New Trend – “Granny Hobbies”

20151012_102844According to Grazia, this is the year when grannies get cool. Apparently all the bright young things will be dusting off their jam pans or  signing up for pottery classes.  Of course, knitting and crochet get a mention – despite the elegant, modern and stylish designs which regularly appear in print – the media insist on perpetuating the myth that crochet is all about 70’s  waistcoats, blankets in migraine inducing colour combos and cute toys.

wendy ramsdale scarfFor some of us, crochet (and knitting) have always been cool, enjoyed by young and old, men and women. It really doesn’t matter what the media think, most of us will carry on making and being inspired by the new generation of designers. Our crafts continue to push boundaries, old techniques are re-imagined in modern yarns and colour palettes.

So why is the term “granny craft” often used as a pejorative term? A way to generate humour or to poke fun? The “old ways”, dressmaking, home preserving and  growing our own food never went out of fashion, they were never forgotten. It just seemed, that for a little while at least the media preferred to sell us the myth of the new – the ready made, instant gratification lifestyle – and some of them maybe believed that was reality. To fill column inches by writing about the rise “granny crafts” is to miss the point, it’s lazy journalism. I for one am grateful to Franklin Habit, who hit the nail squarely on the head this week in his piece: “A Friendly Three Point Message to Journalists Who Seek to Write About Knitting and Crochet” This absolutely the best thing I’ve read in ages.20151017_104637Sorry Grazia, Grannies have always been cool, the backbone of society. Providing support to their families, inspiring new generations, passing on their wisdom while holding down jobs, running homes, making and mending in all manner of ways. Grannies, like the ubiquitous granny square, have style, the ability to adapt and remain relevant in a changing society – that why we all love our grannies – in every shape and form.

 

 

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New Published Pattern: Linoleum Cowl

inside crochet 73More exciting news this week – the new edition of Inside Crochet arrived and my latest design using Eden Cottage Yarns beautiful 4 ply is featured on the cover. The Linoleum Cowl was inspired by a photo on Instagram of an old floor, I loved the vivid yellows and oranges and thought they would be a great combination for a “mid century” inspired accessory. I used a combination of Askham and Milburn 4 ply yarns, the shades were perfect and  these yarns work so well together and allow the knitter or crocheter plenty of choice in putting together their own colour palette. Askham yarn is on special offer at the moment, so this is the perfect time to spoil yourself.

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon

To make the cowl, you’ll need three different shades. I suggest making the motifs first, sewing them together and then working the main cowl until it matches the length of your motifs, this allows for any differences in tension to be “ironed out” by working more or fewer rows of the pattern.

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon

Photo credit: Leanne Dixon

Look out for issue 73 in the shops, there are some lovely patterns in this issue and a great interview with fellow designer Ali Campbell (who also has a guest project in my new book) and a really pretty shawl by Helda Pangary, which I am planning to make over the Christmas holidays. This is another project which would be perfect for Askham or Milburn, so I’ll be raiding my stash to find the perfect colour combination.

 

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As Seen on TV

Well, not quite TV, but YouTube! I had great fun in the summer filming a couple of videos to accompany my new book with the team from Woman’s Weekly.  We chose Tunisian crochet,  which is a technique I’m often asked about and it’s so easy to get started I knew it would be perfect. You can view the video, which takes you through Tunisian Knit and Tunisian Simple Stitch here.

If you have ever fancied giving Tunisian Crochet a try, I hope this video will help you get started. Like most knitting and crochet skills, there are several ways to hold the hook and work the stitches. There is no single “right” or “wrong” way to work Tunisian crochet, so don’t be intimidated by terms which are unfamiliar to you, just pick up your hook and have a go!

In between giggles, the serious work of planning the script, producing samples and filming was undertaken by a great team. I don’t usually do tutorials or videos, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to work with such a great team could I?After all, Woman’s Weekly is a household name and my Mum would be very impressed! I’m really pleased with the finished video, it’s much better than anything I could have produced in my own studio and the film crew were so lovely to work with, I could get “hooked” on video making!!!

There are loads more instructional videos on the Woman’s Weekly website and do look out for their special Knitting and Crochet magazine editions which are full of lovely patterns and features. And (shameless plug) if you’re keen to try different crochet techniques you’ll find lots more in my new book, which you can pre – order now).

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New Book News

51BEIFL0JyL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_Well, here is the news – you can now pre order my new book directly from Search Press or from Amazon. Due for publication in January 2016, I am really excited to be finally able to share the news of this book – a whole year of my life went into writing, researching and making all the projects and swatches you’ll find inside.

I tried to write a book that suits beginners taking their first steps in crochet and those who are feeling more ambitious and want to try new skills and techniques. In fact, the book I always wanted to have on my own shelf.

I’ll be back soon to tell you more – and to give you a sneaky peek of what’s inside. But for now you’ll have to make do with a picture of the UK cover.

Dare I say this would make the perfect gift for the crocheter in your life?

 

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It’s all about the socks

20151112_092415This month has been all about the socks (hand knitted of course), I realised today, as I cast off another pair, that since the beginning of this year I’ve only worn one pair of “shop bought” socks. Yes, my sock drawer is a motley assortment of colours and patterns all made by me.

Five years ago I declared I had knit my ” first and last sock”. It was a painful episode, cuff down, making the heel flap, turning the heel, picking up stitches and then to add insult to injury, a toe which had to be grafted using kitchener stitch before I could weave in the ends and finally wear them.

It seemed such a faff, I was obviously not a “sock knitter”, I would keep wearing my smartwool socks, supplementing them with socks bought at wool shows and never, ever would I knit another pair. No, sock knitting could be ticked off the list.

Lacy socks

Lacy socks

“But why don’t you try toe up”? A friend asked. A few hours “lost in the internet” and I had fully researched the whole “toe up vs cuff down” debate which seems to divide the knitting world. I settled on a simple pattern, pulled out a long circular needle,  learnt the figure of 8 cast on, knitted and knitted until I was ready to form the heel, discovered the simple and basic “fleegle heel”, increased, decreased, knitted the cuff, cast off and voila. A sock. No fuss, no faff, just “mindless tv knitting” and a pair of socks was born. I was a happy knitter.

Stripy socks

Stripy socks

Since then I have tried many different toe up techniques, but for a simple, basic “vanilla” sock, I stick to this tested and trusted method. It works for me. In those five years, sock knitting still divides knitters and there are endless debates about toe cast ons, stretchy bind offs and the perfect heel. I’ve lost count of how many books have been written, how many blog posts and podcasts devoted to the subject. It seems knitters just can’t get enough of socks.

Aran weight boot socks

Aran weight boot socks

I also realised this month that I have never crocheted a pair of socks – something I intend to put right over the Christmas break. I’ve bought myself a book (Rohn Strong’s “New Methods for Crochet Socks”, which is short, but full of different techniques and suggestions for customising along with some rather lovely patterns). Rohn has published several sock patterns and so I know I can trust this book to equip me with the skills I need to finish my first pair with little difficulty.

It’s only now as I write this post that it dawns on me, that despite knitting dozens of pairs, I have only published one sock pattern (in Knitting magazine, see the Ravelry listing here), something I shall put right in 2016. I’m also going to update that early sock pattern and release it again as I do love the simple detailing and have some gorgeous sock yarn here which will be perfect.

When you put all the effort in building a handmade wardrobe, you soon find that you put more effort into caring for your hand knits too, and so I am proud to wear my darned socks. In the photos below you’ll see I made no effort to disguise the darns, I think of them as battle scars on a much loved pair of socks (and a lesson that cashmere blends are amazing to wear, but not very hardwearing).

Well worn socks!

Well worn socks!

Mended socks

Mended socks

If you’ve never made socks (knitted or crocheted), do give them a try. Remember there is no right or wrong technique and no single “perfect pattern” Read around, ask your friends and then cast on. If you’re inspired to give socks a go, here’s a list of places that might help get you started:

Clare Devine Sock Anatomy (for knitters)

Kate Atherley Custom Knit Socks (for knitters)

Cat Bordhi so many wonderful patterns, techniques and inspiration (again for knitters – sorry!)

The Crochet Project – sock patterns – I love the Saunders socks (Yay! one for crocheters)

Links to techniques mentioned above:

The fleegle heel – a simple no fuss heel for toe up knitted socks

Judys magic cast on – links to Knitty article with instructions

The figure of 8 cast on – links to Knit Now magazine blog

Crochet sock tips – links to Interweave store

 

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Wovember: Small Batch Yarn

20151007_125641This week I wanted to write about the popularity of small batch wools. Like Gin, the profile  of small scale wool producers, who process and market their own product is on the increase. I’ve been really surprised this year by how many yarn bloggers and podcasters are featuring this “new phenomenon”. Small scale single breed production is not new, but discovering and accessing these yarns is certainly becoming easier and there is a growing market for wool with a local, traceable provenance.

In Cumbria we’re lucky to have the Wool Clip (which has been around since 2001), a co-operative of fibre producers, makers and artists, many of whom raise and process their own wool. One of my favourites is Ruth Strong’s Herdwick wool, a real bargain and it’s fabulous quality. If the Wool Clip name sounds familiar to you, it may be because they are the organisers of Woolfest.. But there are other small scale co-operatives and sources of small batch, local production wools if you know where to look. I’ve written before about the amazing quality and colours of Lily Warne wool, which I first discovered when the wool was featured in Country Living magazine. It’s definitely up there among my favourites. The felted wool bag, made a couple of years ago is still in daily use and is a real conversation piece. I love being able to tell people where the wool grew and who I bought it from.

lily warne bagFor a long time, the only way to discover local, single breed wools was to befriend your local Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers or to  visit local fairs. These days there are some brilliant online resources. My current favourite is the National Sheep Association, where you can find links to all the British Sheep Breed societies. Some, like the Jacob Sheep Society have a fabulous list of producers which make it very easy to track down  wool from specific breeds.

Malham Mule collarI must admit, a lot of the single breed wool I buy sits in a cupboard, part of a growing collection of mementoes from summer holidays, trips to woolly events and gifts from friends. But at Yarndale  this year I was thrilled to discover Malham Mule, a yarn which is raised and processed in Yorkshire. This “own brand yarn” is a new venture for Jane Ellison of Purl and Jane in Skipton. I couldn’t resist trying it out and I have tried knitting and crocheting with this plump, superchunky wool and I love it. I love it even more because I’ve watched the sheep graze, and knowing the story of how it came from field to shop is fascinating. You can read more about Malham Mule on Jane Ellison’s website.

The collar (Pictured above) took two hanks of Malham Mule wool and paired with some real leather straps it’s proper draught excluder. Sadly the weather has been too mild to road test it properly, but I’m off to Malham at the end of this month and I’m hoping for some “proper” weather to test it out. I may even get around to typing up the pattern for you all!

All through November I’m posting about real wool in support of the “Wovember” campaign and I’m pleased to say lots of other knitwear designers are getting involved this year too. Sarah Hazell has launched a Knitalong over on her blog featuring Wendy Ramsdale, which I wrote about in my last Wovember post – see photo below for a reminder of the lovely scarf (and lovelier model). Go and take a look at Sarah’s design and maybe join in?

wendy ramsdale scarf

 

 

 

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New Pattern: Pumpkin Spice

pumpkin spice cowlI’ve just added a new knitting pattern to my online stores on Ravelry and Love Knitting. This simple knitted cowl is an updated version of the previous cowl knitted in Kidsilk Haze, this time I’ve used an aran weight yarn. I am rather pleased with how this one turned out, especially as I hand painted the yarn myself earlier this summer. The autumnal shades weren’t deliberate, I was bit like a kid in a sweetshop and the only reason it’s not just “muddy brown” was the result of great personal restraint with the paintbrush!

I’ve suggested a few suitable yarns in the project notes, and I would encourage you to raid your stash and find something you like (you could always use two strands held together if you can only find a dk yarn). Often a variegated yarn looks fabulous on the skein, but can be a disappointment once you start to knit – in such circumstances I always go back to garter stitch or reverse stocking stitch – these are friend of most variegated or self striping yarns.

I hand painted my yarn on a one day “special” organised by Jeni from Fyberspates, she recently moved to Chester and kindly ran a workshop for our knit and natter group. I’m told she’s also willing to run workshops for other groups and Guilds and I would definitely recommend it. I came away with some gorgeous  painted yarns, loads of advice and a rather full on obsession with hand dyed yarn (I think I ordered every book stocked in our local library!).

I think you’ll agree the cowl turned out rather nicely and photographed on a rather autumnal day, the name seemed appropriate! The pattern would be ideal for a new knitter, and if you’re looking for a festive gift for a new knitter, a skein of yarn, a pair of needles and this pattern would be perfect.

 

 

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