A hat and some history

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I’ve recently finished knitting Rachel Coopey’s Bedale, and very pleased I am with it, too. There’s something so fresh about its graphic, two-colour Fair Isle and elongated crown (it’s by far the slouchiest hat I’ve ever made!) Admittedly it took a little blocking to create the right shape: unblocked it was long and thin and looked disturbingly like a chefs toque when I first put it on, but a quick dunk in a hat bath relaxed the stitches nicely. I love the way it fits.

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Unfortunately, as this angle shows, I did make a schoolgirl error and – even worse – failed to go back and correct it! The shame! As you can see, my first repeat of the diamond motif looks far less crisp that the following ones. When knitting Fair Isle you should always strand your colours in the same relative position, and the strand that sits below will be the dominant shade on the finished motif. A moment’s careful thought would’ve told me that here the ecru shade needs to be dominant for the diamond motif to pop, but I blithely started off with the green shade stranded underneath. I quickly realised my mistake, but instead of frogging back I simply switched the strands and carried on, hoping it wouldn’t show too much. Who was I kidding!

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As my knitting tapered towards the tip of the crown I was very impressed with how those spokes of cream emerged, cleverly disguising the decreases. But my pompom hides another embarrassing error! When, a few rows from the end, I needed to transfer my stitches from a circular needle onto dpns, and having discovered that I didn’t have the right size, why did I think it wouldn’t hurt to use needles a size smaller? Of course, the punishment for this impatience was an elf-like point that looked silly, but luckily the pompom disguises it beautifully.

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Bedale comes from Toasty, Rachel Coopey’s most recent collection of patterns, all knitted in the sumptuous yarn above – baa ram ewe’s Titus. As well as being wonderful to knit with – a soft, plushy 4ply that mingles 50% wensleydale longwool, 20% bluefaced leicester and 30% UK alpaca – it’s a yarn with a story behind it. Produced in Yorkshire, Titus is a fitting tribute to its philanthropist, mill-owning namesake, Sir Titus Salt, who was not only one of the earliest champions of alpaca fibres in the UK, but who in 1851 built the elegant worker’s village of Saltaire, on the outskirts of Bradford. Rescued from the slums, his workforce enjoyed the benefits of bathhouses, parks, and superior housing, with running water, gas, and an outside toilet for every home. The mills have long ceased spinning, but Saltaire is a fantastic place to visit, as I was lucky enough to discover last month.

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It’s a treat to wander up and down the neat rows of delightful stone cottages, now privately owned but preserved from development, and imagine them filled with nineteenth-century millworkers and their families. I wonder what they thought of their extraordinary good fortune; lifted out of the slums and away from England’s most polluted town, where only 30% of their children reached the age of 15, and brought to live in a beauty spot with a hospital, a library and an Italianate church. No doubt they felt blessed, but human nature being what it is I wonder if some secretly resented their benefactor’s control on their lives. A strict Methodist, Titus insisted that everyone attended chapel on Sundays, and spent their leisure time improving themselves and refraining from gambling and drinking. I love that Saltaire’s wine bar is cheekily named ‘Don’t Tell Titus’!

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But the main reason to visit Saltaire is Salt’s Mill. Once Europe’s biggest textile mill, its cavernous halls are now filled with art and artefacts. There are books, homewares, antiques and even bikes for sale, and its galleries boast the world’s largest permanent collection of David Hockney paintings. There are also some very tempting cafes that I’m yet to try out – the portions looked enormous! An exhibition explains more about Sir Titus and West Yorkshire’s historic wool industry, which is fascinating. And if you want to buy some Titus yarn from its place of origin, simply travel 10 miles down the road to baa ram ewe’s gorgeous yarn shop in Headingly near Leeds.

My Bedale hat is ravelled here.

Record breakers

If you follow me on Twitter then you may have noticed some excited live-tweeting yesterday. I was involved with no less than an official Guinness World Record attempt!

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I joined members of dedicated yarnbombing group the Craft Club at Little Havens Hospice in Thundersley as they attempted to assemble the largest ever number of individual crochet sculptures. Appeals for contributions had been going on for months, with the previous record of 4061 the figure to beat. The theme was Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree, and it proved the perfect inspiration. Crochet groups worldwide got involved and as the deadline drew near the Craft Club girls received sackfuls of fantastical creations.

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There were mushrooms…

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…hedgehogs…

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…snails…

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…rabbits…

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…owls (of course)…

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…a lot of bunting…

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…and a truly staggering number of flowers (this is just a selection).

As one of two official judges, my role was to verify the number of items in the record attempt by counting them. Yes, that’s right, all of them! Fortunately the Craft Club members’ impeccable organisation meant that everything was grouped according to type and set out in neat rows of ten, which made our task much easier.

Bv0A0VRIIAEiswiHere we are counting the acorns. Having agreed on the total for each group of items we signed the official document and moved on to the next group. The running total grew and grew…

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I can hardly believe it myself, but after taking this picture I would go on to press my clicker a further ten thousand and thirty times! Yes, that’s right, the record wasn’t just broken, it was well and truly smashed. The final display featured a whopping 13,338 items!

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And here they all are. According to the Guinness world record rules, the complete set of items had to be laid out for a full five minutes and filmed for verification, as was every part of our judging. It’s not official yet, but a great deal of care was taken to meet all the requested criteria, so confirmation from Guinness should be just a formality. Let’s hope so!

The final stage is for the yarnbomb to be taken into the garden of Little Havens Hospice and be assembled into a finished scene, which is happening as I type. I can’t wait to see it in all its glory, and I’ll be sure to share it here with you as soon as I can, so watch this space! Thanks to my pal Jane aka Knitting Image for arranging for me to be involved with such a great event.

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Two FOs in two days

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Katie insisted I wasn’t allowed to knit any more hats until I’d finished her socks, and luckily I didn’t have much of them left to do. They’re knitted in Austermann Step – her choice from Yarn on The Square on Yarn Shop Day – which is infused with aloe vera, and comes complete with the motto ‘Wellness begins when you knit.’ Exactly!

A head start*

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In my last post I lamented that it was almost too hot to knit; well, there’s certainly no danger of that now, as temperatures seem to have plunged. This unseasonably chilly weather has lead me to start early on my autumn knitting, and if previous years are to go by this will probably include a number of hats. I tend to knit several each year ; it’s not that I need more hats, but a hat is often the perfect answer to the question of what to do with a spare 100g of yarn, and what better place to display your knitting prowess than on your head for all to see, whilst keeping you warm in the process. Furthermore, the scope for exciting styles (beanie, slouchy, tam, bobble, textured) and adventures with colour (stripes, Fair Isle, new shades of yarn) mean that no two hats need ever be quite the same, so there’s little risk of boredom. Admittedly, not everyone agrees; in my role as knitting mag editor I once received a letter from a reader bemoaning our inclusion of hat patterns. ‘Don’t you realise no-one wears hats in the real world?’ it scathingly asked. Well, happily I seem to inhabit an altogether different world!

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So here’s the first headwear of AW2014. The pattern is Aislinn, available to buy on Ravelry, although it comes free when you purchase the wool from The Yarn Cake in Glasgow. The wool in question is New Lanark Chunky, a 100% British yarn produced by traditional methods at the New Lanark World Heritage Site in Scotland, a restored 18th century worker’s village created by social reformer Robert Owen. Historically, New Lanark’s industry was cotton, but a functioning 19th century spinning mule has been put to good use in production of high quality yarn, much of which is organic, and all proceeds from the sale of it are reinvested in the site.

IMG_0588The hat itself is an easy knit on chunky needles and is ravelled here.

*Sorry for the pun. (I work in craft magazines, nuff said…)

Long hot summer

I hate to say it but it’s almost too hot to knit! We’ve just returned from a sunny break in Devon, and I can’t remember the last time I had so much fresh air.

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As well as surfing and general beach pursuits we visited Lundy Island, an inhabited outcrop of rock 12 miles off the Devon coast. There were dolphins following our boat as we made the journey, and the island itself is home to a colony of puffins. I’d never seen these almost cartoon-like creatures before – they’re adorable! Lundy also boasts one of the most isolated pubs in the British isles, so of course we made time to stop for a beer.

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 The Marisco Tavern

One of our favourite pursuits this summer has been butterfly spotting. Thanks to the mild winter and warm, balmy summer they seem to be far more numerous than in recent years. What’s bad for knitters is evidently good for butterflies! We’ve also been competing for who can take the most National Geographic-worthy photo, and been surprised to find how close they will often let you get, provided you’re suitably stealthy. Most notable South-West spots were the common blue, the speckled wood, the gatekeeper, the marbled white and, just possibly, the adonis blue (it’s rare so we might have got that wrong!)

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Marbled White

Despite the heat I haven’t actually abandoned knitting this summer. Here I am getting started on a pair of socks at The Thatch Tavern in Croyde.

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I bought the bag from the craft market that morning; it’s a wash bag but makes a brilliant small project bag. I’m really pleased with it. It’s made by Juju Board Bags and hopefully they’ll soon be available online.

Hope you’re enjoying the summer, whatever you’re doing.

Mother’s Love

The August issue of Let’s Knit comes out tomorrow and it features these fantastic headbands, designed by Jane Burns and modelled by none other than Katie and myself.

headbands I can vouch wholeheartedly for this design. Having worn the sample for the photoshoot I found it so comfortable, and so great for disguising bad hair days and unsightly root regrowth, that I didn’t want to take it off. Naturally we always return samples to our designers, so I knew I had to eventually give this one back, but the solution was obvious – I would just have to knit my own. I’ve since made not one but three of them!

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Here I am sporting the first one while enjoying a pint in one of my favourite pubs, the Dog & Duck in Soho. It’s made in Schachenmayr Extra Soft Merino DK, but any DK yarn would be fine, and it takes only 40g.

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Here’s the second. This was made in a subtly variegated yarn – no idea what it is unfortunately as it was label-less and dug from the very bottom of my stash. With hindsight a variegated yarn wasn’t the best choice because you knit the two crossover parts separately, so when you join them together they are inevitably at different points in the colour sequence. Despite my best efforts to avoid this I still have a visible join – although I don’t think it spoils it too much.

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And finally here’s one I made for Katie, from the wonderfully neon Bergere de France Barisienne.

These headbands are an easy, enjoyable knit and I know I’ll definitely be making several more, both as presents and brilliant speedy stashbusters.   The pattern appears in issue 82 of Let’s Knit, on sale Friday 4th July.

 

In Praise Of Pattern

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I’m a huge fan of patterns, and for once I’m not referring to knitting patterns (although I love those too!); I mean patterns as in surface decorations, like the kind displayed on these fabulous Mexican tiles I recently bought. The full set contains 24 tiles, all completely different – but such impressive variety is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the literally hundreds of designs in existence. There’s something so joyful about this exuberant use of shape and colour seemingly just for the hell of it. Whether on tiles, a rug, a piece of fabric, a retro teapot, or a piece of Fair Isle knitting, surface pattern doesn’t, on the whole, convey any meaning or serve any practical purpose, it’s just there to lift your heart and make you smile.

My plan for these tiles is not to actually tile anything with them (although it would be fabulous!) but just to have them dotted around the house – on the mantelpiece, on the windowsill, used as coasters – thereby providing a small but extremely lively dash of colour here and there.

Seeing these tiles together, it struck me how similar they were to something else I love – granny squares! Although in essence quite different, in many ways the Mexican tile and the granny square appear to come from the same feel-good family. Both get away with being absurdly more colourful than is generally acceptable, both are square and both feature symmetrical, repeating patterns that delight the eye with their aesthetic rhythm.

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I made the squares above a while ago to be the centrepiece of a picnic blanket. Having made nine large squares, I crocheted them together using Lucy from Attic 24s excellent tutorial, and then planned to go round and round the edge until either it was big enough or my yarn ran out, whichever happened first. Well, I clearly underestimated how much yarn crochet uses up! By the time I’d done a few rounds it was taking more than half a ball of yarn to do one lap of the edge, and I’d exhausted all my favourite colours. I could’ve bought more yarn but seeing as this was a project to use up oddments it seemed to defeat the object. So I don’t exactly have a picnic blanket, but I do have a very nice throw. Perfect for livening up a chair, and for bringing a little bit of joie de vivre into everyday life.

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Wild Weekend!

In my last post I mentioned that we were fans of Springwatch, which ended its annual run on Thursday, and last weekend felt a little like real life had taken over where the TV left off! Several weeks ago a pair of red-legged partridges made their home in the field next to our garden, appearing a couple of times a day to peck around the lawn, (and leave many an unwanted gift on the garden path). We got so used to seeing them we named them Terry and Jerry and would say hi to them as we passed by on our way to and from the car. We noticed they were gradually becoming tamer, especially when we started dishing out the odd bit of birdseed. They would follow us down the garden and eventually we even persuaded them to eat out of our hands.

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They became so familiar we started to think of them as pets, especially as they would sometimes come in the house to look for us when they got impatient for birdseed!

On Saturday I was sitting out on the patio enjoying a quiet ten minutes when I heard a familiar sound suggesting either Jerry or Terry were nearby, so I got up to fetch a handful of birdseed, and sure enough out popped Jerry (the female) from behind the fence. Imagine my surprise and delight when she was followed by no less than EIGHT tiny babies!

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At the risk of sounding twee I couldn’t quite get over how adorable these tiny, fluffy fledgelings were, making their first ever foray into the big wide world under mum’s watchful guidance. And doesn’t Jerry look proud! A little while later they took an afternoon stroll up the length of our garden path and I managed to make a video:

 

I’m looking forward to seeing the babies develop as I don’t suppose they’ll stay this small for long. I also don’t suppose all of them will make it through to adulthood. It pains me to think how vulnerable they are!

Talking of which, on Sunday we came across another fledgeling, one in desperate trouble. We were cycling back from the pub when James suddenly felt drawn to investigate a disused farm building. We’d been discussing activities in the local area during the war and he’d wondered if this building held any historical clues, but instead of a makeshift aerodrome what we found was an owl with it’s leg trapped under some debris.

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This was a young Little Owl, and because its leg was damaged it was unable to take off and could only flail around on the ground. We therefore had little choice but to take this beautiful creature home and try and work out what to do.

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Although obviously injured the owl, whom we christened Chequers (after our local pub where we’d just had a very nice Sunday lunch!), looked bright-eyed and not sick, so we were hopeful for his prognosis, but pessimistic about our chances of finding a wildlife refuge open on Sunday evening. However, the wonderful people at Wildlives in Thorrington agreed to take him in, even though they were technically closed for admissions. This is an absolutely wonderful organisation, entirely funded on donations but dedicated to rescuing every specimen of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife that comes their way. On arrival Katie was transfixed by a tank full of baby hedgehogs, and they had several tawny owls and other baby birds. However, Chequers was the first Little Owl they’d had this year.

P1000794I called Wildlives this afternoon and I’m delighted to say that Chequers is doing much better; he’s fine in himself and his leg seems to be on the mend. When finding an injured animal it’s such a comfort to have organisations to turn to who know what to do. Wildlives is run from owner Rosie’s house, often at personal expense, and is staffed by volunteers. I would urge everyone who loves wildlife to check out the their site here, and if you’re in a position to make a donation they would be heartily grateful.

 

All Change!

May is almost out but my #maychallenge cushion definitely won’t be finished. My initial Fair Isle design has now been ditched; I decided, having knitted about 10cm of the full-size piece, that on a large scale I really didn’t like the effect – it was far too busy. From a distance the colours simply merged into one, despite my efforts to maximise the contrast between them within the palette I’d chosen. I do have a plan for the pattern – something on a smaller scale – but for the cushion I had to go back to the drawing board. And the result has meant a move over to the dark side – intarsia!

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Using larger blocks of colour has created the much more painterly effect I was looking for, doing justice to the beautiful shades of Rowan Felted Tweed, but yes it is fiddly. I’m using nine colours at once and my method of controlling each bobbin is with clothes pegs – not ideal but it stops the yarn unravelling. The main issue is that I can only knit at the table! But I’m happy with how it’s going – at long last! Starting from scratch is a pain but I’m a firm believer in following your gut instinct: if you know something’s flawed or not working then no matter how much time has been invested, don’t be afraid to move on  – just chalk it up to ‘development’!

Being unable to knit in front of the TV has been a drawback this week because unusually I’ve been watching quite a lot: the reason – It’s Springwatch! This venerable British institution has returned to our screens. Whilst we normally tune in anyway, this series holds a special significance because on Tuesday we were lucky enough to visit Minsmere and see behind the scenes as guests of one of the presenters, Martin Hughes-Games. We had a brilliant day, the highlights of which were visiting the hut and sitting on the very sofas normally occupied by Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, and seeing inside mission control where they monitor the cameras 24/7. Plus Katie managed to photograph the ultra-rare bittern – Martin was very impressed!

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May challenge

I’ve been a bit unfocused of late; picking things up, putting them down and not really committing to anything. To cure this inertia I decided to set myself a monthly challenge, and this month’s is an idea that’s been brewing for a while – to design and knit a cushion for our living room.

Here’s the scene that greets you as you enter the room:

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This much-loved sofa is generally referred to in our house as ‘the comfiest sofa ever’, but looks-wise I’ve always felt it could do with a splash of colour. All that’s required is a colourful cushion to add a bit of ‘pop’, but I’ve never found quite the right one; they’ve always been either too bold or too busy. So I set myself the task of designing and knitting my ideal cushion.

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In keeping with the relaxed, slightly rustic look of our living room, with its faded navajo rug and wooden beams, I wanted something colourful yet soft and subtle. Rowan Felted Tweed DK seemed the ideal yarn choice, as the multi-coloured neps give its gorgeous hues a muted, timeworn look. Having picked the yarn I set about choosing colours, an agonising task as you can never truly tell if your palette will work until you’ve knitted it up in a swatch. Needless to say I didn’t get it right first time. I’d opted for the six above because each pair seemed to give a contrast whilst none of the shades were too strong, but therein lay my mistake, because Fair Isle works on the principle of foreground and background. The colours may be varied but these shades are all essentially background, with nothing primed to stand out. Here’s the horrible sludgy result when they were knitted together:

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It was clear that I needed to introduce a bolder colour, so I opted for a fiery red, and attempted my swatch again. Things didn’t go much better!

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I think I preferred the first one! Clearly something was wrong in the mix, and it didn’t take long to work out that it was the brown. Included to ensure that my cushion looked suitably rustic, its muddy hue did nothing for the overall look of the pattern, and instead of rustic I just got something that looked dirty. A complete rethink was in order, so I chucked out everything I’d already done and instead of trying to chart out the pattern first I decided to design on-the-needles, just seeing where the colours took me. With Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 200 Fair Isle Designs on hand for reference  I set about swatching, and here’s the result of my efforts:

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Finally an idea I’m happy with! I settled for pink as the background, a shade that provides a pleasing contrast to all the others. Well, the cushion is now cast on, but I haven’t left myself long to finish it before the month is out!