Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Knitting tips: Knitting with Linen

In an endeavour to have more knitwear to wear during the summer I knit two linen pieces this season. I went stash diving and found the sweater lot of Quince & Co. Sparrow that I had bought at least a year ago and I made Pam Allen's Perkin's Cove jumper. Then just last week I finished knitting a lovely cocoon of a shrug by Bristol Ivy called Bridie in Quince & Co's aran weight linen, Kestrel. Both of these garments are lovely to wear and they will definitely feature prominently in my summer wardrobe in the years to come.

I hear many people wonder what it is like to knit with linen yarn and I am by no means an expert, but here are some of my observations.

Linen is a plant fibre so it is smooth like cotton and it will not felt. However, because of the smoothness of the fibre it does also share the cotton's characteristic of having no bounce in the yarn. Unlike wool and many other animal fibres that have crimpy strands that will give the yarn bounce and memory, the plant fibres' smoothness will pretty much feel flat and "dead" in the hand. For some knitters, working with such fibres tend to cause their hands to hurt. After working two garments in linen I am ready to give my hands a rest from plant fibres and get back into some incredible woolly wools. 

In preparation for knitting with the linen yarn I was advised to hand wind the skeins. The lack of crimp in the yarn is just more suited to hand wound balls but that is not to say if you are short on time that you cannot knit from a cake that had been wound on a ball winder.

To try to avoid the stiffness in my hands I read Elizabeth Doherty's guest blog post on the Quince & Co. site. She suggests to ease up the tension and to go down a needle size or two so that you don't have to pull as tightly to achieve gauge. I did this with the Bridie project and tried hard consistently maintained a relaxed tension but I find the muscle memory in my hands often just take over when I get into a knitting rhythm and when I finished the pieces I had a little freak out moment when my knitting was much smaller than the suggested size pictured in Bristol's schematic. 

But here is how linen can shine. It is an incredibly strong fibre and can withstand some vigorous blocking. So I blocked the heck out of the Bridie and left it to dry over a weekend; I was not going to take it off the mats until it was bone dry. Because there is no crimp in the fibre once it is dry that shape is pretty much set until the next time it gets wet unlike wool which can I have noticed will gradually bounce back to it's preblocked state in some for or another. After blocking the Bridie cocoon, the size was much closer to the intended size and now it fits perfectly. I believe by blocking it the pattern has opened up a bit and it has resulted in a lovely drape to the garment.

When I was knitting the Perkin's Cove pattern with the Quince & Co. Sparrow yarn I found that my finished object was a bit wide and the stitches were looking a bit uneven and sloppy. So when I blocked that jumper I pulled it down to elongate the stitches and bring in the width. Stretching out the stitches lengthwise also helped to tidy up the elongated stitch pattern by evening it all out. Again I let it dry until it was bone dry and the linen has pretty much stayed in place.

Much of what I have read about linen knits emphasises how machine washing and tumble drying the yarn will soften it and give it more drape. I am yet to test this because I do not own a tumble dryer. I did however throw the Bridie shrug into the washing machine and that withstood the process. Linen, like cotton will not felt and is strong enough to take some rough treatment.

Both pieces have been such lovely layering garments for me to wear over the past month. I am so pleased with them both and next summer I will definitely have another linen knit on my needles. Maybe I'll play around with some Isager Bomulin next time.

Further Reading:
As mentioned above, Elizabeth Doherty's tips on the Quince & Co. blog are very help so do take a look. Another worthy read for knitting with linen is Hannah Fettig's post about finishing linen knits. Check it out here.

Links to my Ravelry project pages for my Bridie and Perkin's Cove.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Knitting tips: When you get stumped with a pattern instruction

Somehow I've ended up with the wrong stitch count at the shoulders on the front and I'm stuck.
We've all been there before and no matter how experienced a knitter we are we all experience the same rise of panic and frustration when we find a point in our project where we cannot proceed any further. 

You may have just realised that the pattern instructions and your actual knitting doesn't match up. You believe that you have followed EVERYTHING to the tee and you just don't know why this has happened. Or you had been happily chugging along with your knitting until you've reached a point in the pattern that is confusing or unfamiliar to you.

If you're like me, this usually happens late in the evening and I end up obsessing over it trying to work it out to fix the problem before I am able to go to bed. Which in reality probably doesn't help the situation at all and really a sleep and a fresh set of eyes is the possibly the most prudent approach.

Having experienced this panic and frustration many many times I have sat down and thought of a few suggestions for how to move forward.

1. I find all my patterns off Ravelry these days so that is often my first point of reference. I will look at the pattern page to see if the designer has posted any errata links or comments about tricky bits in the pattern. After that I look through the projects that other Ravelry users have made from the same pattern. This wonderful community is full of many generous and wise makers who diligently write up thoughts, modifications and problems they encountered. If there is an error in the pattern's instructions it would undoubtedly be picked up on by more than one knitter. The helpful ones will also provide details on how they moved forward from the problem or what they did to modify the pattern to their liking. I am eternally grateful for those benevolent knitters who freely share their wisdom and I do try to do likewise with my Ravelry project notes.

2. My current project, Annie Rowden's Polka Dot Tunic hasn't got many projects on Ravelry and so unfortunately there are no helpful notes from other makers. I am at a point where my knitting is not matching up to what the pattern instructions say. I am stumped but I am not at a loss. Many independent designers are willing to provide pattern support for their designs. They are dedicated to their fan base and will usually provide some kind of contact means for questions and feedback. In this case I have written an email to Annie and I hope to hear back in the near future. I'll let you know what happens...*

3. Sometimes you just need someone in real life to help you nut through a problem and a trip to the LYS is just what you need. At Sunspun we regularly have people popping in need of help with a project and we are all ways happy to take a look and spend a bit of one on one time nutting it out. We always try our best to send people off ready to keep knitting and on their way towards a beautiful finished project.

I hope you'll be able to knit problem free, so happy knitting.

UPDATE: My email to Annie has been replied and she has clarified everything. Turns out the pattern has errors and she will be updating the parts that I pointed out to her. I'm a bit chuffed to have made a contribution to this pattern and aided a designer. This is just another thing I love about the modern knitting community.

Monday, 2 January 2017

2017: Blog Reboot

Happy New Year! 2017! 
It's a new year, so why not reboot the blog. Rather than dwell on what went wrong last year I'm just going to look ahead and set my goals for the year ahead.

Slowing down and simplifying life is one thing that is pressing on my thoughts right now. I want to be able to enjoy the moments and the process rather than try to rush through to the finished object or the destination. I'm aiming to take the pressure of myself stop trying to achieve unrealistic goals or to make everything that catches my eye. So the goals will be less extensive and detailed this year and kinder to myself.

I've come to accept that "Stash Less" is just not for me. I know I really should but I can't especially since I started working at my LYS, Sunspun and I'm surrounded by such attractive yarns on a regular basis. I am a stash enhancer but maybe I should turn that into a strength and write more often about the spectacular skeins of yarn that cross my path and find their way into my stash. So you can look forward to some more yarny thoughts this year on the blog.

I want to spend more time on my sewing machine. The growing fabric stash will be a new area of attention for me. I have been collecting and dreaming of building my handmade wardrobe and I really need to just apply myself to making it a reality. I also want to make more items for my children so that they can wear at least one piece of handmade everyday.

Some knits that I definitely want to make this year:

Little Wave cardigan by Gudrun Johnston. I want to knit this for my husband for our 10 year anniversary this year. 

Isadora Lopapeysa by Kate Gagnon Osborn. This will be for my boy because I want to knit a stranded colourwork sweater and a kids sized one is the best place to start.

Pictured above is what I'm working through right now. It's Annie Rowden's Polka Dot Tunic for my girl but I'm considering changing the bottom of it because I predict that a white "skirt" bottom will definitely return from kinder very dirty. I'm knitting this with my last 200g skein of Tarndie 8ply and some lovely squishy Wool Days Scout and I think of it as my "All Australia" project because both these exquisitely woolly wools are traceable to two single farms in Australia. Both yarns have fabulous stories behind them; take a look through their websites if you want to know more or wait till I post up a yarn review.

For myself, there are too many jumpers, cardigans, shawls, cowls and etc. in my making dreams. I will probably just let the fibre speak to me and choose projects based on which yarns I want to play with next. Like that Blacker yarns Cornish Tin II that is pictured at the top of this post. I keep wanting to squish (and sniff) it and I'm thinking it will be a lovely yarn to use for a Rocquaine from Pom Pom 18.

Please share your making goals in the comments. Happy making in 2017. 

Monday, 29 August 2016

The Siren song of the Crafts

Lately the fabric has been calling to me and I've been daydreaming about sewing.
There are times when the craft supplies, whether they be the fabric stash or the yarns, call to you and pulls you in like a Siren song. This past couple of weeks I have been finding myself longingly staring at the fabric stash and dreaming of projects to turn those gorgeous pieces of cloth into. My skills are limited but my dreams are big.

The lure to craft is not unlike the effect of a Siren song upon a weary sailor. When the materials are special, the call is entrancing and irresistible like the mythical lullaby of the Sirens. When I feel the pull towards the fabric I find my brain is taken over by thoughts of projects and the colours and prints upon the cloth. It draws me in until I find myself working at my sewing station cutting and pressing and stitching away.

One of the Wiksten tanks that's I've made of late.

I feel like the pull to craft is not only something mystical it is some kind of subconscious push towards some tap out, therapeutic craft time. Like the weather-worn sailor I find myself in a season of busyness and stress and my ability to juggle everything is failing more often than I'd like. Mentally I'm feeling the strain and though I am tired and in a bit of a funk I cannot resist the urge to make something.

I've written before about how I find making and crafting very therapeutic; a path to mindfulness. Again I write here to reiterate it. Undeniably there are times when certain yarns or fabrics sing to you and you just know it is asking to be made into something beautiful. The process of making leads one to put aside the stresses and 'to do lists' of life for a while and the joy of a product made with love lifts the spirits.

A friend of mine was recently sharing of her struggle with depression and then excitedly took me down to her workshop where she has been making a table top with recycled wood. She spoke with such delight when she explained where each piece of wood originally came from and how she was almost finished with the varnish. Her work is beautiful and I marvel at her talent but more so her ability to find a positive mental space when she is feeling the blues.

More things cut out ready to sew up.

Sometimes we do not realise that we need to be involved in this process of making. Our heart and mind suddenly crave to make something and all stemming from a need to nourish the mind and soul with some positive energy. Initially, the pull may feel like a dangerous Siren song because of all those tasks that need to be ticked off and jobs to be done, but once we immerse ourselves into the making and take a breath we realise that craft time was exactly what we needed.

I believe it is alright to allow yourself a little bit of tap out time to do the thing that you love. The Siren song of Craft is not a bad thing, but instead a chance to experience a moment of mindful peace.

What do you like to make or do when you take the time to tap out from life's stresses? Does it nourish your mind and soul and feel like it was exactly what you needed to do? Share your thoughts.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

About the time I went to Bendigo for the Sheep and Wool show...

What I came home with from "Bendi Spendi" this year.

Hello my sad neglected blog...I'm back with a post that is weeks overdue. This is my round up of the Annual Australian Sheep and Wool show that was held in Bendigo back in mid July.

For woolcrafters in this neck of the woods this once yearly sheep and wool show is one of the most exciting weekends of the year. It is this event that will prompt the migration of knitters, crocheters, spinners, felters and all fibre lovers into this lovely regional city each year. They come in their little gaggles donning their handmade woollies and find a fibre heaven in the woolcraft market sheds.

This year instead of dragging the family up with me I did the day trip with some knitty girlfriends. We piled into the car with the largest boot and headed off even before my littlies had woken up (such a rarity, and of course it happens on the day that I'm not able to sleep in.). As much as I love having my family with me on such adventures, doing the show with friends who are on the same page when it comes to fibre was such a nicer experience than having to put up with the complaints of Sir S who declares, "I don't like sheep." 

My "Women of Wool". Love you girls!
I confess, I went quite crazy last year at the show because it was my first and I'm going to blame it on the wool fumes. This year I prepped myself to be restrained and to be the supportive enabler for my friends instead. To help me, I was prepared to stick to my woolly wool filter and continue to avoid purchasing any superwashed fibres even if the colours sung to me. My one must buy item was a knitted dinosaur softie because last year that was the one thing at the show that Sir S took an interest in and I told him that if I had money at the end of the day I would buy him one. Well, I'm sure you can guess that I ran out of money last year.

The show did not disappoint this year. The selection of beautiful yarns, fleeces, knitting accessories and bits and bobs were all marvellous. I love seeing the number of independent hand dyers who are around these days and discovering new people who I were not familiar with before. I love seeing how Nan Bray's White Gum Wool is becoming quite a popular base for hand dyers to use and that makes my heart sing because I am a huge fan of her principles and practices. It excites me to see Aussie hand dyers using her bases because it means that I can still buy from indie dyers and support their small businesses.

Here are some of my stand out favourites from the show this year:

1. Alpaca Allure
At this stall I met a family who run their own alpaca farm and a mini mill out in the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria. They had all this lovely undyed yarns in gorgeous natural alpaca fleece colours. The thing that really got me was on each of their labels they listed the names of the animals that the fibre came from as a dye lot. So, I bought a skein of their 8ply that came from Rose and Leo in 2016. It is so so soft and I love the natural sandy grey colour.

I bought some yarn from her last year and I was happily a return customer this year. It was the super luscious camel/ silk lace weight yarn that got me this year. Knitting with lace weight yarn is a bit of a scary prospect but getting to work with this beautiful yarn will motivate me to give it a go.

Impossible to resist touching this fleece.

A family run Australian farm that is growing some beautifully crimpy and superfine merino. They had this raw fleece on the table and I could not keep my hands away from it. What can I say, crimp excites me.

I had a lovely conversation with the man behind this mill, Alasdair while I pawed over and sniffed his skeins of Gotland wool. He too runs an alpaca farm and mini mill in regional Victoria and he had some really exciting blends of Gotland with fibres like silk and recycled wool or cashmere. I am so impressed to find a small industry of fibre milling and production just on my doorstep in Victoria. I am filing away this information for future fibre dreams.

I came away with a couple more business cards and flyers of things that caught my eye but I restrained myself from buying. If I get the chance to follow up on those yarns and fibres in the future I'll tell you about them.

It was such a fun day amongst the wool fumes and the tactile heaven of fibre. Did you make it to Bendi this year? What caught your eye or should I say hand as you fondled through the stalls?

BTW, I did buy the dinosaur for Sir S this year and redeemed myself (and wool) in his eyes.

It was clear I had a bit of a colour theme this year.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Tips for problem free travel knitting

This little notions kit of mine takes care of all my knitting needs while on the go.
Recently when we were preparing for an overseas family holiday a few well meaning friends who were aware of my knitting addiction expressed concern for the likelihood of being able to get my knitting needles through airport security. Having travelled before, both internationally and domestically with my knitting I did not share their doubts. There was not a single bat of the eye when my bags went through the x-ray for scanning and I didn't even feel the need to preempt the security officers to the fact that there was knitting in my bag this time round.  By all means I'm not trying to set myself up as an expert on this topic but I thought it might be useful to share my tips so that other knitters can enjoy their knitting abroad too.

Beyond the purpose of getting through airport security I also have some general tips for keeping your knitting portable for crafting on the go.

1. Use circular knitting needles.
I use circular knitting needles all the time even when working flat because I find them more comfortable because the weight of the work sits more centrally in front of me and doesn't give me as much shoulder strain. I also like using them because I am a chronic public knitter and circulars are easier to tuck into a project bag and not stick out like straight needles do. 

2. Use wooden or bamboo tips.
The debate is still on with whether you can get through the security screen with metal tips so to avoid any issues I just stick to using wooden or bamboo needles.

3. Have yarn on the needles already cast on.
I do this so that it is more convincing to the security officers that I am a legitimate knitter and that I'm not planning on using my needles as weapons.

4. Bring a Clover yarn cutter pendant.
If you think you must cut your yarn then this nifty little yarn cutter works a treat and is not a problem through security. I just had it in my notions pouch with all my other little nick nacks and there were no issues.

5. Knit smaller projects.
Hauling around a large sweater project is just not practical when travelling so knit something small like an accessory or socks. If you must knit a sweater then try just doing the sleeves while you are on the go.

6. Bring enough yarn to last the whole trip and factor in the possibility for delays.
It happened to me once, on the way to Sydney our flight got cancelled and we were stuck a the airport. Initially I didn't mind because i had my knitting and then I ran out of yarn. The delay quickly became unbearable and it also meant that I didn't have anything to knit on the way home too. Now, I make sure I wind up all I need for the whole project and also bring more than one thing to work on.

7. Knit with yarn appropriate to the destination climate.
We were holidaying in Singapore and I knew that working a thick woolly project was a ridiculous thing to do. Hence I brought along nice little lace weight project and knit away happily by the pool as my children played.

8. Keep digital copies of the patterns.
I load a copy of the pattern onto all of our devices so that I still have access to the pattern even when my kids are monopolising the iPad.

9. Choose an easy pattern.
My preference is for a fairly plain knit that won't require too much brain work, I am on holidays after all. Travelling with children often involves sitting in the dark hotel room waiting for a child to fall asleep and knitting st st is what I can manage in those circumstances. I'm sure more experienced knitters will be more advanced than me when it comes to knitting in the dark but I like to keep it simple.

10. Bring a self addressed prepaid postage satchel.
If you are nervous about getting your knitting needles through security then bring a prepaid satchel so that you can post the project to yourself. Aim to head through security early so that if there was an issue you will have enough time to put your knitting in the post satchel and find a post box before trying again with security. If you still hope to work on the project while away then I recommend using interchangeable tips on your circular needles so that if you did encounter a problem you only need to post the tips back to yourself. Then when you get to your destination you have the fun of finding a LYS to pick up some new tips and some new yarn too. However, with this tip, please keep in mind that when leaving a foreign country for the homeward journey you will need to investigate what their local postage options are before heading to the airport.

There you go, nicely rounded out to 10 tips. I'm sure all you seasoned travel knitters out there have many other tips that I haven' even considered. Please leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Finished object file: Puntilla Sweater | Skein Merino Cashmere Fingering

This is the kind of pose you end up with when your 6YO gives the directions. He thought that I could best show off the lace by holding my hands this way.
Here's another finished object for a couple of months ago but I have been wearing it so much since I finished it and it is certainly one of my current wardrobe favs. I'm talking about the Puntilla sweater designed by Joji Locatelli that I knit for the recent Skein Sweater KAL that Kristen hosted through her Ravelry group.

When Kristen first announced that she was going to offer a preorder sale for sweater lots of her yarn I was immediately hooked. I started obsessing over her colour ways and bases and dreaming of the different sweaters I could make. Then Kristen announced that she was also going to host a sweater KAL starting in May just around the time the preorders were due to be sent out. This totally sent me down the Ravelry rabbit hole. I ummed and ahhed over two patterns initially but every time I logged onto Ravelry I started adding more patterns to my short (long) list.

'Milk Glass' is a beautiful colour way but it was not quite what I expected.

Finally, I decided to make Joji Locatelli's Puntilla sweater from her recently released Authentic Collection. From the Skein update I ordered 4 skeins of MCN Sock in the 'Milk Glass' colour way on a whim because the photo of the colour looked like a soft neutral with subtle splashes of pastel purple and bluey grey. When the skeins actually arrived and I started swatching with the yarn I realised that the colour way was much deeper and variegated then I had expected. I kept looking at my swatch and I kept thinking, "I love these colours, it looks amazing." However, something still nagged at me in the back of my mind about the colour and only after I had cast on and started knitting the shoulders did I finally admit to myself that I just didn't love the colour way when I was knitting it in st st. I was troubled by just how variegated it was and I didn't feel comfortable wearing that blend of colours in a sweater that was predominately knit in st st. Luckily, I had some Skein Merino Cashmere (MC) Fingering in 'Graphite' in my stash and so I frogged what I had knit with the 'Milk Glass' and started all over again. 

The knit went fairly quickly after I got past the shoulders and the short row shaping for the neckline. I had never knit a Joji pattern before and her shoulder construction method was a style that I had never tried before either. But all credit to Joji for writing such clear instructions, because it was not tricky at all and I was surprised that in a relatively short amount of time I had a neck hole and a pair of shoulders.

It's hard taking photos in the yard without the dogs getting in the way.
Those dogs are still there in the background.
Once I had the arms holes done and had joined the work in the round I buzzed through the st st body. I knit the sleeves on short circulars, which has become my favourite method of small circumference knitting (BTW, I use 20cm Addi turbos for that) and then I finished the neck ribbing with an invisible ribbed bind off to give it a bit more stretch. Bang, the main body of the sweater was done and I was onto the lace trims. 

Here is where the 'Milk Glass' came back into play. I decided that though I didn't like the colour way in st st I was going to love it knit in lace. So I picked up the the stitches around the ribbed ends of the sweater and knit the easy to memorise lace in the beautiful 'Milk Glass' colour. I adore the little touches of mauve and bluey grey that peak through in the lace trim. I love how the lace sits at the end of my sleeves and at the bottom of the sweater giving it a touch of femininity to an otherwise boxy and androgynous garment.

I like this pattern over Joji's very popular Boxy sweaters because it is not as wide in the body and the added lace trims just gives it something a little special for the everyday. Hence this top has been my favourite one to wear as our weather has turned colder and colder in Melbourne. The MC Fingering is just so soft and cuddly, so when the weather wasn't so cold I would wear a singlet underneath and the yarn was so divine against the skin. Now that it is colder the generous boxy style of the jumper means that I can still wear it comfortably over my layers.

Thanks to Kristen from Skein for hosting such a fantastic KAL and for the awesome prize.

And, as an added bonus I won a prize from the KAL. Kristen announced me as one of the winners at the end of the KAL and she awarded me a Kimi Silks project bag. I am extra chuffed that on top of having a gorgeous new sweater to wear I won something in the KAL. Who would have thought I'd be so lucky?