Saturday, 27 December 2014

We knit you a Merry Christmas....

In December, the knitting needles tend to naturally turn to knitting ornaments. Even almost without conscious effort, I find myself wanting to knit little whimsies for my Christmas tree and to share with my family.

I spent the first week of December on the beautiful Australian Gold Coast having a much needed relaxing holiday. Sun, sand, surf, shopping, neon, amazing food and seven and a half thousand cheerleaders. (One of the main reasons we were there was to watch future doctor daughter shake her poms in the Open Australian title division as a prelude to Worlds next year #20swifteen).

Holidays mean holiday knitting, right? It's the best way to wind down and de-stress. If you are a knitter, you understand that the most agonizing part of holiday packing is deciding just what knitting to take with you on holidays. You've got to have enough for all your knitting moods. You need extra yarn, just in case you run out. You've got to remember to pack all the appropriate needles and stitch markers, scissors, sewing needles, the pattern, etc... You need more than one backup project in case it all goes wrong for you.

Holiday knitting also has to be portable. This time around, I decided to take two small knitting kits that had come with various English knitting magazines. Part of the impetus for this was knitting for Christmas with the delightful ladies in The Unofficial Women’s Weekly group who were running a CAL/KAL for November/December 2014

This first was a cute little reindeer kit that came with issue 105 of Knit Today. Supposedly everything needed, yarn, stuffing, embroidery thread, ribbon and the bell - just add needles. I love his little slip stitch texture. And he’s cute and small and Christmassy.

And then I ran out of yarn (and stuffing) not even a few days into the holiday! I knitted and stuffed two legs complete with their little separate hooves. I made the body and stuffed it with what I had left of the stuffing supplied in the kit but it’s not plump enough. I knitted the head and sewed up the ends. I made a tail…. and I had about 25 cm of yarn left….
 I don’t know what the issue is. I used the suggested needle size (2.75 mm). My tension checks out OKish… There’s just not enough yarn in the kit. I still had to make two arms and the hooves, two ears and two antlers. I’m pretty sure I have some similar brown acrylic in the stash. So I'll finish it when I got home. So much for this being holiday knitting. (That's why you take backup projects...)

Actually the brown acrylic, I was thinking of was in my mother’ stash. She has custody of all the cheap toy acrylic. She was happy to see me even if I was only there to steal wool…. I knitted the arms and paws and stuffed them. The colour is quite different but it looks OK after assembly. (It’s sufficiently symmetric). I knitted two ears and embroidered the face and tied on his bell. Voila!
The kids were quite uncomplimentary about the finished object - they decided it doesn’t look like a reindeer. They were calling it a dog / cow / minotaur thingy. (Minotaur? - too much fantasy reading going on around here).
Photos taken in Hosier Lane in Melbourne during the mad Christmas rush season. I love good graffiti laneways.
So it was onto the backup knitting plan. I turned to the other kit - a Christmas angel that was again a kit from Let's Knit Issue 73, November 2013. The pattern is called Gabriella by Amanda Berry. This one was knitted on 3.75mm needles. it's knitted flat and then seamed. I knitted the head and body bit. Then the holiday finished.
I knitted little bits of the angel here and there over the rest of December but had a small spot of procrastination in finishing up the face and the hair. Finally knuckled down and did it early in the morning on the 23rd of December. This one is part of my Mum's Christmas gift. I've been told the angel has a serene expression. I love the pop of gold in her hair and wings.
Last Christmas was the first year, we were missing a child for Christmas dinner. The middle daughter spent her Christmas in Padova in Italy with generous friends chasing the elusive white Christmas. It didn't snow for her but it was still an awesome experience. She bought me home Italian knitting magazines and a copy of Arne and Carlo's Knitted Christmas balls book (in Italian). Now I can read Italian (sort of). I studied it a high school but it is very rusty. However, once I brushed up on the Italian knitting terminology, I was fine with this. There are clear photo tutorials for stuffing and finishing and all the patterns are charted. Mel of course had an ulterior motive in buying me this book. She wants a collection of red and white baubles for her future tree. Of course I'll oblige. She keeps complaining about a distinct lack of Christmas markets in Australia.
I made a sample bauble using DK and 3.75mm Needles. It was an abject failure as a bauble. It was miles too large and there was insufficient contrast between the yarns I was using. (Probably a mistake to use a variegated yarn as one of them. It does, however, make a good cat toy / child's ball though). So we went to fingering weight yarn and 2.75 mm needles. Meet Running reindeer. Next I'm going to knit the Christmas goat. (See Gavlebokken).
And I made a gift tag for my sister's present. These little owls are a great effective use of tiny little scrappy bits of yarn. I did have a plan to make a heap of these for present tags. It didn't happen. Life intervened. But at least one present got special love.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A series of scarves = afghan

An afghan has quietly been creating itself along in the background all year this year. (Well, not exactly on its own, it has been relying on me to be quietly knitting along on the component scarves amongst all the other knitting this year).

We first met the afghan in all its glory in April - Anyone got cable! scarf-ghan though sneak peaks had made it into the blog before that.But I haven't really posted about it since then and lots of progress has been made. In fact its an almost functional couch blanket now.

It's time for round two. I have made 4 more scarves since.
Scarf number 5: Twisted ribbons
The fifth scarf is a hybrid cable and lace pattern which I started in early April. I started this using the two balls of cream coloured Panda Machinewash crepe I'd bought in an end of winter sell out. (Can't you see that this was a potentially disastrous move?) But the pattern just ate through the yardage and I inevitably ran out of yarn late April and ordered some more. Whilst I was waiting I cast on scarf number six. (Can't have idle knitting needles, can you?)
Then of course the new yarn didn’t match colourwise. I knitted about half a pattern repeat but it offended my sensibilities. The colour change was that dramatic! So frogged the lot on 1st June 2014. I bought two more balls and began again in the new cream machinewash. This was now going to be the June strip!

That was probably a little ambitious. Actually I cast this back on on the 22rd of August! I was finishing up all the the other WIPs (Two jumpers for various children being the biggest of them). And it was finally completed on 15th September. The irony was that after blocking this ended up about 2 pattern repeats too long so in early October I frogged a bit of it and redid the garter stitch edge so it fitted with the rest of the strips. This scarf should just be very happy that I am persistent in the face of adversity.
Pattern: Twisted Ribbons Scarf and Cowl
Needles: 4mm
Yarn: Panda Machinewash 8 ply Crepe, Cream, 4 50g balls

Scarf number 6: Bernadette cable scarf
I had a cold and everything else I was working on is too complicated for my brain to cope with. Cables again - waving cables interlocking gently. This was me being productive whilst coping with the saga of scarf number five (see above). This was smooth sailing in comparison. And the yarn is a dream to knit. (Pity I think it's discontinued).
Pattern: Bernadette Cable Scarf by SmarieK Knits
Needles: 4mm
Yarn: Panda Woolblend Crepe 8 ply, Gray, 3 and a little bit 50g balls.
Scarf number 7: Eagle feathers
This one is based on Eagle Feathers - a free scarf pattern with a series of different patterned bands beginning with simple chevrons and morphing through to full feathers. I started with a provisional cast on as it is worked out from each end. This was true stash busting. The yarn I used had a somewhat checkered past. I was reusing the yarn from Arundel which I had frogged during the Ravellenics. I had some some fun (not!) unpicking the provisional cast on and getting the correct amount of stitches to work the other way. This was a really fun pattern to knit and I especially love the feathers section on each of the edges. Unfortunately it ended up too long after blocking. It’s always hard to judge just how much a lace pattern will open up. So I took off one pattern repeat on each end and redid the moss stitch borders.
Pattern: The Eagle Feathers Scarf by Margaret Kiprenko
Needles: 4mm
Yarn: Patons Australia Katie, Tan / mustard, 4 50 g balls
 Scarf number 8: Beaumonde
Earlier this year I discovered the delights of dropping stitches on purpose (See Curly Wurly). I was eager to try this again. This was slated to be a cable scarf again. This pattern is a combination of cable and dropped stitches - the very definition of fun. It’s awesome to drop stitches on purpose. The yarn is some cream 12% angora, 48% viscose and 40% acrylic in a buttery cream colour I bought for $2 a ball in an end of season sale. So this something I actually bought purposely this year with this rug in mind.
Pattern: Beaumonde by SmarieK Knits. (She has an awesome collection of free cable scarf patterns available. This is the second one I have used as part of this scarf-ghan).
Needles: 4mm 
Yarn: Moda Vera Messina, cream, 3.2 50g balls
I decided to bite the bullet at the beginning of December and  sew what I had completed up in order to decide how many more scarves I needed to make to ge the width I want. This process took most of a week using my ususual evening knitting time to painstaking stitch the scarves together.
It's not quite as wide as I want it to be. I estimate I need two more scarves and one is already on the needles - a leafy lacy tendril on reverse stocking stitch. It's not too early to declare this project a massive sucess. Even at it's present size, it's a snuggly, cuddly useable couch rug. It stretches from my toes to my chest. Various family members have spent a fair bit of time trying to claim this for their own but it's mine, mine, you hear ..... (Cue evil laugh track here). However, I foresee me making variations on this theme for the next few years.... (My mum wants one, so does the hubby....)
I'm snuggled under this

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Brown as....

For the 2014 Ravellenics I boarded the Tardis with needles and yarn in hand and joined the giant crew of knitters and crocheters flying through time and space watching the Sochi Winter Games and crafting all sorts of goodness. Some very wonderful fellow travelers offered prizes for our efforts and the Tardis random number generator chose me to get this free pattern - a gorgeous geometric shawl pattern called Bequin.

I’ve been contemplating making a shawl for a long time but there were too many wonderful patterns to pick from to make my first. This sealed the deal. I had a pattern so I didn’t have to pick one. I have some very old gifted brown yarn from my Aunty that was  perfect for this.

Why Brown? Brown is underrated. I’m a brown kind of person right down to the boring brown hair (with a touch of grey).

When I was naming this project, I thought of my favourite Little Golden Book that I read to my little sister first and then my children over and over…. The Color kittens by Margaret Wise Brown.
”… and that made brown, Brown as a tug boat, Brown as an old goat, Brown as a beaver, Brown. And in all that brown the sun went down”.
Meet Brown as…
Pattern: Bequin by Ydun from The Apple Basket
Needles: 4mm straights and a 100cm 4mm circular needle.
Yarn: Paton's Australia Azalea, Light fingering 3ply, 4 balls of brown (this is a long discontinued yarn. I suspect this is from the 1970s).
Cost: Free - gifted stash from my Aunty.

Despite the fact that this was my first lace shawl, in fact my first shawl of any type, it ended up being the third one off the needles. I got distracted into freeform along the way and made Lacewing and Curly Wurly while I was supposed to be finishing this.... (And a few other things too).

I cast on on the 8th of April and it flowed along quite nicely up until the third section of the shawl. I was still working this on straight needles as the yarn is so fine it still fits on a long straight needle. This is essentially geometrically arranged panels of faggotted lace. Every second row is just purl with a narrow garter stitch edge. The patterning is logical and the use of stitch markers between repeats really helps keep track.

I worked off the minimal written instructions and the charts. I found a mistake in the transition row for the third section of the shawl where the minimal instructions indicated one stitch border on each side of Chart A but the picture and the complete written instructions indicated it should be two stitches. I contacted the designer and she modified the pattern and sent me a new version.
Obligatory shawl pose
I did make the occasional mistake and had to tink back a few rows till I had the correct set up again. I had to redo the last four rows of section II 4 times to get it right. (Took me two days for 4 rows). The pattern is nicely written and quite intuitive but needs patience and I tend to make mistakes when knitting at night.

Knitting a lace shawl taught me patience and not to drop stitches!

Well the shawl got neglected in the push to finish the jumpers for the kids and with me discovering a new playground in IFFF. I made a major push to complete this as part of October WIP wrestling. It was very slow going with the last edge section. Very long rows (400+ stitches) and it was getting to the half an hour a row stage. But slow and steady got there. I really enjoyed the cast off - a new to me technique.
The first finished shot. Indoor lighting really changes the colour of this.
I love the geometry of this and how it curves and hugs the shoulders. Really interesting shape. Cast off, ends sewed in and blocked fairly aggressively to open the lace on 25th October 2014. But it had to wait a while for a real photo shoot. I took it with me on holidays to the Gold Coast in late November, early December 2014 and finally got some finished shots on the balcony of a high rise silhouetted against the amazing view.
I think I'm hooked. What shawl shall I make next....