30 Aug 2019

Where we like to knit

If you have ever perused the deepest recesses of my website, you will see that I have a gallery of places where I like to knit, courtesy of my husband Tim's photos. This gallery spans a long time period from shots of me knitting by a Scottish loch when our eldest daughter was at Edinburgh University nearly 15 years ago right up to earlier this year in Cornwall.

Well, it's time to add another photo to that collection! However, this time Tim has captured a lovely photo of both Anna and I knitting in Sweden. In the photo, I have just started a new pink scarf using the yarn that I was straightening in the last blogpost. Then by co-incidence, Anna has also just cast on a new project! This is going to be a soft cowl in a beautiful variegated green yarn.

It has been gloriously sunny and warm during our visit to Sweden this year and it has been so enjoyable to be able to sit and knit by the side of the lakes and rivers here. In the photo above, we are in the gardens of Grönsöö Palace on the shores of Lake Mälaren just to the west of Stockholm.

Grönsöö is a beautiful palace with formal gardens in a stunning variety of colours, apple orchards and an ancient lime tree which was planted in 1623! There is also a most unusual Chinese pagoda which was built in the late 18th century. Inside the pagoda, flower decorations have been formed from groups of shells which is a really unique feature of the structure.

This oriental theme has been echoed in other places in the garden with ponds and bridges which resemble both Japanese gardens and Monet's famous lily pond in Giverny, France.

Grönsöö is situated at the end of a long spit of land and originally you could only reach it by boat from the lake. However, there is now a bridge that crosses over a wide expanse of bullrushes and grasses to connect it to the mainland. I stood on the bridge for quite a while and it was mesmerising watching the strengthening wind playing through the grasses and making them dance in the breeze.

Then on our way back to Anna's house on the other side of the lake, we passed a large stand of silver birches. They are such graceful trees, especially when grouped into such an impressive group as this. 

I hope you have enjoyed seeing some of Tim's latest photos from our travels. Please do go and find him on Instagram if you'd like to see more of his work. I'll be adding the latest photo of "Where we like to knit" to the knitting gallery on my website, so if you have an odd minute or two please do have a look there at some of the pictures.

Well summer is rapidly drawing to a close and September is coming very soon. Next time, I am going to start a new series with some quick knits for autumn! This will include ideas for some cozy cowls to try to keep those pesky chills at bay, then I will be following up with hats and scarves that you can start now ready for the winter ahead.

Until then - please keep safe if you are in the path of the coming storm!


18 Aug 2019

Straightening crinkly yarn

As you may have seen from my last few blogposts, I have been knitting a pink cardi recently – despite the heat and humidity in this part of Florida! Summer is brutal here and it can make you seriously question why you are trying to knit anything. Still, it would be a sad day that didn't involve at least some knitting, wouldn't it...

So now that I am mostly finished with my cardigan and just needing to sew the pieces up, I can safely recycle the yarn I used for my samples. I always like to work a number of large-sized samples and leave them in place while I am working the main garment in case I want to compare them with the work in hand. 

However, now would seem a good time to take those apart and prepare the yarn ready to use for something else.

So here's the wonderful thing about knitting: it might take a few evenings to knit something, but it takes only a few minutes to undo! That was something I learnt to appreciate when I was weaving. You would spend ages scrambling around under a loom or tie-ing up the warp. Then finally you could start your project. However, if you saw a mistake or wanted to change something, then it took an absolute age to undo.

No problem with knitting. It's as easy as pie, but you do need to do some work to get your yarn back so it is nice and smooth again. So if you don't know how to do that, read on:

* * * * *

Firstly, you need to wind your yarn into a skein. I actually do this in two stages: first I wind it into a ball, then I skein it up. It just seems to work slightly better that way than trying to deal with the undoing and skeining at the same time. 

At both stages you need to make sure the yarn doesn't get over-stretched or it won't look the same as it did the first time you worked with it.

So, start by finding an end to work from. In the case of my samples, I don't cast them off so it is simple to undo, but with a finished piece you might need to discover where the yarn tail was sewn in and prise it free. 

Tease out a little yarn and wrap it around a couple of fingertips a few times. 

Take it off, pinching it between thumb and forefinger so it doesn't break free. 

Now start to undo your knitting, taking time to appreciate the little pop-pop sounds the stitches make as they are released from the knitting! Wrap the yarn around the tiny ball, trapping your thumb and finger in place so they make a little space between the strands of yarn. 

Wrap about 5-7 times, then remove your fingers, turn the ball slightly and wrap in a new plane. 

Keep doing this until the ball is large enough for you to hold between your thumb and two fingers, then as the ball grows in size between thumb and three fingers, nicely spaced apart. Wrap over all the fingers holding the ball, so that when you remove your hand the yarn will be able to relax unstretched.

Continue to wind until you get to a yarn tail, then stop. Set that ball aside and start a new one, even if the ball is only very small. Continue undoing your knitting until you have reached the point where you either made the mistake / changed your mind / reached the end! 

If you are carefully undoing a small section back to where you made a boo-boo, then stop winding a row or so before that point and capture the knitting onto your needles. Then gently undo the work, stitch-by-stitch until you get to the place in question. It is all too easy to undo too much knitting as it happens so fast!

So now you have your yarn ready in balls and waiting for the next stage. Have a look at the yarn – can you see how it retains a crinkly "memory" of the knitting? In the photo above, the ball on the right has not been used yet, while the one on the left has just been unwound from a sample. If you tried to knit with this yarn, your knitting would not be smooth or even. Worse, after washing, those waves would relax and your knitting would spread.

So we need to smooth out the wrinkles, which is easy in the case of yarn. Shame it's not quite so easy to smooth out the wrinkles you see in the mirror every day! 

To do this, we need to first wind the yarn into a skein. I covered that here so follow those notes to wind the ball into a skein. Now, if the first ball was a large one your skein might be big enough to work with. If so, then add some figure-of-eight ties as I showed in that blogpost and set the skein aside. 

However, if you have lots of small pieces of yarn, start by winding the first onto the skein winder, then tie the next one on with a large and very purposeful-looking bow (you want to be able to find this easily later). Now keep on going until you have a good-sized skein. Tie a piece of waste yarn to the very last piece of yarn so you can identify that point when you come to undo the skein, and again secure the whole skein with figure-of-eight ties.

When you have all your skeins prepared, adjourn to the kitchen. Put the kettle on, first to make a cup of tea, and then put the remaining boiling water into a wide, flat saucepan. Carefully hold the first skein over the top of the saucepan and "bounce" the centre of the skein up and down or side-to-side in the steam. 

You will see when it starts to relax a little as the strands will get straighter and your hands can move a little further apart.

Move away from the saucepan, waft the skein in the air to cool it a little, then move your hands to position another part of the skein into the middle. Steam that part and continue doing this until the whole skein shows soft, even yarn with no crinkles. 

Repeat this process with every skein, then set them in an airy place to cool and dry. Don't weight them, but just let them rest until they are ready to use. Then off you go! You're ready to start knitting / reknitting as the case may be.

I hope you enjoyed reading about the delights of reusing yarn. I always find it a very satisfying process seeing old, crinkly yarn turning into fresh new wool!

* * * * *

I am off on my travels again, this time to the UK and then to Sweden to catch up with my daughter Anna and see some of the lovely knitting she has been producing recently. I'll post my next blogpost from there! 

Btw, Anna has a brand-new blog, the "Adventures of a Happy Knitter", so please go and have a look at that here.

Until next time – Happy Knitting!


25 Jul 2019

Are you using the right needle?

In my last blogpost, you'll have seen that I am currently knitting a lacy cardigan and for this I am using a 3.5mm Knitters Pride interchangeable needle set I purchased recently. These needle tips are from their Nova Platina range of chrome-plated needles and I am loving the sharp tips and the easy flow of the knitting.

However, here's something I noticed when I went to find a matching set of dpn's (double pointed needles) to work the sleeves: the size isn't exactly 3.5mm! Or rather, it wasn't using the gauge I was using at the time. I had grabbed my needle gauge from Nancy's KnitKnacks which tends to be my go-to gauge as it is fits very nicely inside the needle holder I have. 

When I measured the needle using that, it wouldn't fit into the 3.5mm space! If it hadn't had the "US 4 – 3.5mm" marking on the side of the needle, I might have thought that it was a 3.75mm. So I dived into my needle box where I have a slight embarrassment of needle gauges. I hadn't quite realised how many I had collected over the years!

I tried the needle with my oldest gauge made by an old UK company, Aero Knitting, and it was a perfect fit for 3.5mm. Ditto for the bright green Knitters Pride gauge I purchased about a month ago and a rather fun KnitPro elephant gauge that my daughter Anna found for me at the Knitting and Stitching show in Ally Pally (Alexandra Palace, London) last year. They all agreed the needle was, indeed, a 3.5mm size. Now, these are all gauges made for the UK market so I am presuming they are all milled in metric.

However, the needle only just squeezed into a KnitPicks gauge and would not fit into the 3.5mm hole in the Nancy's KnitKnacks sizer or my Lion Brand ruler. All three of those are US-based gauges and I expect they are milled in imperial measures. Usually, this wouldn't make the slightest difference, but in this particular case it did.

I went on to check with the two needle gauges I have from Japan. The needle sizes are different there as they measure them in 0.3mm increments instead of 0.25-0.5mm here. So in Japan the needles include 3.0mm, 3.3mm, 3.6mm, 3.9mm, 4.2mm and so on. Here, the same range would be 3.0mm, 3.25mm, 3.5mm, 3.75mm and 4.0mm. 

My Knitters Pride needles did fit into the 3.6mm measure, as you'd expect, but with only a small amount of extra ease as compared with the Japanese 3.6mm dpn's I have.

I then went to my collection of needles and found a set of KnitPicks 3.5mm dpn's. They fitted easily into all the US gauges and were quite loose in the Japanese 3.6mm measure. Interesting variation, eh? 

I tried the various needles out with my knitting and my gauge swatch was noticeably tighter if I used the KnitPicks needles when compared with the original Knitters Pride ones. I then tried the Japanese dpn's and they were much closer, especially if I just tightened my knitting slightly. 

If you're a long-time follower of this blog, you'll know that I'm always advocating checking your tension with a gauge swatch. For example, in my BYOB Market Bag knit-along series, you'll find me chatting about swatches herehere and here. Of course, we knitters know that there are many factors that will alter your gauge: the yarn used, the tension the yarn is held at, even how the ball is wound and whether the yarn was washed before or after knitting.

But who would have guessed that there would be such a difference between apparently identical sizes of needles... So if you are struggling to get the gauge for your current piece of knitting, it might not be you – it might be the needle! 

And of course this is a wonderful justification for acquiring a good collection of needles, gauges and other equipment! For me, I am now patiently waiting for a set of Knitters Pride dpn's so my gauge will be exactly the same on the sleeves as on the rest of the cardi. I ordered them today and they should be here next week.

Oh and please no-one tell my husband... he thinks I have enough needles already!

Until next time – Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: My WIP - Working in pink

19 Jul 2019

My WIP - Working in Pink

About this time three years ago, I wrote about the fashion colour forecasting company Pantone's duo-colour choice for the "2016 Colour of the Year", in which a battle royale between pink and blue resulted in a draw! 

That was the first time that Pantone had chosen a double colour for the award and certainly some eyebrows were raised at the concept. However, the pink side of that equation proved highly accurate as that particular shade of rose quartz was seen everywhere that year.

Well, over the last few years that shade of pink has gradually morphed into a stronger and slightly bluer shade, away from the soft yellowy Rose Quartz and into one of this year's key colours, Aurora Pink. 

Teamed with stronger shades of hot pink, or contrasting with corals and yellows, this fresh new pink colour was evident in many runway shows for Spring and Summer 2019.

And although it is a shade we haven't seen for a few years, it does feel very familiar. Which of us ladies did not have a ballerina outfit in just that colour when we were young? So this fits nicely with two of the themes in the fashion magazines in recent months: Ballerina outfits and Nostalgia. 

Well, I am not sure if I am quite ready to don a tutu right now even if they are in fashion, but I am loving the pink yarns in the shops. I recently found a lovely pink colour in the Sublime "Baby cashmere merino silk DK" range and it arrived just before we went to Japan so I could try it out while we were travelling. 

The yarn is wonderfully soft and is knitting up beautifully. I am currently working on a pink lacy cardigan and am loving how this is coming. So this is a double "WIP" – not just a Work in Progress, but I am also Working in Pink! 

The cardi is in a boxy, Chanel-style and I am planning to add some slim plain-knit sleeves when I have finished the 2nd front. I'll post more pictures as I work!

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying your summer knitting and managing to keep cool!

Until next time - Happy Knitting!


1 Jul 2019

Postcard from Kyoto: The day summer started

July has arrived and with it the realisation that summer is finally upon us! But do you know the exact day when summer started this year? 

Well, it was June 11th!

How do I know that? Well, we have just returned from a holiday in Kyoto Japan, and feel invigorated by long walks and beautiful scenery. At the start of our holiday, on Monday 10th June to be exact, we were walking up a mountain and stopped by one of the ubiquitous vending machines (called jidohanbaiki) about half-way along our hike. We purchased a can of hot, sweet coffee and rested our legs for a delicious 10 minutes before setting off again.

The next day on a similar walk around a temple complex we again paused by one of these machines only to see every drink offered as a cold beverage. We walked on to the next set of machines, but they also only had cold drinks. 

Then it clicked: summer had started. You don't drink hot coffee in the summer...

They have a neat way of counting time periods in Japan with blocks of 10 days having different names. The middle 10-day period runs from 11th-20th of each month and is called chūjun or middle-ten. So summer very neatly started in the middle of June or on the 11th June to be precise!

We used to live in Kyoto in the mid-1990's and love to revisit whenever we can. This year we arrived at the start of what is termed the "Rainy Season" but were very fortunate only to have a couple of showers while we were there. 

One of the main reasons for wanting to go back to Japan at this time was to see the hydrangeas. Many people visit Kyoto for the cherry blossoms in April and May, but for me the sight of a hillside of deep blue hydrangeas is stunning. They are everywhere, and not just in blue but in all shades of white, pink and carmine red as well. They seem to really suit this rainy time of year and look at their most beautiful when the leaves and flowers are jewelled with raindrops. 

But the real summer in Japan starts with the coming of the lotus flowers at the start of July. When we visited there were lotus buds and even some early flowers in sheltered locations. However, we would have needed to stay another few weeks to see the ponds and lakes filled with blossoms. Perhaps we'll do that next year...

In the last week of our visit, we went to a temple called Hokongo-in which is known for its beautiful lotus flowers. We were rewarded by a beautiful display of early flowers contrasting against the dark wood of the temple buildings.

I sat on the temple steps and enjoyed the peace and quiet of the garden, knitting a pink cardigan in what I saw was an almost exact colour match to the lotus flower in front of me. I could have happily stayed there all afternoon...

However we were due to go to Fushimi Inari shrine, world-famous for its lines of bright orange torii gates. It was the end of the afternoon when we got there and Tim's camera was set to a long exposure to capture the scene. Then a lady wearing a kimono walked down the steps and into his shot creating a dreamy image of old Japan.

I hope you've enjoyed this "Postcard from Kyoto" and some of Tim's many photos from our trip. If you would like to see more of his work, then please see his Flickr site. He is also on Instagram here.

I'll be back with knitting chat next time. Until then,

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Slip those stitches!

26 Jun 2019

Slip those stitches!

I once watched a theatre production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" in which the redoubtable Lady Bracknell sat on stage apparently knitting. In fact she was slipping the stitches from one needle to another so that the work never got any longer! However, that did avoid the possibility of a ball of yarn wandering across the stage and tripping up any actors...

However, slipped stitches are really useful even when you do actually want to knit something and can be used for shaping, textural interest and strength.

So what is a slip stitch? Basically it is when you leave the next stitch unworked and move on to the next part of the work. Usually the stitch is slipped purlwise without twisting it and with the yarn carried at the back of the work. If you just see the instructions "slip 1" or "sl 1" then that is what is meant. The stitch will then be worked on a subsequent row, producing an elongated stitch which also serves to tighten the stitches to either side. 

You will probably have seen this being used at the edge of a flat piece of knitting to produce a selvedge as in the photo above, which shows the base of the BYOB Market Bag being worked, and you can read more about that here.

Sometimes, however, the stitch being slipped is worked knitwise. You insert the knitting needle into the stitch as though you are going to knit it but then just move it to the right-hand needle without working it further. This turns the stitch so that it is now facing in the opposite direction. 

One of the first places you might encounter this is with a decrease such as a "slip 1 knitwise, knit 1, pass slipped stitch over", often shortened to SKP. In that case, the slip stitch is lifted over the next one and forms a left-leaning decrease as an almost-mirror image to the "knit 2 together" or k2tog right-leaning decrease. 

The photo above shows the lace panel from the BYOB - Bring Your Own Bag pattern. In this one I have paired the k2tog's with another left-leaning decrease, the SSK (slip-slip-knit) giving a decorative finish to the stitch. 

In both those examples the yarn is carried on the wrong side and does not appear on the front face of the work. However, there are a number of stitches where the yarn being slipped forms an integral part of the final appearance of the fabric. 

The Somertide Placemats I featured in my last blogpost are a case in point. These use a lovely slip-stitch pattern called Double-Banded Rib from our book Reversible Knitting Stitches.

On the front face, the stitch has wide slipped stitches which give an interesting surface texture to the design. These banded stitches also help to provide an extra thickness and insulation to the fabric which is important for something like a placemat where you want to protect your table from hot or cold dishes.

The reverse face shows tight columns of knit stitches with narrow lines of Garter Stitch between. The fabric lies beautifully flat and the slipped stitches give added strength to the overall design.

The slipped stitches in this pattern have strengthened the final fabric in two ways. Firstly, the stitches to either side are shortened because the unworked stitches now have to span two rows instead of just one. This pulls the stitches tighter and keeps the fabric firm.

Then secondly, relatively inflexible bars of yarn are now being carried across the unworked stitches reducing the natural stretchiness of the knitting. The resulting fabric is much thicker and sturdier. These qualities make it eminently suitable for items such as tablemats, rugs and bags.

If you want an even sturdier fabric, then you can select a slip stitch with a shorter length of travel. For example, in Anna's Nokomis Beach Bag she has used the Single-Banded Rib stitch pattern. This is similar to its sister pattern, Double-Banded Rib, but is worked over just 2 stitches instead of 4 so the "bar" of slipped yarn is much shorter.

This gives it extra strength while still retaining a very interesting surface texture. The bag is further strengthened by cotton bands sewn onto the final design giving a very practical and good-looking bag.

But for a really sturdy knitted fabric then one of the best choices is Linen Stitch. This is a simple stitch to work but grows slowly as stitches are slipped on every single row, as opposed to every 2 rows as in the examples above. The result is a fabric that resembles weaving is both the appearance and the feel of the final fabric. In fact, it is sometimes called Tweed Stitch because it looks so much like a woven material.

The photo above shows another of Anna's wonderful bag collection. This one is called the Sierra Shoulder Bag and I can attest to how strong this bag is having seen it in action carrying large volumes of items back to her apartment from Tesco's!

The above examples mostly show neat grid-like patterns, but slip stitches can also be used to decorative effect by forming diagonal and zig-zag patterns as in Anna's Calypso Handbag above. Anna has used bands of colour in this design, but the stitch pattern also looks good in a single colour. 

I hope that gives you lots of ideas for how to use slip stitches in your work, especially if you would like to make sturdy fabrics for tablemats, bags and other household accessories. 

There are, of course, many more examples of slip stitches and I haven't even touched on Mosaic patterns and other colour slip stitch patterns... So please enjoy hunting out other stitch patterns using slipped stitches.

Many thanks to Anna for the photos of her lovely bags. Please visit her website www.kikuknits.com to see more of her colourful designs.

Next time we will travel to Japan for another couple of "Postcards" from our travels. Until then,

Happy Knitting!


Next Up: Postcard from Kyoto: The day summer started

Anna's Website: www.kikuknits.com


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