Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015 in review

Some of my handmade Christmas gifts: Honey Cowl for my mum, stockings for the kinder teachers, Purl Soho skirt for my neice.

It's the last day of the year and as the year draws to a close I inevitably begin reflecting upon the days that had passed. This year has been a big year for me as a maker. I learnt many new things and achieved some of my goals but also failed at things too because some things are a bit beyond me for the stage of life I'm currently in.

Looking at the post I wrote back at the beginning of January where I set out my goals and making list for 2015 I feel pretty happy with what I managed to tick off in the months that followed that post. You can read the full details of the post, or just for a recap here is what I aimed to achieve in 2015:

2015 Making List

Some general aims I have for this year are:
1) To stash less* and knit from my existing stash as much as possible.
2) To knit up those patterns that I have queued.
3) To finish those few projects that I hibernated a long time ago.
4) To give handmade = knitted gifts.
5) To keep trying new things and learning new skills.
6) and under the influence of ex-physio husband; to take care of myself physically as a knitter - stretching and resting the hands, shoulders and neck muscles regularly etc.

Finish Rye socks for Ba
High water for Sir S
Bonnet for Baby Cheng

Baby cardigan for A’s baby no.2
Livie for Miss L (birthday present)
beanie for Sir S (birthday present)

Mitini mitts for SIL** (birthday present)
Windschief for Bro  (birthday present)
Softie for Niece L (birthday present); needs to be sent to USA so I've got to work on it early.

Neon ski bonnet for me; in preparation for our snow trip.
Hat for hubby (anniversary present)
Neon ski bonnet for Miss L; because I want to make a matching hat for my little girl.

Finish Salander leggies for M; which is an overdue present from last year's birthday.
Bella Shawl or Span for me; I think either of these might be a good knit to travel with, but might turn out to be too ambitious.

Start Christmas projects; I know it sounds crazy but some of these presents need to be sent overseas so I better get onto them early.

Socks for BIL
Hat for SIL
Quaintly for Niece L

Scarf for SIL
Socks for Bro
Socks for Ba

Kinder teachers’ presents
cowl for Ma

Christmas stockings for the family
I remember beginning quite strongly in January and managing to tick off the items that I had listed and added a few too. Everything was following the list pretty swimmingly until about March when I got a bit too overconfident and started casting on an extra project here and there when I felt a bit bored with the existing WIPs. It was around this time that I took on a comissioned project for a friend. I found the experience of knitting for "work" challenging, but it was mostly because I accepted the project while I was already trying to knock out a couple of birthday presents for family members.

When little Miss L got really sick around Easter and I was majorly sleep deprived the only thing I (and she) found some joy in was a trip to the LYS and the purchase of a sweater lot of yarn. I haven't made anything with that lot of Shilasdair luxury DK yet but it kind of opened the floodgates to the idea that yes, I can be a sweater knitter. 

That leads me to talk about how I went with stashing less and knitting my stash. I failed miserably at stashing less. I probably went the other way than stashing less and actually began acquiring sweater lots of yarn throughout the year with big dreams of knitting so many cosy jumpers to build my handmade wardrobe. In reality I only managed one adult jumper, a tee, a shrug and a half and an assortment of accessories. The handmade wardrobe is slowly building, hence it being "slow fashion", but the stash is not getting any less. There has just been so many yarns calling out to me this year and you know there is always next year to try better at stashing less.

In terms of some of my other goals, I did manage to make most of the gifts that I gave this year. Even when I was feeling completely time poor and overwhelmed with the prospect of knitting another baby gift I felt even more overwhelmed with the thought of taking two children to the shops. So I pushed myself and made lots of baby hats and even a couple of cowls for girls who had invited Sir S to their birthday parties.

Happy Homemade: Sew Chic Kids have easy shorts that even a sewing newbie like me can manage.

I do believe I kept trying new techniques. I learnt to knit cables without a cable needle, I did a circular yoke for the first time, I knit socks cuff down and toe up, I did some test knitting, I did a couple of KALs and I started sewing. I also made it to The Craft Sessions and had a go at dyeing and weaving and in general had a fabulous time meeting lots of very talented crafty people.

As you can imagine with all these new things that I was trying lots of different projects were being cast on and I did kind of lose track of my making list. Everything kind of fell apart towards Christmas as I found myself becoming a bit of a selfish knitter and all my WIPs were 'me' projects. I decided I wasn't going to be able to knit all my Christmas gifting this year so I commandeered my mother's sewing machine and found the simplest and quickest sewing projects that a newbie like me could handle.

I made this apron for my brother and I got the 'pattern' from Purl Soho.

I guess it's no surprise that this year I made more than I have ever made before. I'm still determing what goals I will set for 2016 but I'm pretty sure it'll be another big year for little ol' me. 

Thanks for reading this little blogging adventure of mine. It's been a pleasure to put my thoughts out there this year and also such a delight to know that there are a few readers following my ramblings. I hope you've had a productive year too and look forward to continuing this journey together next year.

Have a happy new year everyone.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Yarn review: Skein Meadow

Recently I knit with Skein's new base, Meadow to make my Sibella pullover. I finished the pullover last week and got the chance to wear it this week when the cool change swept in to break the first burst of summer heat in Melbourne. As this is a new base for Skein I wanted to put some thoughts out there about the yarn.

When Kristen, owner and dyer of Skein yarns announced on her FB page that she was trying out a new sport weight non-superwash merino base I jumped onto her shop straightaway and snapped up four skeins of the Meadow dyed in 'Ice on the Windowpane'.

When the yarn arrived I was in love. My first impressions were that it was soft and squishy and the yarn had a nice twist in it so I expected it to be sturdy and suitable for a sweater project. I also noticed that the colour was a softer more muted variation of the colourway and concluded that the rawness of the fibre (having not been subjected to the superwash process) meant that it wouldn't take on as much dye in the dyeing process. I was not disappointed by this fact because the muted colourway is still just as beautiful.

When I swatched with the yarn I saw that the yarn had good stitch definition - crisp and consistent stitches in both stockinette and garter stitches. Then I blocked the swatch and even with some squishing of the swatch I noticed that small sections of it remained that dry look. This meant that the yarn was still a bit water repellant, possibly due to some traces of lanolin still being in the fibre. I was falling more and more in love with this yarn with each step and I couldn't wait to actually start knitting a project with it.

When I was knitting my Sibella pullover I decided to alternate the skeins to ensure there would be no colour pooling. Kristen recently wrote a very clear blog post about why it is important to alternate skeins when knitting with hand dyed yarns. She also made an easy to follow video tutorial for alternating skeins when knitting in the round. You can find both post and video here.

Now that I have been wearing the pullover for a couple of days I have noticed a bit of pilling in the underarm area, but that is to be expected with woollen fibre that has not been superwashed. It just means that it will need an occassional brush with my lilly brush or some other depilling device. I am by no means disappointed with the yarn because it is the type of wool that deserves a little bit more TLC.

Meadow is a base that suits knitters who prefer soft merino in it's true form. It will need handwashing and the occassional depill. It will also dye up into softer tones of the luscious Skein palette. It is definitely one of my new favourite yarns.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Blocking, what is it and why do we do it?

Pinning the lace yoke of my newly finished Sibella pullover will open up the lace a little more.

Mats and strong pins are the basic blocking essentials.
Blocking is another one of those things that knitters talk about and nobody else knows what it is. It is also one of those things like gauge swatching that often get skipped and you can be a knitter for many many years and not actually know what blocking (or swatching) is.

Basically blocking is what you do when you wet a piece of knitting and then you lay it out to dry. Sometimes the piece of knitting will require a bit of shaping and pinning in order to pull it into the shape and size that the pattern has indicated that it should be. 

There is a saying that "blocking fixes all problems", while this is not entirely true it does fix some things. One of the benefits of blocking is that by gently manipulating the wet knitting you can even out any tension discrepancies and help the stitches look more consistent. It is also essential with lace work to block the piece afterwards in order to open up the lace so that it will show properly.

Some yarns will not show it's full nature until it has been wet blocked. Some fibres will bloom after they have been wet and that simply means that the yarn will kind of puff a bit after it has dried from being wet. This blooming can affect the gauge of the knitted work and also the crispness of the pattern design particularly when colour is involved.

There are many different blocking techniques and each piece will require a slightly different treatment. However, here is a description of my standard blocking process. I will fill a bucket with water and put a little bit of wool washing detergent in it. I will let the knitting soak for at least 30 minutes to allow all the fibre to properly absorb the water and be saturated. After soaking I will gently squeeze the water out of the knitting; never treat handknits roughly for the risk of felting. Then I will roll the knitting up in a towel to remove excess water.

Lace blocking wires are especially useful when trying to achieve a straight edge on your knitting.
T Pins and wires.
Then I will pin the piece out on a foam mat; either a camping mat or a yoga mat. Sometimes I will also use lace blocking wires to obtain a really straight edge or to pull the lace open with a consistent tension. The pins I use are strudy 'T' shaped craft pins and the lace blocking wires are a set that I bought from my LYS, Sunspun.

I will leave the wet knitting pinned out to dry in a warm spot in the house or outside in a shaded spot. I make sure that the knitting is bone dry before I will remove the pins and wires otherwise the knitting will not maintain the shape or size that you pinned it out to. However, even this does not mean that the sizing and shaping is permanent. I have noticed in particular that no matter how meticulously I blocked my shawls that gradually they kind of scrunch up again. In fact, everything will need to be re-blocked each time it is washed, so I guess when those shawls are scrunching up it is just time for a quick wash and reblock.

I hope that gives you all a basic understanding of what blocking involves and why we do it. Now you can keep me accountable and avoid lazy knitter behaviours by asking me if I've blocked my finished projects before wearing them adoringly.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Losing that blogging mojo

My birthday treat to myself was a yarn crawl and even the little hands couldn't stay away from the yummy yarn.

I hate to admit it but I've been neglecting the blog for a couple of months and just struggling to get that mojo for blogging. It's not like I haven't had things to talk about but I just haven't been motivated to put words to those thoughts, events and projects.

I think in part I have been reticent to blog because of the time commitment that writing takes. As we approached the festive season I felt the pressure to get onto my Christmas making and to sit down and write was not a luxury that I was allowing myself.

Another reason I have been struggling to write is that the brain commitment was a feeling a bit daunting. I was finding the process of putting my thoughts into words was requiring a fair bit of focus and brain power that most nights after putting the children to bed, I just didn't posess. 

So, to tackle these blocks I realised I should simplify things. I need to be more discerning with the content of the posts and to focus on key points rather than getting too rambly. I want to focus on posts where I have learnt something new or had great epiphanies. I want to write about things that will help and inspire other crafters too.

There is so much fabulous content in the fibre world and many people writing or podcasting great things. I'm not aiming to be on par with those who are already doing great things. I just want to make sure that I'm adding to the good stuff rather than just posting meaningless, self indulgent drivel.

Ok, that's enough for now. Stay tuned.