Wool House

Last Saturday (23rd March) I got the unexpected opportunity to pop into town with a friend and visit the Wool House exhibition at Somerset House.  Unfortunately my ‘good’ camera refused to co-operate, but I did manage to take some photos with my camera phone.

The idea was to showcase the British Wool industry by creating a series of rooms decked out in wooly goodness.  Naturally we all keep one of these in our hallways..

big bad crochet bear.

I shot him with my knitted blunderbuss.  Seriously though, this chap was gorgeous, and crocheted by Shauna Richardson, who has some amazing pieces.  I just adore the fact this bear has a circular tummy though – just like a teddybear! – but the attention to detail is lovely

Through the hall you entered the bedroom. (yeah, go figure) with a beautiful linen ‘wallpaper’ that looked like somebody had lots of fun trying out those fancy stitches on the sewing machine that you never get around to using.  Straight lines of fancy stitch detail on a natural linen background actually worked really well – and of course I didn’t get any photos.

Next up was an inspiring (for me) milk white and navy blue living room space which is going to form the basis for my upcoming bedroom remodel, the combination of the two colours really worked for me,

although I can live without the rusty sheep.  However, the piece I really liked in this room was the coffee table.  Beautiful sections of felt sewn together to create a mandala type snowflake supported not only a huge piece of glass, but a vase of flowers as well

I also really liked the ‘ceiling art’ in this room – it wasn’t a lighting feature, but just something that hung artistically from the ceiling.  I like the structural focus of these knitted forms – and we did see one a bit later on that had optic fibre threaded through it to give a very soft light on the edges which was very effective (but useless as an actual light).  You would need very high ceilings – or a large hallway maybe – to make this work.

From here you walked through to a red, grey and white modernistic study.  I loved the soft grey check flannel ‘wallpaper’ but little else spoke to me in this room.

A sidestep around the end of the corridor which had been turned into a Moroccan inspired ‘den’ showed good use of space – it would be a good way of using the space under the stairs in a hallway for example – but little else to interest me – took you into a whimsical nursery.

I loved the detailing in this room.. the blanket pre-printed for building den’s was possibly my favourite, along with the ‘wood’ printed blanket on the bed in the foreground

blanket printed for den buildingbut I also loved the ‘rain cloud’ mobile of outstandingly simple construction (and what a great way to use up scrap yarn!)- and the lovely ‘blue skies’ blinds in the background

rain cloud mobile

I also loved the friendly sheep at the end of the bed,

friendly sheep

he had a lovely friendly face as well, though my phone decided that this was the perfect time to go ‘auto flash’ and the photo I got was more the stuff of childhood nightmares.

What I ended up with was sheep angry at being “papped”.  I’ll be honest, this photo amused me no end, and the crowds of people queuing up behind me to get in the room couldn’t understand what I was laughing at.

From the nursery we were dropped into a room of acid brights and pop art.  Lots of felt in here that had been structurally played with to create textural art.  One end was dominated  by This thing was a good 9ft tall and created by strips of pink felt – the lines you see going from top left to bottom right (more or less) are lines of straight sewing – the lines going the other way the edges of twisted strips of felt.  You can also see the textural edging on the footstool in front, and the edges of 3 of the cushions.  The other wall was flat strips of colour, separated by raised strips of unevenly edged black

It was a bugger to photograph, but would look amazing in a children’s room as well as providing soundproofing.  This room really opened my eyes to the possibilities of felt as a structural fabric to create really strong, architectural designs that added interest to details in a room.  This cushion is really over the top, but gives you a good idea of what i’m talking about..

Going from the acid brights of this room into a room full of undyed and natural fibres was a bit of shock.  I’m still trying to work out what the pile of onions was for (other than that they fit with the colour palette), but I liked the idea of covering a piece of furniture with ‘cast off’ jumpers.  I particularly like the idea of the pocket on the end of the arm!

The next room was more ‘educational’ with information about wool mattresses and pillows, as well as stockists for some of the furniture we had already seen.  However in the window was hanging this amazing ‘lap blanket’ of fine wool felt.  My photo’s don’t do it any justice as I’m aware it looks like a concrete column, but it was very soft and flexible and while ‘easy’ to create contained hours of work in the stitching.  A really effective piece..

across the corridor (which incidentally was decked out with the most amazing wool carpet)

and we were into wool as art – felted wall hangings mostly (didn’t do anything for me) – the ‘try it out rooms’ which included samples of some of the rare breed yarns (which unfortunately perpetuated the myth that all ‘pure wool’ is horribly scratchy stuff) two lovely ladies who were spinning (spindle and wheel) and the opportunity to learn to knit at one of several regular workshops run by Rowan.  Next door was a HUGE treadle loom with a rug in progress, and a couple of lovely people from the hand weavers studio in west London.  Back across the corridor and finally a couple of rooms tried to show how wool was being used in fashion – past, present and future – who knows, we might even see cyclists wearing jackets with their own built in lights!

A lovely diversion for an hour with some really interesting ideas being showcased.  I’d definitely go again!

Inspiration for free…

I thought today I’d share a couple of places that I enjoy visiting for free inspiration.

I’m a big fan of vintage, and I adore whiling away a bit of time browsing old patterns.  One of my favourite sources is the Antique Pattern Library, a vast resource of somebody’s patient scanning of (mostly American) knitting, crochet and crafting magazines from the 1800’s onwards.

Unlike today, where even the most complex of knitting books have a chapter on how to cast on (seriously, if you can’t cast on then you really shouldn’t be picking up one of  Nicky Epstein’s books just yet), these older beauties assume that you know the basics (and quite a lot of the advanced) and throw you straight in the deep end.

Of course you have to work out what might be meant by “a medium bone needle” and “2oz of German zephyr wool” but the patterns themselves are just such a rich vein of inspiration that it’s worth the struggle.

My favourite pattern to date is still the one for an Opera Cape, which instructs you to ‘Cast on as many stitches as required.  Knit until you have a cape.  Cast off”.  Each publisher had their own abbreviations and methods and really makes you appreciate the standardisation that came along in the 1940’s and 50’s that we take for granted today.

The crochet work is unbelievably skilful and involved – major pieces of undertaking given the lack of evening light, the fine threads and tiny hooks – but the finished edgings, piano skirts, collars and tablecloths are inspiring.  Look closely and you’ll find interesting shawls, coats, slippers and bags (although I am working hard on translating some of the shaping instructions for some of them!)

Vintage Purls has a lovely collection of 1940 and 1950’s knitting patterns

The Vintage Pattern Files is a lovely vintage pattern focused blog with knitting, crochet and sewing patterns, helpfully sorted into lots of different categories.

maybe one of these sites contains the inspiration for your next project?

hairpins do more than hold your hair up

First up, I got another couple of repeats done on my Honeymeade shawl, completing the first set of charts and about to start the second. Aoibhe Ni has produced a really interesting way of combining crochet and Tunisian crochet, turning things (literally) around and producing a really interesting visual texture.

Honeymeade Shawl

Detail of the Honeymeade – showing Crochet and Tunisian sections

I’m still loving how the yarn is working up, and it feels so fabulous.  the touch of stelina makes it sparkle (you can see it a bit in the photo towards the bottom right and top left).  On the right you can see the ‘crochet’ section – and on the left you can see the Tunisian section (split almost exactly in the middle of the photo)  The method of increases results  the beautiful pleating you can see in the top left – but that will mostly block out when the shawl is finished.

I know I spoke about my hairpin tunic last week and how enthusiastic I was about it.  Well, pride come before a fall and I quickly discovered that, despite what the label might claim (why do I trust those?) it is nowhere near an aran weight and while the pattern calls for 2 ‘stitches’ to the inch, and I’m getting nearly 8!  So I’ll have to buy some more yarn.  boo hiss.   But I need your help, dear reader.

The tunic is this one, from Crochet So Fine by Kristin Omdhal:

I’ve found an appropriate yarn, Delphine by Louisa Harding, but I’m having a tough ole time deciding which colourway to go with..

now, obviously this is more a summer tunic, so I’d like to go fairly summery – which means the charcoal is out.  And I look really ill in pure white – so that’s the Ecru out.  I’m also not a massive fan of the bright pinks, which removes the Watermelon from the equation.  I know that I don’t own much lime green or orange, but when I do people complement the colour on me.  I’m just not sure I can carry off such a large area of such a colour.  At the moment I’m drawn towards the navy or coffee or the natural (as I can see those over pale summery colours) but I’d value your opinion… what do you think?

Finally I’ve been back to the Consultant and have permission to start trying to come off the drugs over the next 5 weeks.  Fingers crossed it’s worked and I can stop taking them and be wonderful and pain free from here on in!

Simple Pleasures

I know, I’m late.  Apologies.  This isn’t Friday, it’s Monday – but that just means less time until the next update right?

The past week has been a week of squeezing in simple pleasures.  Those little events that give a momentary frisson of great joy. 

First of all was picking up a project (my Honeymeade shawl), that has laid dormant for nearly 12 months and making a little bit of progress.  Only 4 repeats of one of the charts, but given each chart repeat takes just under 30 minutes, that’s not bad going.  During that process I rediscovered just how much I adore the yarn that finally agreed to be this wrapper (after 3 disasterous other, aborted, attempts) – the fyberspates 4ply is just gorgeous and the colouring is working up beautifully – I’ll try and take photos this week for you.  Making any progress at all on any project is a minor win after being so unable to do anything for so long – but for some reason this one felt like a particular achievement.  There’s still a long way to go on this project, but I just know that it’s going to stunning when it’s finished.

As you (probably) remember I had to frog the front of my Jan sweater completely to get the rib section the same length as the back.  Over the weekend I finally caught up with where I had got to previously, the small victory of finally working with virgin, non crinkley, yarn warming the little cockles of my heart (and signifying the section where I have to concentrate on the armhole shaping, but the end of the front is in sight!).  With a tail wind I might even have a back and a front of a sweater by the end of the week!  Then of course there is the sleeves and the making up to do, but that’s not the end of the world.

I love teaching, and there is little that is as exciting as a completely new course or workshop.  However, doing all the prep is not my favourite activity.  Finally completing all 26 swatches (yes, I have an entire alphabet of swatches) for the Crochet Shaping workshop in April was a moment for a little happy dance.  All the little samples are finished, labelled, blocked and pristine – ready for handling and pouring over by curious students.

Finally I felt like doing something I haven’t done in years, and the Hairpin Lace tunic in Crochet So Fine has been looking at me for about 2 years.  Along with the ribbon yarn that I got for free just as I got back into crafting seriously.  I had been waiting for an opportunity to use my Ed Jenkin’s hairpin loom (that I also picked up about 2 years ago), and picking up a skill that I haven’t touched for many years (and it coming back to smoothly and easily) gave a lovely glow of satisfaction to my Sunday evening.  Again photo’s to follow.  The loom is just gorgeous, and the art-silk ribbon so soft that it’s another project that you know from the outset is going to turn out better than you hoped.

Finally I saw a fabulous poster on Saturday that I wanted to share with you…

It will all be alright in the end.  If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!

2nd crochet project of 2013 finished!

It’s just a short post this week as it’s still a bit ‘all go on the home front’.

This week I progressed a little further on the Jan Sweater, only 8 rows but in the words of a famous UK supermarket- “every little helps”.  There isn’t enough of a change to justify a photograph, but I reckon I’m about 8 rows short of the armhole shaping now, so it’s going pretty well.

I did however finish the Anais  (pronounced Ah-nah-is) Jacket.  Using Rowan Big Wool in a delicious dark purple colour this has come out really well and I’m really pleased with it.  It’s a very fast Tunisian crochet project (once you get around the slightly fiddly main stitch) and although I had ripped out completely once, and gone again I still ended up with the wrong stitch count at one point, but decided it was close enough.  The pattern notes state that this won’t close in front, mine does – and I’m contemplating adding some clasps, but it’s just lovely without.

The combination of bulky yarn and tunisian stitches means that this is a very structured little bolero with a stand up collar, and though the yarn seemed to have a lot of bits of plastic twined in with the ply that I had to pull out, the stitch definition is outstanding.

Want a peek?

Anais Jacket in Tunisian Crochetand here’s a couple of the stitch detail because you’ve been so good…

Collar Detail of Anais JacketAnais Jacket - back and hem

A little fairy tells me that the Tunisian workshop is selling really well, so if you are thinking about it now is a good time to act – though I just know we will be running this one again!