Saturday, December 24, 2016

Finlaggan mittens

Ten pairs of mittens now for Knit for Peace.  I'm trying to use up some of the vast hoard of oddments which I have in stock.

This is my latest effort.  I have subscribed to Kate Davies' "Inspired by Islay" Club, the notion being that each week a pattern is released.  I don't see myself knitting kilt hose, but the chart for the cable is very appealing.  Why not make use of it, I thought.

I used a 4ply wool yarn from Natural Yarns, and a 3.25 needle.  I knit them flat, and just placed the cable by increasing 1 stitch in 4 on the panel in a set-up row.  I used that simple rib edging I have used before on the Celtic waistcoats - two rows garter, two rows rib and two rows garter.  It makes a neat edge.

I put in a thumb gusset and completed the thumb on dpns.  At the top of the cable I closed it off by slipping stitches and passing them over.  This gives a finished look to it.

These feel very warm and are a snug fit. 

I will be trying to give my thumbs a rest over the Christmas break.  Luckily the tapestry yarn has arrived to finish the little Celtic panel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A good read...

One of the many delights of being retired is the freedom to enjoy reading in that immersive fashion which just doesn't work when you read a page or two each night before dropping off.

As a child, I read a lot.  This was partly because electricity had yet to reach us, so we had gas-light, but no television.  We did not read in bed as the lighting there was in the form of Kelley lamps - small oil lamps which gave just enough light to undress by.  It sounds like another century, as indeed it was - the twentieth century.

In the top juniors I discovered the works of Rosemary Sutcliff, which I wolfed down.  My elder sister, never an avid reader herself, was already at the grammar school in town, from which it was possible to access the Town Library at lunchtimes.  I remember reading "Dawn Wind" in an evening.  My sister protested because changing my books every day seemed a bit excessive to her. She had a point.

Now, of course, I just switch on my Kindle and there the whole of Sutcliff's oeuvre is waiting to be downloaded.  "Warrior Scarlet", "The Eagle of the Ninth", "Frontier Wolf", "Outcast", "The Mark of the Horse Lord" - the list goes on and on.  Those familiar themes of the central character, maimed or disabled in some way, as she was herself, trying to make his way in the world.  And the astonishing way in which she uses details of the Roman world as though she had lived that life.  Everywhere detailed descriptions of landscape, trees, plants and the changing of the seasons.

Just one or two of them, perhaps for younger children, seem overburdened with period detail for the sake of it, but mostly she creates a fully realised world.

I had not read her adult fiction.  Here she is more likely to adopt a female perspective, as in "Lady in Waiting", telling the story of Walter Ralegh from his wife's viewpoint.  Or "The Rider of the White Horse" about the English Civil War and Thomas Fairfax.

Sutcliff's memoir of her own childhood, and the agonising story of her early, doomed love affair, "The Blue Remembered Hills" gave some insight into her studies of loneliness and endurance.

If you have not read any Rosemary Sutcliff, or not for some time, you have a feast in store.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celtic stranded and Fair Isle

Some more pairs of fingerless mitts.  I'm trying to use up a batch of Jaeger yarn I have had in my stash for many years - it just seems to keep multiplying.  The camera does not seem to want to pick up on the contrast between the deep turquoise main and the pale mauve contrast here.

Two of these have Celtic patterns taken from Co Spinhoven's "Charted Celtic designs" and the other is a classic Fair Isle from Sheila McGregor. 

Knitting Fair Isle patterns like this one follows a totally predictable rhythm which is very easy to learn and satisfying to knit.  eg k3 main, k3 contrast.

Celtic patterns tend not to do this.  They have asymmetric qualities, so the chart has to be to hand.  Longer floats are required.  But they do often achieve a three dimensional effect, even with such a simple repeat as this one.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Newfoundland mitts

I'm currently in a charity knitting phase, after the challenge of Uncia.  I thought a batch of fingerless mitts might be of use, so these will be going to Knit for Peace.  I prefer full mittens, if it is cold enough to make mittens necessary, but fingerless seem to be the style du jour.

I have made a few pairs of Newfoundland Mittens in my time, using the free pattern published by Creative Whimsy, or sort of.  I love them.  The pattern consists of knitting two rows of the main colour and then four rows of the contrast - four stitches contrast, slip two main stitches and repeat.  This creates a honeycomb web effect which looks far more complex than it is, since you are only really using one colour per row.

It's a great pattern for using up adds and ends.  I knit my first pair with double knitting as the main colour and sock yarn used double as the contrast.  It was ideal for using up the ends left over from socks. 

You may have noticed that there are two variants of the pattern  As with many things in knitting this is a very simple change.  After the four rows of contrast there are two rows of main colour.  If you purl the first of these two rows you get a row of colour change bumps. 

If you knit both rows the effect of the web of  main colour is more dominant.  I prefer this effect, which is why I have knit it more often.

I've also used small oddment of J&S 2-ply jumper weight and other tweedy bits knit double, changing the yarn for each 4-row repeat.  It is possible to achieve quite a painterly effect by doing this.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Making it up as you go along...

You may remember this piece of needlepoint, started a little while back.  It is intended as a panel for a little bag for daily use.

I began with a small hoard of crewel yarn, and thought myself very clever swapping in strands to create this ombre effect as the design reaches its centre.  Of course I took no notes, but left some of each shade for use as I worked the second half. 

Then, seven rows from the finish line, I ran out of a couple of key colours.  This was vintage yarn, bought in Oxfam, obviously the leftovers from someone else's project.  And it was very fine for crewel yarn.  A little internet searching brought me to an online supplier of the same yarn, so I am hopeful that I will be able to finish.  However, ordering some pale skeins for the background, along with the deep rusts need for the design itself has run up quite a little bill.  not such a cheap project after all.

This is one of a pair of fingerless mitts knitted recently, and made up as I went along.  In fact, the Newfoundland mitts gave me the basic stitch count - 42, increasing to 48 after the rib.  So then all I had to do was place the cables, taking care to reverse them for the other hand,  and do the increases for the thumb gusset at an appropriate rate.  I used the cable pattern from the stalled oatmeal cardigan, so I didn't even need a stitch directory.   The only modification I made on the second mitt was to decrease the cable stitches before casting off to tighten the finger edge.

However, on this version, I chose to place an elaborate motif on the back of the mitten.  I could have planned it on graph paper but that is never my style.  Instead, I saw how it went, and it almost worked.  On the second mitt I am placing the motif more centrally, but starting it earlier, before the thumb gusset, so that it will finish neatly before the cast-off edge.  Then I will probably ravel out mitt 1 and work it to match.   I m only able to visualise things while actually working them through.

This is Colchester Castle where there is an astounding collection of Roman artefacts, including complete glass vessels from that period.  We fitted in a visit while completing our Christmas shopping.  Most interesting was the jewellery known as the Fenwick hoard, brought to light in 2014 when a department store was excavating for an extension.  The items include long-service military arm bands as well as rings and ear-rings in the latest fashion.  It was all thought to have been buried by a couple just prior to Boudicca's visitation.  I have just read Rosemary Sutcliffe's "Song for a Dark Queen", a horrifying read.  These items certainly give personality to that ancient massacre.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Autumn? Winter....

 It being that time of year, we went north for the Literary Festival at the Roman museum in Maryport.  It was still possible to enjoy walks around the nature reserve, carpeted with leaves.  Indeed, in Essex, many trees are even now still in full leaf, shimmering with colour

 After we had heard Doug Scott, a renowned mountaineer, launching the festival with accounts of huddling in an ice-cave at 24,000 feet,we had some perspective on the rest of the weekend, when the weather took a sudden wintry turn.  In the distance, the Lakeland fells etched with snow.

This is Causey Pike, seen from the road around Bassenthwaite.

 Down on the Solway coast there was an almost eerie calm - but it was still as beautiful as ever.

 On Sunday afternoon, the biographer, Juliet Barker, talked about the Brontes and the importance of their imaginary worlds, with such engagement with her subject.  They were unique, she said, as a coterie of writers, three in the same family.  None of us could think of any other examples, although there are several acting and performing dynasties.  Why should this be, I wonder?

Two pairs of fingerless mittens: the first in the Newfoundland pattern.

And the second made up as I went along.

Both of these will be going off to Knit for Peace, to keep someone warm.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Notes on knitting Uncia 3

Funny how quickly details of the pattern fade, even though it was a fully immersive knit at the time. 

Chart D begins the beautiful panelled section, with diamond blocks outlined in various ways.

I found a big problem in moving through Row 249, at the start of Chart E.  It was the only section where I took it back several times without being able to resolve the issue.

M1, it explains in the Abbreviations, is meant to be a lifted increase, picking up the strand between the stitches and knitting, or purling, into the back of it.  But in Row 249, M1 follows or precedes a YO.  This caused me real problems, because whatever I was doing did not result in two stitches increased.  Eventually, I grasped where the strand was to come from in each case and was able to proceed, but I can still see where that section was in the finished piece.

Much later, in Chart H, you have to M1 on the wrong side, above a YO on the previous row, and this too seemed impossible.  I appear to have solved this by knitting into the front and back of the stitch instead of lifting a strand.  This gives what looks like a purl bump at the start of the elongated stitch, but I could not see another way to do it.  I doubt that anyone else would notice.

  With many types of knitting  the processes are really quite simple.  Most cables are easy once the basic process is grasped.  Lots of lace is like this too.  Uncia was different; the process was a constant challenge.  Once blocked, however, the lace blooms in all its glory.  It is a learning experience, but the finished product is spectacular.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Notes on knitting Uncia 2

So, if you have made it through Charts A and B, you will have learned one or two things, as I did.  One is the importance of having right to hand both the general list of Abbreviations from inside the back cover, and also the specialised set for this pattern only.  Secondly, I learnt to tick off each row as I completed it - seems obvious but I wouldn't usually bother because I can usually read my knitting to find the place.  Since there are pattern elements on the Wrong side too it helps to have a quick way to check which side you are on.   I just looked back to the stocking stitch tail, but some people would put in a little safety pin.  It matters because you can't always just knit all the knits and purl all the purls as you would normally on a wrong-side row.

However, Chart C is at a different level completely.  You are knitting a really lovely set of Gothic arches. The first of these involves moving the twisted stitches to form a double row with columns between.  This is clear on the chart if you look carefully.

I tend to knit in the evenings, not always in good light, and I hit a problem on this chart which really made me pause for thought.  It was this.  I did not at first notice the difference between a crossed pair with a dot, meaning a purl, and a crossed pair with a curl, meaning knit tbl.  When I did realise this, it made me look much more closely, and by daylight, at all the other rather similar, but in fact distinct symbols being used.  Jean's advice was to read each row through to check for new devices before starting it; this was invaluable.  In fact, I was still reading each segment and rechecking as I went, but at least I did not feel I'd lost it completely.

It now becomes clear why Jean was aiming at five rows per day.

At the top of Chart C, you meet the first of the Twisted stitches which Jean described as having cats' whiskers.  What you are doing here is maintaining the line of the elongated slipped stitches, by moving other stitches behind them, and it is a lot less complicated than it sounds, once you get used to it.  However, at times this device is used alternately with other, similar but different, twisted and crossed pairs, so you have to keep a constant watch on the line of the chart to be sure.

Capping off each arch is a straightforward manoeuvre.  be sure to check the tiny number at the base of the symbol - it can be 3 or 5.

Correcting mistakes.

Obviously, I made some, but we haven't reached the most obvious one yet.  Mistakes become evident as you try to knit a Wrong side row and the numbers don't add up, probably because you have missed a YO or a K2tog.  Sometimes, and certainly later on, it was possible to restore these by just lifting a thread. On some knitting I would run a ladder down to the error to fix it, but Uncia has many diagonal cables and this would be a nightmare.   The best bet was to unknit stitch by stitch.  Taking back a few rows  by ripping out risked losing track of the row count, and of course, not being able to get the stitches back on the needle in the right order. 

So, all in all, your best move would be to knit at a work-table, charts and Abbreviations to hand, in strong light, and while you are able to concentrate fully on the pattern.  More than one hundred people have finished it, some of them more than once, so it isn't impossible.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Notes on knitting Uncia 1

So many new followers!  Welcome!  I do hope that you are not disappointed.

I realise that most of you have come on over from Jean's Knitting, lured by Uncia, and maybe thinking that you might like to try it yourself?  So I thought it might be helpful to record a few notes on the process, while it is still fresh in my mind.

Choice of yarn.

I just ordered the Fyberspates Pebble Beach kit from Kate Davies, along with "The book of Haps".  This seemed the simplest option, and it certainly works if you want your finished wrap to look like part of a cathedral: it's a very smooth, lace-weight Merino with just some light smudgings of darker colour.  But it is a rather austere colour choice, so you may want to forget the stonework and go for your favourite accent colour.  A smooth spun yarn is important because of the definition in the lace sections.

Managing the charts. 

These look pretty daunting, but you are only working your way through them one at a time, row by row, and all the rows are numbered.  I photocopied the pages for ease of handling.  You could enlarge them, and should if your eyesight is failing, as some of the symbols are very small.  I also copied P121 and P82 where the Abbreviations are explained, so that I could see them all together.  When I began working from the chart, I just paper-clipped a piece of card above the current row to keep track, as I would with a colour work chart.

Set-up rows

The pattern does not show a picture of these - the narrow end is tucked into Lucy's coat - so it was hard to visualise.  Essentially, you are knitting a series of ribs with a row of eyelets up each side edge.  As you add those extra stitches between the ribs, so the shape fans out.  m1p is easiest done by lifting the strand between stitches with your right hand needle on to your left hand needle before purling it.

Chart A

As soon as you reach Row 151 you realise the importance of having those explanations right to hand.  Lucy is fond of hiding increases within the pattern, and this is all that the strange device does.  It also caps off the columns with a section of small Gothic arches.

  Notice that the presence of a dot means that a purl is involved, whereas no dot means that both stitches are knitted.  The symbols then look like the process involved.  By now you are slipping stitches on the Wrong Side rows, so it elongates the rib stitches to give a continuous vertical line.  This follows on through the pattern.  Chart A appears at the lower edge of this picture.

Chart B

Now you are knitting a series of columns distinguished by a range of slipped and twisted stitches.  These continue the strong vertical lines of the piece.  It's one of the simpler charts, so enjoy it while you can.

Only Charts C,D,E,F,G, and H left to go! 

How helpful are these notes in fact?  Do please leave me a comment to let me know.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Uncia dressed

Today I unpinned the now dry Uncia from the floor where it was blocking; weaving in the very few ends completed the job. 

Two things become evident: what a glorious piece of lace this is, and how difficult it is to wear in any way which would do it justice.  One could imagine someone tall in a very plain, flowing dress.  She might be able to carry it off.  I am not built on those lines, sadly.

It does actually represent a piece of fan vaulting, rising to that extravagant flowering of lace at the widest part.  

So - you ask about straightening wire with a drill.  Remember:  I am not advising you to try this at home.  But it did provide me with a pair of blocking wires for £2.99.

This is what the man said: Buy a coil of heavy duty garden uncoated garden wire.  Cut off more than the length needed. Tie one end round a post in your garden.  Grip the other end securely in the chuck of the drill.  Run the drill very slowly.  This straightens out the wire and makes it become rigid. 

We tried it and it worked, although I was imagining the wire suddenly whipping across the garden, so we took it very slowly.  We did not know whether running it clockwise or anti-clockwise made a difference.  Maybe we just got it right by chance.

This is the edging lace for Houlland, also from "The Book of Haps." 

Friday, November 04, 2016

Blocking Uncia

At my knitting group the other day, I found myself explaining what blocking is and how it would affect a piece of finished lace.  In the past, I would have pinned out the composite parts of a garment and given them a light press on the reverse, without soaking the pieces.  But blocking is a whole different matter.

First, I went across to the hardware store - Fork Handles - and bought a coil of garden wire.  The man in the shop told me an improbable method of straightening the wire with an electric drill.  I could foresee all sorts of bizarre accidents ensuing from this.  However, this morning I repeated the instructions to my husband who carried out the procedure and produced straight and rigid wire.  I needed two lengths to use on Uncia.

This is Uncia as it came off the needles, with the openwork and lace sections densely packed.

Fifteen minutes in a warm soak and a rinse and then I threaded the two wires down through the eyelets at each side.  Pinned out on an old tablecloth to dry, it looks like this.

Obviously we should now have  a glamour shot of Uncia being worn by some gamine young thing - no such person was to hand.   I fear that Uncia might come into the category of garment which wears you rather than you wearing it.  Hats off to the designer, Lucy Hague.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

New Project

Blocking Uncia has been delayed by a trip to Cumbria.  But I needed a project for those long hours in the car.  What to take?

Some years ago I bought a little bag,  with an tapestry panel,
which has served me well, but is now beginning to show its age.  So, a replacement panel to start the process of constructing my own bag? 

Co Spinhoven's wonderful book of Celtic charted designs, some canvas and a batch of embroidery yarn from Renaissance Dyeing, all went into my travel bag.

Along the way I discovered that the canvas was eighteen strands to the inch - so pretty fine. The chart is on a grid, but would it be the right size for the purse front? A little judging by the eye and I set up the start row.  Very pleasing to find that the panel is less than half an inch larger than the original.

So now it grows.

The selection of yarns, which I picked up in Keswick Oxfam some years ago, contained some wonderful russets and a range of drab greens.  This being the season for glowing rusty oranges I decided to shade it through, swapping out strands from dark to pale.  The background will make use of the drab greens.  I'm very pleased with it so far.

Now, a few autumnal scenes.  We chose our walks to suit the season.  Low-level and through woodland, or up the Solway coast to enjoy the spectacle of birds in flight.

One very special walk took us up through the woods above Loweswater.  There we were enthralled to see a red squirrel about its squirrelly business on the ground - and a second one frisking about in the very canopy of the huge tree in front of us.

This was the only picture we got.  They move fast, those squirrels.

Another day, we sat down to eat our lunch on a tree stump washed up on the beach just opposite a huge mixed group of sea-birds, oyster-catchers, curlews, sanderlings.  As the tide fell, so skein after skein of oyster-catchers beat up along the shore to join the crowd already on the sand-bar.  It was a very dramatic display.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Knitting Uncia

I seem to have gained a number of followers recently.  Welcome!

I've knitted some lace in my time.  Above, the Star Leaves shawl in that glowing autumnal yarn.

The Swallowtail shawl, in a lovely lace-weight yarn.

A Drops design that I knit for a charity some years ago.

These all follow that basic triangular construction of knitting a little garter tab and picking up along its edge to begin at the back neck.  The increases therefore come at the predictable places: edges and centre back.

But equally predictable is the lace.  With these, once the basic pattern is established, the repeats become obvious from the knitting itself.  Like in  traditional Fair Isle, the numerical sequences have a balance and a rhythm.

Of course, I learned a few things in knitting these.  The Swallowtail uses nupps in its Lily of the valley border, and I had not met those before.  The Star Leaves shawl has a section of textured knitting before the leaf section began, which was a puzzle to work out.  But, in general, knitting lace, especially on a large shawl, is so repetitive that boredom is a risk to completion.  One loses interest before it is finished. 

And you can certainly watch television while knitting, although perhaps not read sub-titles.

However, Uncia is different .  For a start, there are eight large charts, with the style of openwork constantly changing.  Very few of the manoeuvres are completely new, but several of the symbols are unfamiliar.  There is a key of course, on each page, and a further explanation of what these mean on two different pages.

Then there are the increases.  Because the design is based on the idea of stonework rising in columns, the increases are hidden very cleverly within the ribs.  Looking at the finished fabric they are almost invisible.  But that also makes them unpredictable on the pattern. 

So you sit with the chart, card pinned across above the row one is working, and, reading the row like a line of text, knit the row.  By now - I am on Row 350 of 400 - I can mostly predict what to do, and the wrongside rows have become readable from the knitting rather than the chart.

With knitting this complex it would have helped a lot to have a close-up picture of the section to be knit, rather than the series of very beautiful images of the designer, Lucy Hague, wearing it.  Then you could see what you were aiming at.

But, as I reach the final chart, I can see that it is also the sort of knitting where you don't want it to be finished.  I'll be thinking carefully what my next project will be, to avoid a sense of anti-climax.  Lucy Hague has a series of Celtic knotwork shawls, but I'm thinking perhaps Houlland from the "Book of Haps".