Wool has arrived…

…and it really is, actual, wool.  One continuous length of clean, combed, white fleece.  I even know the breed of sheep it has come from – the texel.

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A pedigree texel sheep

It feels wonderful and has that typically woolly scent, which is very evocative for me.  I realised as I opened the package and handled the wool, that this is what my Auntie’s house used to smell of, and it took me right back there.

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I adored visiting her as a child and some of my happiest early memories were made at her house.  She was brilliant at most hand crafts, and always had some wool at some stage of processing for me to get involved in.  I remember handling greasy, bitty raw fleece, preparing wool for hand-carding, and even had a go at spinning on her spinning wheel (I was rubbish at it).  I tried to knit up my hand-spun yarn and it was hopelessly uneven.  But such fun to try.  So in a way, embarking on this project feels like a home-coming.

Finding the ends of the strand took a while.  I had to tip the wool out of the bag and run my hands along it until eventually one end appeared, and then another.  I marked each end with a coloured tie.

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Now I have to experiment with preparing the wool for knitting.  Although it’s surprisingly sturdy in its unprocessed state, and I could go ahead and arm-knit with it, the kind of structured pieces I intend to make will need a firmer, more ‘finished’ yarn.

Friction felting is not that effective and takes too long, especially with a large batch of wool.  Wet felting is probably the way to go, but must be done gently by hand.   So I think I’ll be filling the bath tub, swooshing it around, and then trying to get it dry.

The resulting yarn will be thicker than the yarn I used before, so I will have to knit up samples and work out how to adapt my patterns.  There may be other advantages which I haven’t discovered yet.  What’s really exciting is that there are all kinds of wool tops available, from many different breeds of sheep, some of which are different, natural colours.  So I could work with beautiful shades of brown and grey – all undyed, all from the sheep’s natural colour.

If my Auntie was still here, how I’d love to tell her about this!  She was, and still is, my inspiration, and there’s a bit of her in all of this.

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Knitting and Me are Back On

I knitted my cat basket in t-shirt yarn. It turned out much better than I expected.

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I have had this cone of t-shirt yarn on the shelf for more than 6 months.  I never thought it would work. T-shirt yarn is quite floppy, not stiff like the semi-felted wool I was using before. That’s why I thought it would never work as a basket – the sides have to stand up unsupported. But I was wrong. The sides stand up beautifully.

Until Larry came along and curled up on top of it.

Larry flattens the new basket

Larry flattens the new basket

It was good to get Larry’s seal of approval.  But I have to make an adjustment. The new yarn is thinner than the semi-felted wool, so the basket knits up smaller. Larry is using the entire basket as a pillow.

Time to make a bigger basket.  Here goes with the next size up. I’ve got just enough t-shirt yarn left to make the medium size. This works out a lot better for Larry.

Larry in the medium basket

Larry in the medium basket

The t-shirt yarn is delightfully easy to work with, maybe because of the generous stretch it has. Fortunately I can use the same set of doublepins I already have. Most exciting of all, t-shirt yarn is easily available in every colour under the sun. Wow, how exciting is that?

I went online and ordered a load of fabulous colours.

Knitting – me and you are back on!

Till next time,

L x

 

 

Knitting again!

Such a long time since I picked up the needles. Crazy busy few weeks in the day job since January.

I had the pleasure last weekend of knitting a bamboo flute warmer for a musician friend. The size was 60 cm long by 3 cm diameter. So I knitted a long, long rectangle, eyelets at one end, and sewed it up.  I added a double ribbon drawstring and a few beads. It was simple and quick, and my friend loved it. I thought, how I’ve missed knitting!

Now I have a few days off the day job and some space in my head for other things. I finally got the t-shirt yarn out which I ordered ages ago, and cast on using 12mm needles.

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It looks OK! But does it stand up?

photo 2Yes it does!

I see potential. Could this be the start of a new range?

Till next time

L x

 

New double pins are here!

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My hand-turned double pins have finally arrived! Two different sizes, each 40 cm long. Now for the first time I can make seamless baskets and containers using thick semi-felted wool.

So I set off knitting the base according to my existing pattern which I wrote for the seamed baskets. Here’s Larry checking out my progress.

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The old basket is nowhere near big enough but it was as large as I could go on two pairs of ordinary 20 mm needles.

A convenient facet of working on this large scale is that it’s easy to pull the needles out without losing track of the stitches. Every few rounds I would pull out the double pins and check the lie of the circle so far. I wanted it to be as flat as possible. A basket needs a nice flat base. Unfortunately, I appeared to be knitting a dome.

I unpicked my work a few times and tried different patterns of increases. But the dome would not go away. Hours went by and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Why was working this pattern in the round so much harder than on two needles? Was the puckering caused by too many increases, or too few? I looked at my work again, and realised I was reading it incorrectly. I had to take a completely different approach to working the increases. Keeping the unsatisfactory domed circle as a guide, I found the other end of my yarn and started again.

Exhibit A: the dome. Exhibit B: the circle.

Exhibit A: the dome. Exhibit B: the circle.

We met some friends for dinner at a restaurant. Even then I was thinking, ‘maybe I should have started off with 4 stitches instead of 6. I’ll try it tonight before I go to bed’. I was determined to get a better result, to the point of obsession. I started to completely remove the double pins after every round, so that I could press my circle out flat and see how flat it really was. Here’s Larry helping me with my assessment.

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Through all the hours of trial and error, I was learning a lot about the fibre and the way it behaves on those needles. All good experience, and good experience is never wasted. The basket base is not completely flat, but it is definitely no longer a dome. And in the finished article, the fibres will settle, and the base will flatten with use. My basket base now measures half a metre (20 inches) in diameter, and I’m halfway up the sides.

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I am hoping that I will have enough wool left to complete it, without having to unpick my former prototype. But I won’t be working on it tonight, because at this moment Herbie is settled down in it, having a good wash and a stretch, framed by the five double pins, and Monty is making do with squeezing himself into the little basket alongside.

Till next time,

L x

Knitted Basket Progress

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It was going to be such a quick and easy project.  Just working part of a pattern I had already written, using super-chunky yarn on oversized needles.  I actually thought I could get it right in one or two goes.  How naive was that, I see now, after losing count of the number of attempts I have made to get it perfect.

The issue I have grappled with is getting the circular base to lie completely flat. The usual pattern of increases led to terrible puckering. Once I reached the sides and went vertical, it was relatively simple.  But I didn’t know if the base would lie flat until I had finished the sides. To save time, adjustment after adjustment, I just worked 4 or 5 side rows and pulled the needles out so that I could check the lie of the base. I realised early on that I had to work fewer increases to avoid puckering. But the exact pattern of increases was a matter of trial and error.  At the same time, I didn’t want to end up with too few stitches to knit the sides. Working out a happy balance between these two requirements was my problem. Finally I have written a pattern of increases that I am fairly happy with.

Whilst working with this yarn Monty is never far away. He is irresistibly drawn to it for some reason. Perhaps he likes the smell of pure wool. If I put my work down for a while, this is what I find when I return:

I like this!

I like this!

When I have finished yet another prototype, he comes to inspect it.

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He gets in and treads up and down for a bit before wrapping his tail neatly around his legs. I can tell he’s dying to make a proper bed in it…

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…if only it were bigger!

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I’m working on it Monty, I promise. This is the largest size I can make with my existing tools. My next step is to get rid of the seam and go circular. But I need lots of enormous double pins for this which will take a while to find….

Till next time,

L x

So many ideas…so little time

Ideas are like buses.  None for ages, and then several come along at once.  Each one requires careful research into materials and methods. I have made a start on the knitted cat.  But there’s a long way to go before I am happy with my design. I have been making my brain ache trying to design a construction which involves fewer pieces to sew together, whilst giving a satisfying result which is not too awkward to make up. This is a work in progress. I found this yarn in my local yarn shop:

 

which said, ‘Knit me into a cat!’ So I snapped it up, and it’s waiting in the stash for me.

I also want to start selling finished items rather than just the patterns for my designs. As my time is limited, these items need to be simpler in design so that I can make them fairly quickly. There are some beautiful soft cotton yarns which I’m very drawn to….and I ended up ordering 12 balls of this:

Beautiful organic cotton in gentle colours. Yum!

I have done lot of pattern research recently and have knitted several swatches of reversible stitches. There’s no wrong side! How cool is that?

Any of these would look stunning as a scarf, in the right yarn.

Meanwhile, my extreme knitting project is on the back burner, awaiting some extreme circular needles. I couldn’t find any for sale in the UK that were big enough. So I asked my uncle. He is a very skilled carpenter, so turning some wood to the correct size, shaping the ends and attaching them with plastic piping is well within his capabilities. He very kindly agreed to help me. So, as soon as my new circulars are ready, extreme knitting is back on. Can’t wait for that!

Happy knitting!

Till next time,

L x

 

Extreme Knitting Part One

Have you ever knitted on oversized needles?  What are the largest knitting needles you own?  Looking through my stash, my largest are 1cm in diameter.  I can’t imagine a yarn chunky enough to knit with them.

But, durrr!  Use more than one strand then!  Why didn’t I think of this before?  OK then, here’s 7 strands of DK yarn on my 1cm needles:

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After a big of googling around, I realised I was dipping my toe into the phenomenon which is called ‘extreme knitting’ – using multi-strands of yarn on huge needles. There has even been a world record attempt by Rachel John, who managed to knit with 1000 strands.  It’s extreme all right!  Check it out.

Inspired, I set about finding the largest possible knitting needles.  Good old ebay came up trumps again, and I got hold of these hand-turned 2.5cm babies:

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I placed one of my favourite No 10 (3.25mm, US no 3) needles alongside to show just how much bigger they are.  Radical!

With great excitement I set about selecting suitably contrasting yarns out of my stash to pull together into one giant strand.  Twenty strands was about right, and I knitted this:

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I cast on 10 stitches and worked 10 rows in garter stitch.  My sample measures 23 x 15 cm.  That is not a lot of knitting for a piece of fabric that size.  And this is the easiest, most basic stitch.  Nothing fancy required.  So to say that it ‘grows quickly’, would be right.

But, the huge needles and 20 balls of yarn were tricky to handle.  At first, the balls of yarn were flying all over the place attracting my overgrown kittens to come and play.  It was like an extreme version of the black kitten in Alice Through the Looking Glass.  So I tipped all their toys out of their toy box to distract them, and quickly threw all the yarn into the box.  That made it a lot easier.  I had to make sure that I kept all the strands even.  Grappling with the massive needles required some muscle.  It was hardly a delicate and feminine activity.  In fact, this could be knitting for blokes.

The finished fabric is wonderfully thick and soft.  I am using it as a back rest on my rocking chair.  I love how the yarn ends make an instant tassel.  I also love how the different colours can produce different effects. Lots of potential here.  My kitchen chairs need new cushions.

Time to go and buy extreme amounts of yarn…..

Till next time,

L x