September Sucks

FOs (Finished Objects)

What’s been finished since my last post

  • My Spectral scarf fell off my needles today. While there are (many) more segments than the pattern calls for, I got bored. So when I ran out of my first skein of black yarn, although I have another 25 grams of the colour-phase yarn, I stopped. It’s long, just not Dr Who lengths.

WIPs (Works in Progress)

Works actively being worked on – (not hibernating or we’d be here forever) including my PP (Purse Project or the project that is living in my handbag)

I played with several ideas but my brain just isn’t engaging with the world around me, let alone my crafting at the moment so I have very little to report here.

Every Day’s a School Day

What I’m learning from my crafting this month..

  • Demystifying Double Knitting
    Attended this really informative and eye-opening workshop with SockMatician. Not sure I am as sold on this technique as I wanted to be (often I can barely finish one project so the idea of doing two of the same thing – albeit at the same time – is kinda freaking me out) however it is excellent for making you think and I’m getting much better at holding two yarns at the same time and working continental methods, which are without doubt my weakest skill set. See below for more on this workshop.

Bits of Sheep

Stash reduction or enhancement

I have bought no yarn. Woot. Go me!

MonthBalls/Skeins InBalls/Skeins OutNet Balance

Oh Shiny…

The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

Ok. the looonnnnggg bit of this post, as I haven’t posted since mid August – best laid plans and all that!

September decided to be particularly demanding with lots going on at work and a variety of ‘events’ pulling attention from what I wanted to be doing.

The end of August I was lucky enough to ‘pop’ to Vienna for a few days with Mr Fortnite and drop in on friends of ours who live there. Vienna is such a beautiful city that is easily navigable and feels very safe. We did tourist stuff such as the palaces, as well as sat by the Danube and had fresh fish for lunch. We attended an excellent Tango Milonga and just wandered the streets getting deliberately lost. No, I did not buy any yarn (I didn’t even go to a yarn shop while I was there as I haven’t used up the stuff I bought the last time I was there 6 years ago). I did however manage to come home with two beautiful traditional dirndl dresses which I am looking forward to wearing – one of them makes me feel like Cinderella!

Unfortunately September decided to arrive with a ‘bang’ and there were ‘issues’ with our flight home (they basically closed the gate while a group of us were coming through security – which in Vienna airport is after Duty free and just before the gate) resulting in us having to buy new tickets and cope with a further delay of 48 hours. I’m not the most relaxed traveller at the best of times and this little incident hasn’t improved matters. On the plus side I did get my first experience of business class lounges.

A few days later, driving home after visiting another friend, the car decided that my life had been way too uneventful and stable so tried to fix that for me by throwing a wheel on the motorway. I had always wondered how I would react in this sort of situation, and now I know (pretty damn fine according to the Police). I got to deliberately steer into the central reservation (to avoid the car who was undertaking me at the time) and experience the thrill of spinning across 3 lanes of traffic before coming to a controlled stop on a grass verge and watching my own wheel continue down the motorway without me.

I’m fine and thankfully nobody else was involved, but there is a strong possibility that my inability to focus on practically anything the last couple of weeks could be some form of delayed shock – so I’m just letting it play out. The insurance company confirmed this week that our car is a write off, so now we need to look at if we actually need a car (I mean, after all we live in an area with good public transport links) and if we do what sort of car do we want.

We then got to tick off one of our ‘local tourist’ items and visited Bletchley Park. Wow this place is huge and just stuffed full of history – it’s fascinating and very well presented (though be warned, the audio tour can feel very disjointed as basically they don’t know what order you are going to listen to the recordings in so they have repeated a lot of information but not covered other bits) there is a recommended route but you can go around in any order you please. Below are some of the ceilings from the main building…

Bletchley was really inspirational, and though I didn’t understand all of it, I did come away with several crafting ideas inspired by the place. A particularly nice touch in the ‘coding sheds’ was the use of hand knitted garments to dress the rooms. My friend and I must have cut quite the eccentric image as we examined seams and knitting techniques on cardigans, gloves, scarves and hats while everybody else was reading the historical information about the war on the walls.

“Yes, yes, Churchill did make quite a memorable speech didn’t he, but just look at how this knitter has set in these sleeve heads… and the rib variation on the cuff of these gloves is just fascinating… does this feel like Jamieson and Smith to you?…”

All of the items were recreations (I’m guessing, on the fact that cashmerino wasn’t a widely available yarn in the 1940s that they are all recreations, though some items, which felt like pure shetland wool, could have been originals) but they were beautiful creations with very high exacting standards and worked to original patterns (I recognised a few, and even have one of them in my collection). I didn’t take photos as it didn’t feel appropriate, but it was beautifully done.

Last weekend, as mentioned above, I got to do the Demystifying Double Knitting workshop with SockMatician. A very detailed workshop with lots of examples and samples and a wonderfully engaging and passionate teacher. Double Knitting (for those readers who don’t know) is basically a method of using two colours of yarn to create a fabric that is stockinette stitch on both sides meaning there is no ‘wrong side’ to your work. A wonderfully dense, windproof, fabric that has really interesting possibilities for completely reversible colourwork. It involves carrying two colours (or yarns, they don’t have to be different colours but that would be a bit pointless) at the same time and because every stitch is worked there are no floats like stranded colourwork – so you can have as long a section of colour as you want (purists will tell you that you never have more than 3 stitches of one colour in ‘proper’ stranded colourwork. You can probably work out what I say to them).

However there are lots of ways you can carry your yarns. I ended up doing some weird kind of ‘one in each hand’ (thankfully I’m one of those obsessive types who must know all the techniques even if I don’t use/like them) and doing a combination of English and Continental styles.

Because each stitch is basically doubled (lets say a white and black side to your work) you work in pairs. The first one is knit and the second one is purled (regardless of the colour of the yarn). This means for some stitches you will be working a knit stitch English style and then doing a Norwegian purl for the second stitch. Then if the colours swap you may be doing a Continental knit stitch and an English style purl.. all while working off a chart and remembering which colour you should be using (which may or may not match the colour of the stitch on your needle).

Now, I’ve done English style knitting (my default), I can Continental style knit and Norwegian Purl (I can’t get the hand of continental purling for some reason). I have done stranded colourwork. I can see the logic of Double Knitting and how it should work. However, putting all these things together my brain just went poof… I could remember for any given stitch 3 of the 4 needed pieces of information. Lets say we are on the ‘white’ side of the work and the white is held in my right hand and the black in my left…

  1. Is the next stitch a knit or a purl? Knit – both yarns to the back, Purl both yarns to the front
  2. Is the next stitch I need to work a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ stitch? for some reason my brain wanted to add a level of complexity here by involving the colour of the stitch about to be worked, If you try this at home remember this important fact: It’s irrelevant.
  3. For a knit white stitch – work an English style knit stitch
  4. For a knit black stitch – work a Continental style knit stitch
  5. For a purl white stitch – work an English style purl stitch
  6. For a purl black stitch – work a Norwegian purl stitch
  7. Next stitch – return to 1.

My most common ‘error’ is to forget to move both yarns forwards or backwards, and it seems to be when the colours change from whatever the current stitch colour is that my brain then doesn’t know what type of knit or purl I am doing.

However it is a really fun technique, you look like a total legend doing it, and I do have the germination of some really pretty cuffs formulating in the back of my head. I will definitely be doing SockMaticians follow on class once my brain is a bit more comfortable with the processes learnt in this class…

I am also doing another class with him (Geek Knitting) next weekend so really looking forward to that – and I get to report on TribeYarns new premises in Richmond as an extra bonus!

Hopefully, with the new month starting Demanding September will finish and I will be able to get a bit more of a handle on things and I’ll get back to posting more regularly again. See you in a couple of weeks!

Dyeing to learn..

This is a little different to my ‘usual’ posts in that not much time has passed (a little over 2 weeks) since my July post, so the regular ‘features’; Finished Objects, Works in Progress, Every Day’s a School Day and Bits of Sheep, will return in the August post.

Oh Shiny…

The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

The 22nd and 29th of June were spent in a haze of chemical compounds in a garrett studio in south London.  But oh, what fun we had!

the start point of the adventure…

Ok, to be completely fair the ‘garrett’ was a bright and airy 2nd floor large studio at Morley College, the chemical haze was safely contained within the fume cupboard and ‘south’ London was within 10 minutes (brisk) walk of Waterloo station.

I was there to be inducted into the delights of hand dyeing yarn (a source of much confusion and amusement to my non-yarn friends) over two days – covering everything from making up stock dyes, working out mordants (the stuff that stops the dye from just falling off the yarn  again, mixing colours and dying a variety of fibre (lambswool and cotton provided by them for little cost, superwash, silk and fibre blends provided by ourselves)

It was a small group, just 4 for the first session and we were joined by 2 more for the second session, and Alex (our tutor) brought her wonderful calm, exploratory nature to create a class just brimming with curiosity and ‘what happens if…’

We covered so much in the two days of the class that I’m going to summarise this a bit – and possibly (probably) do companion posts in future.  The main points I learnt are:

There are different types of dye for different fibres

So the first thing we learnt is that not all dye is created equal, it depends on what type of fibre you are trying to add colour to.

  • Protein based fibres (most animal fibres such as wool, alpaca etc.. and silk) are dyed using Protein or Acid dyes (same thing, different terms).  They are called acid dyes because you use an acid (often vinegar or citric acid) and heat as a fixer.
  • Celluloid Fibres (most plant fibres such as cotton, hemp, linen…) are dyed using Protion or Alkaline dyes (again same thing, different terms).  They are fixed with an alkaline such as sodium carbonate solution and salt water.  This method doesn’t require heat to set – and entertainingly (confusingly) can be used on protein based fibres by using an acid and heat.

Note: the powders are very fine and must only be handled if you are wearing a suitable dust mask or have access to a fume cupboard.  Gloves are required or your hands will give you away as a dyer and the dyes take *ages* to fade…

You have to scour your yarn before starting

  • Scouring means to clean your yarn and remove all oils and grease as well as dirt before you start.  It is usually done by dunking the yarn into a pot of vinegar water for ½ hour, or leaving overnight in a pot with a bit of dish soap (depending on the fibre)
  • Of course rules were made to be broken and if you are working from commercially produced undyed skeins there is nothing stopping you dunking it into the dye bath dry – it’s one way of getting a specific result (see below)

There are loads of different ways of adding the colour to the fibre

Depending on the dye type, some of these methods will work better than others, but the main styles of hand dyeing seem to be:

  • Solid – put the fibre in a pot with water.  Add the dye. Bring up the heat (if needed).  Wait until all the colour is absorbed. Rinse.  Apparently this can be hard to achieve as a hand-dyer and you are more likely to end up with…
  • Tonal – adding dry yarn to a pre-warmed dye bath – or adding yarn in a big pan and then adding dye outside or inside the yarn (like a doughnut) means the dye will uptake differently giving subtle shade differences around the skein.  This can also happen with some mixed colours where different component colours attach to the yarn at different rates. An example of this would be purple made up of blue and red – the red will attach faster than the blue meaning there would be some red/purple bits and some blue/purple bits.
  • Dip Dyed – A section of yarn is dipped into several dye baths of different colours giving long(ish) sections of colour but there are multiple different colours per skein (2+)  the length of each section depends on how big your skein is!
  • Ombre – the yarn is dipped in sections into the yarn for different amounts of time – the longer the yarn is in the pot the deeper the final colour.  This can be done by putting all the yarn in and then taking bits out, or by gradually adding more yarn to the pot. Gives a single gradient shade along the skein.
  • Hand-Painting – the yarn is laid out on a flat surface and the dye is painted, pressed, dribbled, printed etc.. onto the yarn.  This gives a very high level of control over where the dye goes and which colours go where
  • Space Dyeing – can be done flat on a surface or in a low level of water in a pan.  Very similar to hand painting. Done flat it usually gives short stripes of colour across a skein (giving an almost tie-dye effect).  In a pan the extra water encourages dispersion so gives a softer marbled effect and colour mixing.
  • Tie Dye – By adding twists of string or ribbon tightly to the fibre you can make areas that are white and undyed.  These you can leave white or add other colours after the first process. For example you could make a solid or tonal yarn and then add a secondary colour by hand-painting.
  • Speckling – using a tool (brush, toothbrush, finger, fork) to spray/drop small amounts of dye (powder or fluid) across a skein laid flat on a surface or in a shallow bath.  This gives little dots or specks of colour/s throughout the yarn.
  • Overdyeing – adding a second colour over an existing colour.  For example dyeing a fibre yellow, then adding red would give an orange colour.  Often used to ‘correct’ colourways that you don’t like. You can go darker but not paler.
  • Glazing – this is a form of dyeing where the fibre is put into a second colour for a very short space of time so that only the outermost threads pick up any dye and it is only surface.  Frequently used as a form of overdyeing.

There is less maths than you think

While it is possible to get jewellers scales and weigh dye out to a fraction of a gram (and this is needed if you want exact repeatable colours) this is not necessary for dyeing at home.  Most of the course was ‘about this much’ finger in the air measurements (we were given crib sheets of the most common ratio’s) This created a wonderful exploratory, curiosity driven class which gave us the confidence to try a more scientific approach at home if you wanted to.

You need less dye than you think

We made up 5 colours of stock dye (the base solution you make everything else from).  10g of dry powder mixed with 200mg of water each was PLENTY (I have enough left over to dye another 10 or so 100g skiens to a mid depth of colour).  We used 5 colours in the acid dye (a blue/black, blue, blue/red, a greeny yellow and an orangey yellow – and by that I mean the black had blue tones, the red had blue tones…) and 4 colours in the alkaline dye (black, blue, red and red/yellow).  You can buy dyes from online suppliers in about 5grams upwards.

These five shades were all we needed to be able to make any colour you can think of by mixing different quantities of different base colour together e.g. red and blue makes purple.

Colours don’t mix in the way I think they do

And I think this is where I am going to have a lot of fun.  The most surprising was that to get grey (with the blue/black acid dye we were using) you had to add orange (to cancel out the blue) – never would have thought of that!

The Dyeing community are welcoming and very sharing with their knowledge

There is a whole heap of people who are taking the time to share quality videos that are clear and understandable on all sorts of different techniques.  Check out YouTube. Some of those I have found useful are HueLoco (lovely clear videos on dyeing techniques including how they knit up), Rebecca of ChemKnits (for a whole gamut of videos on every technique you can think of and a nice clear video on the maths of dyeing), Nicole Frost of FrostYarn (for wonderfully detailed video and handouts on ratios of dyes to get specific colours) and Wool,Needles, Hands (for a fascinating journey through dyeing skeins from inspiration photo to finished product)

In a little more detail (with photos of what I did…)

The first morning was spent getting a little bit of background about ourselves, showing samples and talking about the different types of dye.  We then made little mini skeins of lambswool and made up our protein dyes. While we were making our dyes and colours we also set our yarns to pre-soak for about 30 minutes in a water bath with our vinegar added  (not much it works out as about 1 tablespoon of vinegar per mug of water)

We made up five base colours, from which we would mix all our other colours. Then we were left to our own devices to mix colours we wanted to try.  This was done but putting a dribble in a white cup and adding other colours till you got about the colour you wanted. Then (because this class was an introduction to and not focussed on exact repeatable results) you kind of remembered that you had put in twice as much red and blue, or 3 times as much yellow/green as red and tipped about the ‘right amount’ into a pre-heated water filled pan or (in our case) tea urn.  Alex was the absolute master at getting this right, years of experience allowing her to perform what was, in our eyes, magic.

I made a stunning royal purple which I ombre dyed in a deep (tall narrow) tea urn and was surprised at the difference between superwash and pure wool uptake.  The wool below was left in the bath for about 20 minutes for the darkest shade (about 5 minutes for the lightest) and the bright purple superwash was in the dye for less than 30 seconds! Note: I demonstrated how to use a ball winder with this skein to another student and then re-skeined it so it’s not in it’s beautiful ombre gradient anymore.

I also stole some ‘aubergine’ purple and a beautiful green from my class mates and added a short splash of my purple to make what I initially called ‘middleclass breakfast’  – until somebody else pointed out that a) isn’t that avocado? (yes, yes it is), and b) those are perfect suffragette colours!

I’ve been chasing a perfect ‘sunset on sandstone’ colour for a design idea and after lots of dipping and mixing individual drips  I got what I thought was a pretty good colour – however I didn’t have the first clue as to the proportions of which dye/s I had used.  Solution? Add water to the cup, stick in a mini skein of superwash and then (and this is the clever bit) take it out, stick it in a microwave safe container and microwave it for about 2 minutes to fix the colour.  (apparently if you don’t have a microwave you can do the same thing by steaming for about 10 minutes). This was really interesting to me to be able to make very small amounts of a colour to try things out (instead of having to make a tea-urn full!)

I came home at the end of day 1 with four beautiful, slightly damp, samples that I really was genuinely proud of.

Day 2 was touted as being the hottest day of this year, with temperatures in London threatening 35 degrees.  A loft studio with a tin roof and no air conditioning wasn’t my first choice but I was genuinely excited to continue this little foray into hand dying.

Today the focus was more on cottons, so after welcoming the two new members and oohh… ing over last weeks (now dry) samples we cracked on.  Mini skeins of 100% cotton were made, and procion dyes were made up. These dyes are cold fixed so you pre soak your cotton, add them to a dye bath and after 10 minutes you add a solution of salt water.  After a further 10 minutes you add a soda solution (thats washing soda or sodium carbonate – not baking soda or caustic soda) You then leave the solution for nearly an hour for the dyes to fully absorb and set.  This gives a much paler, softer result than the acid dyes but that could have been my dye concentrations more than anything!

We did some immersion techniques (tonal and solids – ombre dying is much harder with this method because of the long soak times) and we also did some hand-painting and speckling.

Finally I wanted to overdye a skein of lace-weight alpaca/silk I had fallen out of love with.  The skein was gorgeous when I bought it, but the knit product was horrible. Because of the navy blue sections I decided to go with a very dark purple mix with LOTS of dye which resulted in the most amazing tonal purple after 20 minutes. So much dye meant a classmate did a further 100gm skein in an almost as dark purple.  By now most of the reds had struck (attached to the fibre) leaving the blues so I grabbed a dry skein and ombre dyed it to suck up the remaining dye.  This accidental skein is one of my favourites from the two day course!

Inspired I also did a little bit of space dyeing at home –  I did a mini skein of superwash wool with some of my calligraphy inks and just LOVE the result!

Definitely a new hobby and once I have acquired a suitable pan (you can’t put procion or acid dyes into pans that will be used for food ever again) I will be dying the rest of my samples and skeins.  I’m really fascinated by ratio/percentage dying and also by dyeing using food colourings (which are obviously food safe) so excited to play with this new medium which is just full of so many possibilities!

It’s Dior, darling.

FOs (Finished Objects)

What’s been finished since my last post

  • RNG Baby Blanket
    Had fun with this little blanket in block stitch.  I had 4 colours (excluding the white defining line) so utilised a Random Number Generator via Alexa – “Alexa, give me a random number between x and y” works! – to decide which colour to use next.  I’ll be honest I ignored her if she told me to use a colour three times, but otherwise it was a fun technique to use.
Baby blanket

WIPs (Works in Progress)

Works actively being worked on – (not hibernating or we’d be here forever) including my PP (Purse Project or the project that is living in my handbag)

  • Spiderweb Skirt, Hook 5mm, Knit Picks Dishie in “EggPlant”
    Despite a perfect swatch I discovered (30 rows in) that my stitch and row gauge was off. Not just by a little bit – this ‘skirt’ was rapidly becoming a thigh warmer – or a skirt for someone a LOT slimmer than me. Ripped out and not had the courage to start again yet.
  • Due to various factors I had to go ‘deep hibernation diving’ for a couple of projects – these are projects that I haven’t worked on in (at least) 12 months, them having done the equivalent of having fallen down the back of the sofa after I got distracted by other projects. I dug out my Stephen West Spectral shawl and my Tirrold Sweater

Every Day’s a School Day

What I’m learning from my crafting this month..

  • There’s more than one way…
    The short rows and low stitch counts of Spectra has encouraged me to learn to knit and purl backwards. What was fascinating for me was how this is different to knitting left handed (I really hadn’t expected that!) But knitting left-handed twisted the stitches – so knitting left handed and knitting backwards really are two different techniques.
  • Tedium and perseverance
    lace weight 2×2 rib for 17 inches is boring and probably the reason this went into deep hibernation in the first place. However I am very close to finishing this long boring tube so just need to crack on so I can get to the cute lace section.

Bits of Sheep

Stash reduction or enhancement

Having signed up to a short course to explore some dying techniques this month, my stash has naturally increased by ‘some’ in order to have something to dye. But breaking out the deep hibernation projects means I’m also clearing a little bit out…

MonthBalls/Skeins InBalls/Skeins OutNet Balance

Oh Shiny…

The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

This month isn’t so much about yarn as about the heights craft can reach.  Sorry this is a long post and quite picture heavy, but I wanted to record all my thoughts for myself as well as for you.

I was lucky enough to get tickets to the Dior Exhibition on at the V&A in London – seriously, I was like Charlie Bucket on finding a golden ticket when I managed to score these and the show did not disappoint.  I am a lover of 1940’s and 1950’s vintage clothing and frequently dress in original vintage and reproduction garments and Dior to me is the epitome of this period in time.

Set across 10 rooms the show is staged to present this couture fashion in all its glory.  Each room is themed and presented in a different way, and with the exception of the 2nd and 3rd rooms, designers for the House of Dior are mixed together giving a really interesting overview of the individual designers and how the aesthetic of Dior is maintained.  Of course there were certain designers that have a very strong, identifiable look (Galliano I’m looking at you) but for others it was much more difficult to identify which were Dior himself and which were another designer.

The timelessness of the exhibit was also interesting – frequently dresses from a 20 year period were put together and it was very difficult to say which order they were made in and what time period.  Of course Dior has a very (to me) ‘vintage’ 1940’s/1950’s look – but Dior himself was drawing from ‘the Belle Epoque’ and using older historical fashion as his main influence and that was very apparent in the collections on display.  Also Dior’s love of flowers and gardens was much more obvious when viewed in groups of clothing.

The exhibit opens with the famous ‘bar suit’ which ushered in the new look and lots of personal artifacts, photographs and drawings.  I was fascinated to read that Dior had stepped on a (5 inch ish) metal golden star in the street and being very superstitious had seen it as a symbol of the good luck he was having at the time.  He kept the star with him, and in later years would reward his atelier’s excellence with a copy of the star – part of me wonders if this is not the origin of a gold star for achievement (though of course it could also have a military origin – I genuinely don’t know).

The second room is lit boxes of some of the most iconic silhouettes that he had leading into a bright room centered around Princess Margaret’s 21st birthday dress and lots of information about Dior opening shops in England and the partnerships he created with various companies to provide a brand that even the most ‘lowly secretary’ could buy into.  Room 4 was a look at his belle epoque styling with Marie Antoinette inspired lines and beautiful embroidery and beading work reminding me of Royal courts.

Next was a look at how Dior, and future designers, were influenced by travel and incorporated elements from their explorations.  This was inspiring for me to see how architecture, colour and ritual was incorporated into designs. The flavour of the country being apparent without being obvious was really interesting and I know I need to cogitate on what that means for my own designing process.

The “Travel Room” was quite a darkly lit room with black plinths and floor and you exploded from this into a bright white room with thousands of paper flowers cascading from the ceiling.  I’m sure they were adding Dior perfume into the air in this room and to echo the room decoration all the dresses in here had something to do with floral decoration – from a short, strapless dress decorated to look like a single tulip flower to the Miss Dior dress covered in millions of tiny hand sewn organza bud flowers.  This room contained some of the most beautiful dresses of the collection for me.

A short passage linked to some of the more recent designers, where echo’s of patterns and designs could be seen as well as some of the more outre Galliano designs.  This was another ‘dark’ room to show off the sequins and beading better.

This lead into a stark white ‘design’ room – stacked with toiles.  For the readers who don’t sew, a toile is a mock-up of a design made in cheaper fabric (often white cotton) to make sure of fit and drape as well as placement of appliques and buttons etc..  This room for me was mind blowing as there were so many toiles and designs it was easy to see both the detail of the work (the fine darts and pleating and draping of the fabric) but also how a tiny change completely altered a design – encouraging me to try more different things in my own designing but also in my own wardrobe, for example swapping a belt for a different colour or width. In the photos below you can see the toile (complete with paper appliques) and the finished garment

After the bright clinical starkness of this room a darker corridor containing a rainbow diorama of ensembles was almost overwhelming.  Starting with white and fading beautifully through the colour wheel to black everything from hats, shoes, jewellery, dresses, handbags (and oddly knee pads) were on display opposite some of the Dior magazine covers through the years.  I particularly loved the mini mannequin models of the dresses in this display – perfect scale models of dresses on display elsewhere in the collection, standing about 12” (30cm) high.

This corridor ended in a startling large circular space with a ceiling changing through sunrise to cloud spotted day to sunset and night with shooting stars.  A slowly turning pedestal in the centre displayed 10 or 11 dresses and around the outside were evening dresses ranging from perfect simplicity to dramatic impracticality – including several dresses worn on red carpets recently, along with photos of the stars wearing them.

As you left, overwhelmed and senses drenched in variety, techniques and colour there was a final single mannequin of a dress designed by the current head designer which was beyond doubt ‘a Dior’ echoing the full skirts and vintage feel of his original designs and inspired by a 1950’s vintage asymmetrical paper fan – including embroidering his signature into the tulle layers of the skirt it was uplifting to see how the tradition continues into the future.

I need to process everything I saw as there was well over 200 dresses in the displays, but I am sure that this show will influence how I design but also how I dress in the future, even when not in vintage clothing.

A re-entry to the world..

Well, hello there, good looking!  First up an apology for being absent for so long – and thank you to everyone who took time to drop me a comment after using my ‘how to use crochet charts’ tutorials – it’s really appreciated.

Secondly, a shout out to the lovely ladies at F this Knit and Teaching your Brain to Knit – two podcasts I started listening to recently on my stupidly long commute who have inspired me to get my act together and start posting again.  Of course it also meant I started commuting by bike again so I no longer have time to listen to three 1 hour long podcasts a day but I am listening when I can, and both these are interesting podcasts for different reasons (warning: F this Knit is “not safe for work” and if you are easily offended or don’t like swearing this is not the podcast for you)

FOs (Finished Objects)

What’s been finished since my last post

Finished Items – May 2019

Obviously I have finished more than these since my last post, but I am going to go with just this year or it will get way too depressing.  Hopefully doing this will also mean I start updating Ravelry properly to keep track of yarns, needles/hooks, yardage and pattern sources as I am really bad at that!

WIPs (Works in Progress)

Works actively being worked on – (not hibernating or we’d be here forever) including my PP (Purse Project or the project that is living in my handbag)

  • Spiderweb Skirt, Hook 5mm, Knit Picks Dishie in “EggPlant”
  • Test swatches for a bias wrap (PP)
  • Test swatches for modular stole
  • Cotton Baby Blanket

Every Day’s a School Day

What I’m learning from my crafting this month..

  • Gauge
    My Ambient sweater has taught me that my tension might be different on circulars to dpns and that it might be worth swatching with both types if making a sweater or cardigan that you want to fit you particularly in the sleeves!
  • Don’t design in the round if you aren’t going to use the benefits of working in the round / READ the damn pattern.
    Started the skirt and ripped back twice before realising that the perfectly clear word ‘turn’ at the end of the pattern row was meant to be followed.  I think the pattern designer was trying to prevent a visible seam but I was getting a horrible noticeable diagonal ridge (sure that’s my fault for not turning) and was having to count the over 100 stitches every round to try and get it to place right – it just wasn’t working for me.  Personally I think if you are not going to take advantage of working in the round to get the (really pretty) fabric that looks different to standard crochet for 30 something rows then work flat and seam with a flat stitch.

Bits of Sheep

Stash reduction or enhancement

I am very definitely SABLE (Stash Acquired Beyond Life Expectancy) and have been on a self imposed yarn diet for the best part of 4 years now.  The stash however isn’t reducing, so i think they might be breading. Of course if I go to a yarn show it would be rude not to support independent traders or pass-up on the large retailer discount sales, and I am very good at starting projects that I just don’t have the yarn for in my stash…!

Going “Cold Sheep” refers to when a crafter (usually self nominated) decides not to buy more yarn/fibre until a self determined dent has been made in the existing stash.  But obviously we *need* that pretty skein for those thingymajigs we might have to make at some point in the future

I did buy a bit of yarn in France, but given I was in La Droguerie (a wonderful fairytale of a yarn shop) I thought I was very restrained (1 small cone of lace-weight mohair sparkle – Voilette, 67% superfine mohair 33% stelina, 35gr, 300mtrs in colourway Cendrillon) and Phildar let me buy yarn to play with some ideas – two balls of Phil Mohair Soie (70% mohair, 30% silk, 25gr, 195mtrs in colours givre and minerai (similar to Rowan kid silk haze but a ¼ of the price) and a ball of 100% cotton in the palest blue for the collar and I may have bought a packet of 8 different 10g mini balls for the cuteness factor.  Oops.

Having also taken 8 months to realise I need to make another baby blanket (I really should have realised that one a bit quicker – she looked pregnant from about month 2) I was cycling home and thinking about what cotton I had in stash… I knew I had a couple of balls of cotton for making ‘spa cloths’ (dish cloths) at Christmas but wasn’t sure about the quantities or colours.  Of course once I got to my stash I discovered the 50 (yes, that’s fifty) balls of 100% cotton in baby pink, lilac, baby blue, soft fushia, a muted purple and white that I picked up for about £20 a few years ago with the intention of using them up in my classes. So I guess I can sacrifice a few of those to the cause! I’m having great fun with this one. Starting with a simple crochet block stitch pattern, I discounted the blue (normally I don’t do baby blankets in gendered colours but the blue jarred against the other pink shades and she happens to be having a girl) and having laid out one ball of each in order, I’m using a random number generator (a 4 sided dice for those amongst you who know what that is) to decide the colour for each colour block row.

But I have reduced my stash by a further 5 balls at least.  I have also used my 10 balls of Knit Picks Dishie (for the Skirt).  I bought specific yarn for my other completed projects this year so they came in and went out again.

Balls/Skeins In Balls/Skeins Out Net Balance
5 15 -10

Oh Shiny…

The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..

Honestly I am playing with so many ideas at the moment I barely have time to think!  After a recent one week trip to Lille in the north of France I came back with so many photos of things that could be turned into knit or crochet (or, in one case, a hand painted silk scarf) patterns.  At the moment I am swatching (and frogging and swatching and frogging and swatching) a bias knit rectangular wrap which has single stitch vertical lines.

Who would have thought that there is more than one way to do a vertical line, but the single stitch of a different colour doesn’t work.  I’ve tried dropped stitches, beading, double knitting, duplicate stitching, travelling or raised stitches..… nothing is working right yet, but I will get there I promise.

I have also been distracted by a crochet pattern idea (also inspired by the trip to France – a 17th Century Persian sandstone window screen in the Louvre in Lens being the source) which involves modular triangles.  I had done a pattern that wasn’t modular in a couple of hours but it just doesn’t have the crisp definition of line I want, even after blocking…

So, before the post gets even more ridiculously long I’d better sign off and progress with some of those current projects.  See you next month!

Who knew crafting was ‘fashionable’?

I have been away a while due to hand pain and, recently, breaking my elbow.  But I am feeling very guilty at my neglect and abandonment of you, dear reader, and I have made a promise to myself to try very hard to ‘get better’ at this blog writing lark.

Of course, we are taught that our goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time constrained) – and ‘get better at’ is hardly any of those things.  So, to be a bit more focused, I will try and write a blog post once a fortnight.  There, that’s better.

I also need to fix the problems I am having with uploading photos.  In the meantime I am experimenting with Instagram if you would like to follow me over on that – basically it’s random photos of things that inspire me or catch my eye.  There’s no ‘theme’ or snazzy filters or anything.  I am forcing myself to snap something 4 times a week (in an attempt to also improve my photography skills – though obviously doing that with a smartphone camera is not as productive as getting out my actual camera where I have much greater control over the settings)

So this week’s brain snag in a crafty vein was seeing an article in ES – the magazine that comes with our regional free paper.  Apparently, due to the famous British weather, the evenings can get a ‘bit nippy’ in the evenings.  A designer (Alex Gore, who worked with Alexander McQueen, don’t you know) has come up with the (apparently) novel idea of using ‘fine gauge’ yarn (ok, “super-fine Hawick cashmere and Bologna yarn to be specific) to knit a lightweight but warm sweater to keep away those evening chills.  The result?  A “cocktail sweater”.  Seriously.  I’m not saying knitwear isn’t awesome – because it is and if it wasn’t my hobby would be more than a little pointless, but the ‘cocktail sweater’ being a new idea?  Every other page of my 1950’s pattern collection is one of these things.

On the same page of the magazine there is a further celebration of Warsaw designer Magda Butrym , who showcased ‘handmade crocheted’ dresses in her catwalk this year.  Wonderful.  Really genuinely pleased that crochet is getting some air time – and Russian lace crochet is really, really gorgeous.  But surely, given there isn’t a machine in the world that can crochet (this is a whole other post) it has to be ‘handmade’ by default?

Right now, I have to continue with preparations for the course I am teaching next weekend – but I promise (as per the opening of this post) to be back soon!


In my previous post I told you all about my impending trip to France, and how i had been challenged to (start) learning French.  Those of you who are good at maths, or have a calendar to hand, will work out that not only was last weekend the last weekend in June, but also that that gave me just over 5 weeks to learn a language.  Naturally I didn’t learn French to fluency in 5 weeks – but I gave it a good shot, with about 2 hours of study each evening (which obviously cut into my crafting time) and meant that I understood a lot more than I was letting on (even if I couldn’t speak very well) the whole time I was in Lille.  During this study phase I mentioned to a teacher I work with that there were relatively few accredited courses for adult learners – the upshot being that I shall now be resitting my GCSE French exams next summer!

Of course, I now that you all want to know about knitting and yarn shops in France (and specifically Lille) so here goes:

I stepped off the Eurostar (my project for the trip was my Herbie Shawl, by the way, and is slowly getting there…)

herbie Shawl

Herbie Shawl

to be met by V and taken straight into a very welcoming Tricot (that’s knitting to us English) group.  There were some amazing projects being worked on, and I was amused to note that everyone was working ‘English’ style (throwing).  Of course, as at most knit groups we were plied with excellent food and drink – and though serenaded by a football crowd, stayed until gone 11pm.  I even joined in a conversation about learning techniques and the apparent unwillingness of some crafters to try new methods of doing things (in French!)

The group were quick to ask about the availability of yarn in the UK, and it soon became obvious that the impression in France is that the UK is full of luxury (expensive) yarn.  The French (apparently) are more used to using acrylics and have a fundamental objection to ‘spending’ on more expensive yarns.  My own Unique Sheep Eos was much admired and the group said it was a shame that very few yarn shops outside of Paris would (or could) carry yarn like that due to the expense of customs (for importing) and lack of customers (I’ll get to the reason for that soon).

A tour of three yarn shops in Lille on Friday proved to be fascinating (and educating) though!  The first shop was beautiful, stacks of yarn in wooden book case type arrangements.  Everything was in balls (no skeins or hanks here!) and there were beautifully worked samples made in selected yarns. Unfortunately this particular store has to close due to increasing rents – after nearly 30 years at the same site which is a real shame.  The majority of the stock was wool blends, some with alpaca, some with acrylic – some lovely pure alpaca, and an average of about 4euro a 50grm ball. I say average as some was heavily discounted due to having to close – but I was very good and kept my hands in my pockets!

The second shop was a real Aladdin’s cave stocked floor to ceiling with bag upon bag of acrylic in every weight imaginable.  Lots of novelty yarn (such as the hated ‘ruffle yarn’ for a mere 4euro a scarf) and even a small shelf of ‘luxury’ yarn – though I won’t argue with 100% alpaca at 3euro for 50gms.  Yeap you read that right – THREE euro for 100% alpaca!  So I’m not surprised that French yarn stores have a difficulty trying to get customers to buy the more expensive yarns we know so well here.

With prices like that I may have taken my hands out of my pockets!  I bought some really beautiful, soft, acyrlic called Uttacryl and manufactured by Cheval Blanc.  50gms for 1euro and it came in about 40 shades.  At that price (and quality) I can afford to make sweaters!  The yarn is for a secret project, but here’s the photo.

uttacryl acyrlic yarn

Uttacryl by Cheval Blanc

I also picked up two huge balls of crochet cotton in an amazing bottle green shade at 3.5euro per ball…

green crochet cotton

Annell crochet cotton

Finally we headed for the hallowed ground that is La Droguerie.  This legendary store doesn’t allow photos, so I don’t have any to share with you, but it was like stepping back into the 1940s.  Fabulous yarn adorned the walls in hanks for you to handle – but everything was done by service, so you decided what you wanted and then (attempted) to attract the attention of one of the very busy attendants.  I was so relieved to have a native speaker with me I can tell you!  Surrounded by beads, trims, ribbons, amazing bias binding, jewellery findings, fabric squares and yarn I got out relatively intact with only two yarn purchases and a pack of charms..

First up was some beautiful peacock, petrol, kingfisher, blue yarn in a bamboo & linen blend.  It’s heavy and cool to the touch, very soft and already being transformed into Love is a Prism (as per my previous post)  here’s the yarn again for completeness though…

bamboo & linen

Bamboo & Linen

I may have also been suckered by the pretty packaging, and bought a present for my mother… a ‘nothing there’ whisp of a scarf with a pretty ‘cherry/berry’ trim.  The kit came with the mohair yarn in two colours, the trim, the instructions and a (super cool) woven tag!

cherry scarf

Cherry ScarfL

Lille is a beautiful city, and I’m already planning my return (to practice my French if nothing else!)  It’s only 1 and half hours from London on the Eurostar so easy to go for the day and I highly recommend it for the cobblestones, the friendly people and the wonderful, wonderful pastries.  Next time I promise to have a fully charged camera as well to take more photos, but for now I’ll leave you with this….

College of Lille

Lille is FULL of Art!

Bonjour Mes Amis

It seems like ages since I last updated, but of course that is because it is ages since I last updated here!  The 5th May to be precise.  I am so ashamed of myself.

However the time hasn’t been wasted, I’ve been very, very busy!

First up I finished a hairpin lace tunic as a class examplar for the hairpin course in November,

hairpin tunic

hairpin lace tunic

I really enjoyed the process of making this tunic, though, I’ll be honest, I’m still undecided about the final result. I also finished one of the baby blankets that I needed to get done (the other is still in ‘kit’ form, and as the baby is due next week I really need to crack on with that).  I’m really pleased with how this came out – I love the colours together, and the stitch is a really pretty stitch and works really well in this context.

stripe baby blanket

1970’s colourway baby blanket

I also taught the Tunisian Beginners course to a full house, and there are some outstanding ‘luxury spa cloths’ appearing on the Glamourous Knitters  forum on Ravelry as people post their finished projects!  There is already demand for a follow up course to look in more detail at some further stitches and advanced techniques, so I shall start work on that soon I promise.

However, my focus the last few weeks has been France. Pourqoui? I hear you ask.

Well just after my last post, I had the ever lovely V (whom I met at KnitNation 2011) come visit with his partner G, and we spent a few great sunshiny days in London.  A promise had been made last year to go visit them in Lille, so a date was set for the last weekend in June – and a challenge of learning French by then!  That’s all for another post.

Having set myself that challenge, Channel 4 started showingThe Returned, a drama in French!  handy.  And I’m loving it.  A clever, intelligent drama that doesn’t talk down to it’s audience and isn’t afraid to ask questions and leave them unanswered.

Finally the weekend saw the start of the Tour de France, one of the two sporting events I actually sit down and make time to watch (the other being the Six Nations).  I also take part in a sort of mass knit along on Ravelry with other Tour fans – setting our own challenge for our own pick of the jerseys.  It’s lots of fun, and at least I don’t have to spin miles and miles of yarn for the famous Tour de Fleece!  I’ve put myself down for a King of the Mountains (that’s the spotty one) to challenge myself to finish the Jan sweater  – afterall I have just one (cap) sleeve and the sewing up to do. This week I’ve managed to get the cuff done – so go me!

jan sweater - almost two sleeves

Jan Sweater – almost two sleeves!

I’ve also set myself the yellow jersey for completing the Tunisian pattern Love is a Prism in just 3 weeks.  I’m twenty rows in and really enjoying it. The yarn was picked up in France, so more about that in the next post.

Love is a Prism

Love is a Prism starts..