in the works. The central area of the City Square is sand covered and the scissor lifts needed to install the yarn bombs on the upper sections of the trees couldn't get near the trees as they would have got bogged in the mush. It was still possible to do the trees along the edge of the footpaths. So we dodged the showers - mostly.

With advice from the veteran and experienced yarn bombers we pinned our piece to its tree. The boy demonstrated that he too could sew and we stitched up as far as we could reach from the ground.

I got to go up in a scissor lift and attach the top section. Despite me worrying that the piece I'd made was going to be too long, it was exactly perfect anchoring nicely around a branch at the top.

It was a little bit wet up there though...

The boy got sort of adopted and is now a signed up member of Yarn Corner ready to contribute his skills in sewing, basic knitting and photography.

I met a lovely bunch of people all of whom have a passion for knitting, crochet and community. I got to watch random strangers smile and pat my tree. One small child even hugged it.
I followed the adventures of my tree in downtown Melbourne for the next few months on social media particularly instagram until I reluctantly helped it disrobe in the middle of March.

I may have even hugged my tree myself.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Fine Lines

About the time I began writing this blog (about 6 years or so ago) my children decided that handmade knitwear was actually something you could wear, be seen in public with, acknowledge to all and sundry that 'Yes, it was in fact hand-knitted and my Mum made it for me' and be proud of it. Only a fellow knitter understands the myriad proud feelings that come with your teenage / young adult children arriving at this realisation. We started slowly with accessories and gently progressed to whole garments.

Since then I've made the boy a handmade jumper, a scarf and five hats (as well as a knitted stuffed deer head for the Boy Cave). That reminds me, I've made three of these hats fairly recently. Stay tuned for a hat blog post featuring the boy wearing hats! He also has a queue of matched yarn and jumper / cardigan patterns waiting for me to get around to knitting them.
Not so Little Boy Blue and wearing Graeme the hat!

Examination in brioche
The middle daughter Mel (The Fanciful Fungirl) still lives at home and so is in a prime position for subtle nagging and tempting suggestions of what she really needs knit for her next. Her tally so far is two berets, three beanies, a knitted cloche hat, two pairs of fingerless gloves and two jumpers (and a knitted cover for her tablet computer complete with bumble bees). She also tends to bring out my design instincts, commissioning unique hand knitted pieces.
Funky Chunky
Cables of Europe
Sunrise / Sunset using hand dyed yarn
The eldest Doctor daughter has sadly missed out on her fair share of the knitted bounty to a certain extent. Oh, I've knitted her three berets and a slouchy hat but that is it... (The fact that she knits herself does contribute to this a bit. She made her own intricately cabled cover for her laptop and a lovely seed stitch cowl and last time she was home snaffled some knitting needles and raided the stash for squishy wool  to make some more accessories and cushion covers).
Selbu Modern
Slow Flurry on me, the daughter wearing her own hand knitted seed stitch cowl

She hasn't yet got a hand knit jumper and I decided in November it was time to remedy that. After all November is NaKniSweMo - National Knit a Sweater (of more than 50,000 stitches) Month. This time my needles were going to be dedicated to making a jumper for the Doctor daughter.

Making a jumper for an adult with their own distinct personal style is a process of research and negotiation. We began with looking at the European runway fashion for knitwear for the upcoming Winter season. Brioche, rib, cables and fair-isle (often in monochrome colourways) were the common knitwear themes. Oh and fringes!! Let's not go there, ever! She sent me photos of jumpers she had found in the shops that she had debated buying. It looked like something in a defined rib with shaping flaring out towards the bottom was on the top of her list. The colour choice was easy - grey. We often joke until fairly recently my daughter's entire wardrobe was shades of grey punctuated with black exercise wear and the odd other neutral (cream, white, denim and occasionally mushroom).

A knitted jumper is a big commitment and if done right out of good quality yarn should last for 20 or more years. So what ever we made should be classic enough not to go out of style too quickly. But it needed a modern edge. The jumper we eventually chose is classic fisherman's rib but with very modern lines and shaping - Fisherman Redux.

Pattern: Fisherman Redux by Vera Sanon
Needles: 3.75 mm and 4.5 mm 
Yarn: Bendigo Woollen Mills Stellar 8 Ply, Colourway 105 Shell - 4 by 200 g balls. This is a wool and bamboo blend with a lovely soft drape and lustre.

So we tried to knit this in November... I ordered yarn 1st November as I didn’t have anything suitable in the stash. (Thank Bob for online mail order). I did swatch with some op shop yarn but the texture didn’t do the pattern justice. The yarn arrived Thursday 5th November - swatched to make sure that my gauge was spot on. It was! And then I cast on on Friday night 6th November. I worked up the band - around 1000 stitches and then realized I had started the 1 by 1 rib on a knit and it needed to be a purl. Teach me to think know what I’m doing without carefully reading the pattern…. So I ripped it all out again and followed the pattern instructions for 1 by 1 rib. Only 4 rows and 255 sts on day 1. Saturday 7th November was move the boy home form Geelong at the end of the Uni year - lots of scope for car knitting.

And this is about where real life commitments and November NaKniSweMo knitting plans crashed into each other head on and the knitting plans got stream-rolled by marking, exams and admin plus a major assessment piece for my own study into a twisted smoking wreck. Oh, I tried. I finished the front, back, neck edging and part of a sleeve in November. I started counting stitches and got to over 30,000 for the back and front alone. This is definitely a +50,000 stitches garment.

I’d also like to give a special shout out to Hazel, the 30+ kilo 8 month old puppy with a penchant for yarn and stealth sneak stealing of knitting. I love you for the almost half a front I had to frog and re-knit twice after you took my knitting for a few runs around the backyard. It is really difficult (read this as impossible) to pick up a well dropped stitch in Fisherman's rib!!
I finished this in the post Christmas relaxing period. (I often find this is a really productive time for me knit wise. I like to finish the year with a cleanish slate and I have time to laze and watch the Boxing Day test on TV and let the needles fly away).

This is a knitting success story. It fits Doctor daughter perfectly. She loves it (except for a minor quibble about the width of the sleeves - they’re a little wide for her taste) and I love the sleek modern shaping. The yarn has a gorgeous shine and sheen and is crisp enough to show off the rib to perfection. It looked great even before blocking and amazing after.
Is that really rain - on my new jumper?
So what do you want me to knit for you next, Doctor daughter? (And thanks for playing photo shoot too early one Sunday morning in the rainy city after you'd just finished a full on night shift!) Photo credits for the lovely shots of Doctor daughter to the boy (@larkinsmark on instagram).

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Taylor the Swift

I've long debated on this blog post as I don't really have enough photos of the finished object serving in its intended purpose. But then I think, hey I created a mascot for a Pom team that went to Disney World and the World Cheer and Dance Championships and I'm damn proud of that (as well as being exceptionally proud of my daughter and her team)! So blog I will... (And it is almost exactly a year since the event this mascot was made for took place so it's certainly high time).

The knitting challenge I received from my eldest daughter: Make a mascot to mark the center of the stage for her team’s Pom performance at the 2015 Cheer and Dance World Championships in April at Disney World in Florida. Her team are the Swifts. She did send me a rough sketch for colours and an idea of the size.
So I first made this little guy as a prototype. You can read more about him (and see more photos) in his own blog post: #20swiftteen. He is gorgeous and I'm happy with how he turned out  be he was but not quite what they were looking for. (Don't worry, this little swift is not a poor homeless birdy. He was quickly snapped up by Coach Casey)

Cue a modified sketch. They added a hat, hightops and dog tags - a little more gansta swift. It also needed to be larger - about 30 cm high.

It all began with these cute little crocheted hightops. This is the only pattern I used in creating Taylor. It's from a Mollie Makes magazine - a Christmas special I think. I'm proud of these as crochet is very much my secondary craft skill. I also learnt surface crochet to do the black line embellishments. They are green as that is MCA (Melbourne Cheer Academy) and hence the Swifts colours. I edged these with black and white striped ribbon, used real black shoe laces, stuffed them firmly and glued them to the base of the body.
I knitted the body and chest piece, head, wings and under wings, beak and tail separately flat on two needles, seamed them and stuffed the body and head and then attached the wings, tail and beak. The tail helps with the overall balance so Taylor stands properly. The eyes are toy safety eyes and she has real false eyelashes glued on. After embroidering the black line on her beak we added lipstick as clearly she needed her full stage make-up to compete. The boy donated the dog tags and we found a short  black chain.
The hat is sewn. The front and brim are made from black velvet and the back from acetate mesh. I'm not entirely happy with the shape of this as it doesn't stand up as vertically as it should in the front. Pattern drafting is definitely something I could sharpen my skills in. In hindsight, I should have stuffed  the hat before attaching it to help it maintain its shape. The hat is glued to the head and the 15 on the front is iron-on crystal numbers.

Here she is already to help the Swifts train to World Championship Domination.
I got to see my mascot proudly marking the center of the stage at the final rehearsal before the girls went overseas.

It was the trip of a lifetime if a little more drama filled than one would want. That's my daughter right at the front in their first team photo at Disney World. She spectacularly injured her ankle in rehearsals three days before comp and didn't get to compete on stage with the the rest of the team in the preliminary rounds. But massive applications of ice and some heavy duty strapping plus an extreme unwillingness to come this far and not compete, saw her take the stage for the finals.
Check that ankle strapping!
MCA (My daughter's cheer academy) made a little YouTube miniseries of the Swifts Road to Worlds. This is the final episode showing their performance in the finals. They finished in the top 20 in the World. Not bad for a team from Down Under where cheer has nowhere near the massive profile or funding that it has in the US. (These athletes are all amateurs with full time jobs or study commitments not semi-professional).

I'm not entirely sure what happened to Taylor. I haven't seen her since she disappeared into a bag for her trip to Florida and Disney World. Maybe she's an illegal immigrant haunting Disney World and the cheer hall at ESPN representing her little heart out forever. Go Swifts!!!