Free Pattern – But Not for Much Longer

This week’s Friday Free Pattern is a day early because I’m busy packing for a much needed holiday! This is your last chance to pick this knitted cowl pattern up for free. When I get back it’s going up for sale on my Love Crafts profile. You can find the blog post with all the instructions by clicking here.

Get it while you can knitters xxx

Review – Weekend Makes: Stash Knitting

Weekend MakesThis week I have a new knitting book recommendation for you. Written by Emma Osmond, this is a fresh, modern take on the perennial stash knitting theme (and let’s face it, most knitters and crocheters have a sizeable stash of yarn bought for projects we never completed or simply loved too much to leave on the shelf).

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The projects are mostly simple, knitted in beautiful Rowan yarns (so lots of natural fibres and muted shades) and the styling is lovely. There are mug cosies, a hot water bottle, bags, blankets, scarves and hats all photographed with clear close ups of the stitches and shape. I particularly liked the technique section, which has pictorial guides to working on circular needles, knitting cable stitches and colour work. At the back of the book, a chapter on finishing techniques clearly explains, grafting, picking up stitches and sewing seams. So, although this isn’t a book aimed at beginners, it’s definitely a book I’m going to pass along to a new, not so confident knitter in my family. I know she’ll love the projects, and I’m going to put a great big post it note on page 94 – because I’m sure she’ll be able to manage the simple beanie in time for my birthday in October – I can even loan her the perfect yarn from my stash!

Each project includes the required weight for each yarn in grams and metres, so you can easily substitute a yarn from your stash. You’ll also find guidance about skill level, techniques and modifying the pattern to suit your taste and yarn available for every project.

I will definitely be making some of the projects in this book, but (and it’s a small but), I wish more of the projects were worked in the round or on circular needles. It’s the one thing that came up when I showed this book to the ladies in my knitting group. Although many knitters were raised on a diet of “knit flat and seam” patterns, there are a growing number of knitters (of all ages and experience) who like the option to knit in the round. It would have been nice if at least one of the hats (or maybe the wrist warmers) had been knitted seamlessly, particularly as there are three pages devoted to this in the techniques guide.*

Having said that, this is a fabulous book and with Mother’s Day approaching this might be the perfect gift for someone in your life. Whatever their age or experience they’ll find something that appeals and encourages a bit of stash diving!

Weekend Makes: Stash Knitting is written by Emma Osmond, published by GMC books and available now from your favourite book store.

ISBN: 9781784945121

Price £14.99

  • The baby booties and chunky basket are both started flat and then switch to circular needles or DPNS.

Review: Noro Kureyon 3oth Anniversary Collection

9781942021889lgI fell in love with Noro yarns when I first began work in a yarn store and it wasn’t long before I completed my first project in Noro Kureyon. I knitted myself a wildly colourful oversized jumper that I wore and wore on weekend family camping trips. It’s still in my wardrobe. A little bit felted and still smelling of woodsmoke, but the colours still make me smile.

To celebrate 30 years since the first Noro Kureyon collection, this book offers a wonderful collection of 30 sweaters and accessories – the ladies at my knit group drooled over it, and it wasn’t long before my review copy found a new home with super knitter S, who will no doubt make “all the things” in due course.

Kureyon is Japanese for “crayon”, which means more if you’re familiar with the wildly random colour changes of this yarn. The designers chosen for this collection have made full use of the colour changes and versatility of the yarn, and it well worth spending a few minutes looking through the pattern collection on Ravelry.

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My favourite is Margie Kieper’s “Squared” sweater, which leapt to number one on my “must make” list (image (c) Sixth and Spring), but I’m also hankering after the patchwork Scarf by Jill Gutman Schoenfuss (pictured below), which looks relatively simple and perfect for autumn.

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This book is the perfect celebration of everything we love about Noro, the photography and styling show off the designs perfectly and I loved the opportunity to discover new to me designers and plan a winter of indulgent knitting. This summer heat might not seem like the best time to be thinking about sweater knitting, but for me it’s perfect. I can pore over beautiful books like this one for hours, adding yarn to my wish list. And, when my birthday comes around in October, I’ll have a ready made list for my family to order from – the only way to guarantee I’ll get exactly what I want!

Buy this book for yourself, or as a gift and you’ll treasure it. It’s  not just as a source of beautiful, desirable and practical designs, it’s a gorgeous book to brighten the dullest days and transport yout to Noro’s wonderful world of colour.

Book details:

Noro Kureyon: The 30th Anniversary Collection has 144 sumptuous pages of patterns and photography for knitters of all skill levels to drool over.

Published by Sixth and Spring with a cover price of £19.99, it’s available here or from your favourite book shop.

Knitted Cowl

canopy-cowlLet me introduce you to the Coffee Kitchen Cowl. Named after one of my favourite coffee stops in Cockermouth. This is a simple make, comfortable, practical and sure to be essential on those days when you need something you can tuck inside a coat or jacket without adding bulk. The yarn is called Canopy and is produced by the The Fibre Company, I’ll admit I was seduced by the colour and bought it with no project in mind. It is the softest yarn to wear and the colours just gleam.

For a long time it was simply called the “draught excluder”, but now I have finally got around to publishing the pattern I felt it needed a better name. So why the Coffee Kitchen? Well, firstly that’s where most of this sample was knitted earlier this year. Secondly it shares a lot of the same qualities. It’s comfortable, reliable and will always make you you feel warm and cosy – just like the cafe itself. If you ever find yourself in Cockermouth, look it up and peruse their extensive coffee and tea lists, then take yourself round the corner to the bakery and treat yourself to a loaf of real bread.

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This is a cowl that suits all ages – as you can see from the photos it’s equally at home in the city or in the wild outdoors. You can even make a narrower version and wear it as a head band. The cast on and cast off edges will roll naturally to give a gently curled edge. This pattern is now available as a pdf from Love Crafts or Payhip.

The Cheat Sheet:

I always tell my pupils that in yarn crafts there are no “rules”, do what you love and do what you want – and don’t let the knitting police tell you otherwise.

  • It’s fine to substitute the yarn, I won’t get cross (but do check out the Fibre Co, the quality is amazing and the colours are stunning).
  • You can substitute any 4 ply or fingering yarn. Shilasdair luxury 4 ply works well and the now discontinued Rowan Cashsoft 4 ply was perfect. Fyberspates Vivacious would be great.You’ll need about 200m for the size as written. Choose something special as it’s going to be close to your skin. Yarns with a “halo” like Mohair and Baby Alpaca aren’t so great as the stitch definition can be lost – but try them if that’s want you want to use. Look for a soft, smooth yarn with a high natural fibre content. Silk or viscose blends will have a sheen that reflects the stitches well.
  • If you prefer to knit on double pointed needles or magic loop, then go right ahead – it’s your knitting.
  • Cast off your way. You might prefer  a stretchy cast off or to use a size larger needle. Either way, the choice is yours. No-one but you will ever know…
  • Want it longer, wider? Just increase the cast on stitches in multiples of 4 – but you’ll need more yarn. Work more rounds as you wish until the cowl is your perfect size.
  • Make these for friends and family as a quick festive make – if you have horse riders, climbers or cyclists in the family I’m told these are great as they don’t “dangle” and keep out the wind!

Buy this pattern via payhip

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Zero Waste Knitting

​I have a fairly small yarn stash, but I do have a huge collection of tiny odds and ends left over from design commissions and personal projects. I can’t bear to throw them away. These arm warmers are the perfect way to use up tiny scraps and will keep me snug and cosy. I’m knitting them “flat” because my tension is getter that way and I’m knitting two at a time to make sure they both match. I just wonder … do any of you have a favourite way to use up yarn scraps?

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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

 

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.

 

 

The state we’re in

Ear Muffs made using Erika Knight British Blue Wool (image credit Tailor Made Publishing)

It’s Wool Week again, a time when my instagram, twitter and facebook feeds are full of woolly themed posts, photos of famous people wearing wool, invites to come and see wool and a general “celebrate British wool” vibe permeating through social media.

Isn’t that great? British wool is a fabulous thing. I don’t want to romanticise the farmers life (it’s bloody hard work) but the UK has a long history of producing and processing wool and buying British makes me feel I’m a part of that tradition. In just the same way as I would rather buy British lamb and mutton than an import from New Zealand.

It makes environmental sense too – shopping locally, reducing the miles a product has to travel and reducing waste are all “good things”. Sheep have to be sheared, so it seems daft to me that farmers can’t get a decent price for the fleece – but then again we live in a society where the milk price paid to farmers is insultingly tiny so that supermarkets can offer a cheap product to consumers and  so I shouldn’t be surprised. I find myself asking (again) when did British farmers become so undervalued?

Wool blanket made using Debbie Bliss British Blue Faced Leicester (image credit: Tailor Made Publishing)

As a designer working for several different magazines and publishers it’s impossible for me to choose British wool and yarn for all my commissions (some editors are more willing to use British wool than others). But for personal projects, seeking out and using “real” British yarns has become the norm. My most notable recent purchase has been some glorious alpaca. Reared, spun and sold in Cumbria (read about the whole kickstarter project here) and there is plenty of wool from British breeds in my stash.

Herdy wool cushions, made using British wool and trimmed with Cumbrian Herdwick
Herdy wool cushions, made using British wool and trimmed with Cumbrian Herdwick

I love how more and more knitters are seeking out British wool and enquiring about the provenance of their wool. Sadly they are  often duped and disappointed to find the “made in the UK” label is wrapped around Australian merino or Peruvian alpaca. If the labelling is misleading, how are knitters supposed to make an informed choice?

Of course there’s nothing illegal about this labelling. If the yarn is processed in the UK (spun, wound or dyed here) then a company is entitled to promote it as made in Britain – and many  do exactly that – because they know knitters love the idea of (and will pay a premium for) a British product.  I’ll often spot the union jack prominently displayed on a label, but search in vain on the website for the source of the fibre, an early clue that it probably didn’t come off the back of a British sheep. I wonder if the time is ripe for a new kind of labelling where the source of a fibre has to listed on the label?

Occasionally I have asked companies why they don’t use British wool and I’m told that British fleeces are ” poor quality”  or simply (and honestly) foreign wool is cheaper and easier to source. That makes me sad. Which is why This post, written from the perspective of a designer and daughter of a shepherd struck a cord.

The last time I wrote about British wool (in response to the WI launching an acrylic range with Hobbycraft)  I was inundated with messages, tweets and emails from small scale producers who are trying to find a market for their yarn and from knitters who want to buy great quality British yarn.

Finding a British yarn within the offerings of the larger manufacturers isn’t hard – Rowan, Debbie Bliss etc usually carry at least one British wool within their range. But is this enough today? Wouldn’t it be fabulous to see the Wool Marketing Board and British yarn companies working together to source British fleeces and support British farmers – and in turn support British mills in processing the yarn? Yes, I know there are cost implications “infrastructure” and numerous other obstacles to overcome. But, British wool was once the envy of the world, couldn’t that be a goal to aim for now?

PS if you are interested in sourcing British wool from British sheep here are a few places to start:

Knitbritish guide to British wools under a fiver (yes, really!)

Baa Baa Brighouse which stocks a wide range of British yarns, including Wendy Ramsdale and Herdy (two of my favourites)

Brityarn an online yarn store with a real commitment to British yarns and British independent  producers, Isla lists the provenance of all her yarns and is incredibly helpful.

And (as far as I know, the newest kid on the British wool block) Purl and Jane  are stocking Malham Mule (reared, sheared, spun and sold in Yorkshire)

Ravelry Pattern Sale

Over the summer I shall be redesigning and re branding all my knitting and crochet patterns, some will be “retired” for ever and some are being made with new yarns in new colours. Before I remove them all from sale here’s your chance to grab a bargain. Most patterns are now reduced to just £1 (plus VAT), so head over to Ravelry and choose your favourites. They’ll only be available until 1st July.

 

 

Love to Knit, Love to Crochet

Knitting Loves Crochet by Candi Jensen

I’ve always been “bistitchual”. I’m just as happy with needles and yarn as I am with a hook. I learnt both skills early on and sometimes I’ll even combine the two in a single project. (My knitted baby blanket for Craftseller for instance had a pretty crochet trim).  It always surprises me that other yarn enthusiasts think that combining both crafts is unusual or even a little bit “edgy”. For years knitters have been learning to crochet just so they can add a pretty trim to a baby cardigan or join knitted squares together. Both crafts have their strengths and like many yarn lovers I’ll choose the most appropriate tools for the job, stranded colourwork and fairisle just beg to be knitted (tapestry and jaquard crochet can never quite match the details, drape and finish) while amigurumi whips up fabulous toys, which are robust enough to withstand a toddler’s love and attention.

I’ve often wondered why there is such a fierce “rivalry” between knitters and crocheters? Just a couple of years ago a knitting magazine received sackloads of mail complaining there were “too many” crochet patterns in it’s latest issue and it’s rare to find a magazine that gives equal weight to both skills. I picked up a copy of Candi Jensen’s book “Knitting Loves Crochet” a few years ago, it’s now well thumbed and I still pick it up when I’m looking for inspiration or ideas. There are other books available which combine both skills, but this is my favourite.

So, how can you combine both skills in one project? Here’s my top three “bistitchual tricks” to entice knitters into the world of crochet:*

1. The crochet cast off.

This simple technique gives a firm edge You can find a video tutorial for the knitted cast off over on New Stitch A Day.

2. The provisional cast on.

A provisional cast on is used when you need to a “live” row of stitches, perhaps to graft the beginning and end of a project to make a cowl, or if you’re working a scarf and want both ends to be identical. You can find a really helpful guide to the crochet provisional cast on over at the Purl Bee blog.

3. A simple crochet trim.

A simple shell trim (or scalloped edge)  can enhance any knitters repetoire. Use it to edge a knitted blanket or to give a feminine touch to a plain baby cardigan. You’ll need some basic crochet skills for this one, ask a crocheting friend to show you how or take a look  Very Pink Knits  brilliant video explaining the technique( aimed at knitters), you can find it on Youtube. I’ve embedded her introduction to crochet for knitters above. If you haven’t come across Staci’s  tutorials before, check out her website. I recommend them a lot to my pupils (why make my own when someone else has done such a great job?)

I’d love to know, are you “bistitchual”, do you have  a favourite way to combine both skills in one project?

*I’ll look at knitting for crocheters in another post)