Friday, 27 February 2015

Finished object file: Newborn Vertebrae | Patons Dreamtime 4ply

A wee wooly gift for a wee little bub
Today I had the pleasure of packaging up a little woolly gift to send to my friends in Sydney to welcome their new daughter. I love handmade gifts and I love being able to give something that I lovingly made myself to my dear friends.

Not being 100% sure that they were expecting a girl I opted for a gender neutral item. Kelly Brooker of Peka Peka Designs has a great little pattern that is available for free called 'Newborn Vertebrae'. It's a very simple buttonless cardigan but sometimes the simple items are the best for newborns. What is the point of having an extremely pretty piece of clothing that will get puked on and be grown out of within a few weeks? Also, how clever is this buttonless design? No small fiddly buttons to deal with for overtired parents. LOVE IT!

Kelly also sells the Vertebrae pattern in sizes for older babies and kids in a combined ebook. As well as that she has also designed a mama sized one too. I like the idea of a mama sized Vertebrae as a stylish and simple open cardigan that perfectly complements a growing baby bump.

Simple designs are often the best for newborns
Also thrown into the gift is another Crooked Little Baby Bonnet that I had previously posted about in the blog. This one was knit quite a few months ago out of Quince & Co. Chickadee wool. I had held off gifting it to anyone because I thought the size of it came out a bit too small even for a newborn. My friend's new bub is a wee little girl born at 2.2kg so I think this will be perfect for her.

This is my favourite baby bonnet pattern for little girls
Since I cannot give her a big auntie cuddle I can send her my love and prayers and wrap her up in some comfy woollies.

Do you have any favourite newborn knits? What are your essential 'must have' items for new babies (not necessarily knitted)?

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

What to knit Wednesday: patterns for beginners

Today I'm going to be starting a regular feature called, "What to knit Wednesdays." So, the idea is that each week I'll write a post to review 5 patterns that I have either knit or I want to knit. This will be a great opportunity for me to showcase some of the lovely patterns that I have had the pleasure of knitting.

Yesterday at playgroup I had the privilege to teach another mum how to knit. We only got so far as casting on and knit stitch but this got me thinking about what patterns are perfect for beginners.

1. The most simple thing to start with is a garter stitch scarf. I'm sure that most knitters have been there at some point while they were first learning. My mum taught me to knit when I was 9 years old and my very first finished object was a garter stitch scarf that still has a much loved place in my wardrobe.

I'm never letting go of my first ever finished knitted project. This is good nostalgia.
Garter stitch is simply knit every stitch for every row, so there really isn't a pattern written up for this because it is so simple.

2. When you've mastered the knit and purl stitch you can move beyond knitting garter stitch patterns to something a little more interesting. I like moss stitch patterns where the knit and purl stitches are alternated and then for the next row the purl stitch is placed above the knit stitch and the knit stitch is placed above the purl stitch.

Row 1: K1, P1
Row 2: P1, K1

3. Progressing from moss stitch knit flat, try knitting a moss stitch cowl. Taking the next step and learning to knit in the round is not really daunting at all. Circular knitting is actually a fantastic thing to master if you hate seaming. 

Jane Richmond's Marian cowl is a great example of a seamless moss stitch cowl. I love it because it is knit with super bulky yarn on big needles and you can knit until you run out of yarn - no left overs.

The Marian cowl is perfect to begin trying circular knitting with.
4. The first hat I ever knit was the Simple Baby Hat pattern designed by the team behind the fabulous Norwegian Pickles blog. This particular pattern appears in Jenny Lord's "Purls of Wisdom" book and it's a perfect little hat for tiny babies. The Pickles blog is full of amazing knitting patterns, all imbued with classic Scandinavian style. Take some time to check it out if you're looking for a new pattern to work on.

5. Another oh so simple cowl that I have knit twice is Lara's cowl. The pattern is seamlessly knit in the round with super bulky yarn and only requires knit and purl stitches to create a checkerboard look.

This pattern was so easy I knit an extra one for gifting.
So here we are, 5 patterns that are perfect for beginners. Which patterns were your first knits? What would you suggest to beginner knitters?

What other patterns would you like me to feature in this series? Kids knits? Baby items? Softies? Leave a comment with your requests.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

I love the half brioche...stitch

Kitamu Cup Cuddler
A few of my latest projects have utilised the half brioche stitch pattern and I love it. There are a number of things that draws me to this stitch. 1) I think it is visually beautiful. 2) It creates a lovely textured piece and 3) It is super easy to knit.

Ava Beret knits the brioche stitch by alternating the rows with two colours 
By alternating two contrasting colours the half brioche stitch becomes even more stunning like it does in the Ava Beret. I just finished knitting the beret for a friend's little girl using some Koigu KPPPM which is a beautiful hand dyed variegated merino yarn. Knit with a contrasting neutral colour the variegated pinks come through very nicely.

The pattern is so simple. 

CO (cast on) an even number of stitches.

If working flat:
Row 1: Knit 
Row 2: *K1, K1B Repeat * to end of row
Row 3: Knit
Row 4: *K1B, K1 Repeat * to end of row

If working in the round:
Row 1: Purl
Row 2: *K1, K1B Repeat * to end of row
Row 3: Purl
Row 4: *K1B, K1 Repeat * to end of row

Note: K1B – Knit 1 Below: Insert right needle into the stitch below the stitch on left needle. Knit the stitch and let stitch on needle drop off. Note: This is not a decrease.

What is your favourite stitch pattern? What attracts you to it?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Summer and knitting; are they mutually exclusive?

My Judith Shrug originally knit to wear at my brother's wedding last January
This may surprise some people but I love to knit all year round. For some people knitting is thought of as something only done during the autumn and winter. Admittedly getting all cozy on the couch with a bundle of soft, warm yarn is a very inviting idea during the cooler months of the year, but I cannot hold myself back and restrict this craft to the cold half of the year.

So, what do I knit during the summer? Well, let's be practical about it and choose projects wisely. Knitting a large blanket should be a project saved for the coldest part of winter so that you can snuggle under the blanket as you progress through it. Small projects like socks, hats and baby items are suitable summer time knitting because you are less likely to get swamped by masses of knitted fabric while you are trying to stay cool.

Chibi Maruko cowl I knit as a last minute gift 
This summer I have worked on a pair of Rye socks, a Chibi Maruko cowl, an Ava beret and a High-Water jumper for Sir S. The jumper has been the only slightly bigger project that I didn't feel like picking up during a hot and humid spell.

Another tip for comfortable summer knitting is to select a thinner yarn or one made of cooling fibres such as cotton, linen, bamboo or hemp. I have knit two projects with fingering weight yarn (4ply) and they have been light to touch merino yarns that haven't left a clamminess on the hands as I worked with them. I also have in my stash some lovely Quince & Co. Sparrow which is an organic linen yarn which I'm keen to try knitting with some time this year.

Quince & Co. Sparrow in my stash
You can also knit a lace project during the summer time. The lightness and airiness of many lace patterns will help you to avoid that uncomfortable bulkiness often associated with cold weather yarn craft. Casting on a lacey linen project such as the Nyanen Tee would make an exciting summer knitting experience in my humble opinion.

When it comes to wearing knitted garments I don't restrict that to the winter months either. We have had a very cool summer this year in Melbourne and that has allowed me to dress both the kids as well as myself in woollens on occasion. It has been possible to throw a Clemmentine Shrug or Immie Tee on Miss L as we head out the door on a cool morning or dress Sir S in his Purl Soho Easy pullover during an outdoor birthday party. Even today with a forecast of 36 degrees Celsius I comfortably wore my Judith Shrug to church in the morning.

Wearing my Judith Shrug to church this morning.
These items are all pretty trans-seasonal but since I love playing around with different types of garment construction and different types of yarns I have my eye on some summer specific patterns too. You can knit lightweight tees and singlets with linen, cotton or bamboo. Pretty little dresses and tunics for little girls such as Hannah Fettig's Sweet Pleat is perfect for adventures in the sunshine.

Miss L getting another year out of her Immie Tee
Do you wear knitted garments during the warmer months too? What craft activities do you prefer to do during the summer?

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

We are all creative

One of my latest finished objects: a second sunbonnet but in 0-3mo size.
"You must be very creative.", commented a playgroup mum this week while she was admiring Miss L's bonnet. This led to a conversation about making and crafting and creativity.

I told this mum that when I was little I never thought of myself as creative because I was a typical Asian nerd who just studied and my hobby would have been watching TV. Though my mum taught me to knit when I was about 10 years old all I ever managed to learn and all she had time to teach me was to knit garter stitch scarfs. With lack of motivation and no nice yarn to play with I lost interest in knitting after my first scarf was finished.

I remember when I was little I wasn't into craft and I didn't do much drawing in my spare time. Later at high school Art was the only subject that I got bad grades in. When my mum saw my report card and asked about the poor grade I told her, "I can't draw for crap."  End of story. I stopped trying to be creative after that.

During my teaching degree I ended up in this "Art" stream for one of the prerequisite subjects that I don't even recall the name of. The class was given a project to create an piece of work that would be displayed as a sort of exhibition at the end of the semester. The piece could be any medium and was to respond to the concept of 'assessment and reporting' in the Education world. I was distraught about being placed in this class and I was freaking out about having to make something for this exhibition. However, the teacher gave us this inspiring speech saying, "Everyone can create and it's just a matter of finding your own area of creativity."

After this conversation at playgroup I was thinking back to that teacher's comment and I realised that she was right in the end. Everyone does have the skills to create and each will create in their own way. I grew up putting creativity into the box with artistic talent and my journey has shown me that I was so wrong.

I believe in a creator God and I believe I was made in His image. As His creation I think I can share in His desire to create and God has also blessed us with His beautiful world to inspire us. Creating should be a natural desire in every human being and we do it every day without even knowing it. We create meals for ourselves and our family, we create memories with our time and we create and nurture little people and help them to be little creators too through our hugs and words of encouragement. 

So, I guess in the end I can admit that I am creative. I enjoy expressing it through knitting and that is one of the ways I am consciously creating. However, I now realise our lives are imbued with creativity and it's time for me to accept it and take joy in it.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Why yarn is not just wool.

When I speak to people about knitting I come across some common misconceptions about the craft and today's the post may be the start of a series that will explain some of the basic elements of knitting and crocheting.

To start with you may have noticed that I always speak about "yarn" rather than use the term "wool" to describe the material that I work with. The simple explanation for this is that wool only comes from sheep and it is only one of the kinds of fibre that a crafter can work with. Basically, anything that can be made into a fibre can be used to produce yarn for knitting and other crafts. Other types of common animal fibres that are spun to make yarn are alpaca fur, angora from rabbits and mohair and cashmere from goats. Beyond those more commonly known fibres there has also been a growing interest in spinning yarn from  animals such as camels, possums, llamas and even bison.

Debbie Bliss Como is a super bulky Merino Cashmere blend
Also, let's not narrow our thinking to just animal fibres. Yarns have also been made with plant fibres such as cotton, linen, hemp and bamboo. Silk is also a common component in yarns but as it is a protein based fibre that is excreted by the silkworm after consuming mulberry leaves doesn't quite fall into being an animal fibre nor a plant fibre.

Scientific advancements during the early 20th century also produced a number of synthetic fibres. Acrylic, Rayon, Microfiber and Nylon can be cheaper, more durable and often machine washable. When I was little and forced to wear an itchy jumper that my mum had knit with acrylic yarn I hated anything "woolen". To be honest I would still hate to wear anything that is knit with balls of 100% synthetic yarn, but, synthetics do have their merits. Because of it's durability a small percentage of it is often spun together with lusher fibres to give the yarn strength. If you're knitting socks it is common to find a sock yarn what has a small percentage of nylon to make those hard wearing items more durable. So, don't fear a yarn that has a little bit of synthetic in it, it can still be comfortable to wear against the skin if the bulk of the yarn is made of something else.

Shibui Sock yarn in Peony colourway
So, you might ask what is the softest yarn out there? Well, there is no easy answer to that. Other than personal preference making it an extremely subjective topic, there is also the complicated matter of how the fibre is produced or grown, how it is harvested or shorn, how it is processed into a fibre and how it is spun together. Even which animal it comes from plays a factor. For example, the fur of a lamb or baby alpaca is beautifully softer than older animals of their species.

Cephalopod Merino DK in Gallifrey colourway
What I like working with the most is merino wool. This wool is buttery soft, dyes up beautifully and though not cheap, it is worth it's price tag because it is easy to knit with and comfortable to wear against the skin.

Carefully reading yarn labels is an important thing when choosing yarns. I also highly recommend taking a close look at clothing labels before buying a mass produced knitted garment. 

If you want to understand yarn fibres a lot more a good book to read is 'The knitter's book of yarn' by Clara Parkes. I had it out from Camberwell Library over Christmas and learnt a lot about fibre from it.

Do you have a favourite yarn to work with? Do you stay away from wool because it itches? What experiences have you had with "woolen" garments? 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Yin yang Rye socks - a knitting misadventure

Last year my dad fell from a ladder and he fractured his pelvis quite badly. While spending 7 weeks in hospital rehabilitating after having multiple pins placed into his pelvis to help stabilise the injury, he regularly complained of having cold feet. I decided that a dutiful daughter ought to lovingly knit some cozy socks for their dad.

Having never knit socks before I thought it best to go with the basic boy socks pattern from 'Purls of Wisdom'. I bought some lovely Naturally Waikiwi from the Sunspun spring sale and the aim was to have the pair of socks done by Ba's birthday in September. However, a few factors were unfortunately working against me. 1) I was in the middle of a couple of other projects 2) sock yarn is such a fine yarn that for a slow knitter like me a small sock project sti.ll takes forever and 3) life was just going through one of those particularly busy patches and knitting was not getting fit in as much as I had liked.

Well by the time Ba's birthday arrived I was only about 3/4 the way through one sock, so the plan became to give him socks for Christmas instead. About 5 days till Christmas I reassessed the sock project and decided on knitting some Rye socks by tincanknits that called for some worsted-aran weight yarn. I was also going to do some stash busting by using up the leftover Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran that I had used for my BIL's Windschief beanie and some leftover random green coloured yarn that I had used for knitting mug cozies for the kinder teachers and SILs.

When we all sat down for Christmas lunch on Boxing Day I sadly only had one completed sock to give to my dad. So, these socks made it onto my January make list and as celebrated in my 'Small victories' post I finished them. However, as this is a misadventure I sadly ran out of yarn and had the small hitch of being unable to find the same yarn. I had bought the green yarn while on holiday in Torquay a couple of years ago from a little shop that sold handmade things. They had a lovely range of handmade knits, quilts, cards, etc., as well as a small range of hand dyed yarns. There was very little information available about the yarn and when I ran out I had little hope of getting more. I had enough green for the body of 1 sock so I ended up knitting the pair in contrasting colours, yin yang style.

So, that's how I ended up knitting yin yang socks for my dad, but at least I finally finished my first pair of socks.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Small victories

At the start of the year I wrote a post that set out my making list for 2015 and how quickly the first month of the year has passed.

January has been a productive month mainly due to the fact that my husband has been able to take slightly more flexible work/ office hours and be at home quite a bit. With an extra pair of adult hands around the home things have run a lot more efficiently and it has enabled me to sneak in quite a few knitting moments such as knitting in the car while M drove us to the supermarket. I'm so grateful for the month that we have had together.

Yin Yang Rye Socks for my dad*
Looking back at my making list items for January I have actually finished each of the projects that I aimed to make, plus a couple of extras. I knit the High Water jumper for S, finished the second Rye sock that was meant to be a Christmas present for my dad, sent off a bonnet for my Sydney friends and knit a Garter Ear Flap hat from the Purl Bee blog. I also finished a last minute gift knit for a friend's farewell + birthday party later this week. I knit her Mari Chiba's Chibi Maruko cowl to keep her neck warm during New Zealand's winters. On top of all that knitting I began learning to sew and finished my first project, a super cute bonnet for Miss L. 
Purl Soho's Garter Ear Flap Hat
I'm pleased with this past month of making and it may be a small victory but it still worth taking a moment to reflect and relish over. My list for February - March is probably a bit more ambitious and I've jumped straight in and not wasting any time by starting a Kelly Brooker's Newborn Vertebrae.

Tell me, how do you manage to fit your crafting moments into the day? Any tips for becoming a more efficient knitter?

*I'll explain why the socks for my dad ended up being "yin yang" socks in my next blog post.