Burns Night Knitting

To celebrate Burns Night I have just finished knitting some kilt socks for John. Actually, they were supposed to be for Christmas but I got side-tracked with other projects so tying them in with Burns Night seems like a reasonable excuse (to me anyway!)

Aran-weight kilt socks

Aran-weight kilt socks

I bought the wool on a trip to Inverness because I had been searching for a pattern for kilt socks for a while and this wool came with a free pattern. The pattern, originally hand-written on brown paper, was found in a knitting bag in a house sale. An old receipt showed that is was from the Scottish Western Isles and the date on the receipt was 1937. There was no name to put to the pattern but it was obviously a pattern for ‘stockings’ for the whole family with instruction for infant, child and adult sizes.

The socks are knitted from the cuff-down on double-pointed needles. The cuff is knitted and then turned inside out by pushing it through the middle of the needles so that the wrong side is facing before continuing with the leg. I found the only way I could make this work was to push the cuff through the needles and then knit in the other direction but maybe that was just me.

The socks did seem to take forever but I’m pleased with the end result. I think John will probably wear them under motorcycle boots rather than with a kilt (he’s wears tartan ‘trews’ when he’s in formal Scottish dress) but, nevertheless it seems fitting to finish knitting a bit of Scottish history on Robert Burns’ birthday.

Robert Burns

Robert Burns

In his poem, Tam o’Shanter, Burns writes:

But pleasures are like poppies spread, You seize the flow’r, its bloom is shed, Or like the snow falls in the river, A moment white – then melts forever

One of the things I love about knitting is that the pleasure involved is more long-lasting than this. Well, most of the time anyway; I’ve had some projects – often abandoned before completion – that have provided very little, if any, pleasure at all. For the most part though, I get pleasure from the actual knitting,  a sense of achievement at finishing the project and the enjoyment of seeing someone else appreciate the end result.

What have you most enjoyed knitting and why?

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Close Knit

Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit the Close Knit exhibition at Hull Maritime Museum. The exhibition, organised in partnership with the Moray Firth Gansey Project and Hull School of Art and Design,  featured a wonderful range of ganseys from Yorkshire and Scotland.

A wall full of ganseys

A wall full of ganseys

So what is a gansey? This extract from the booklet, Fishing for Ganseys, produced by the Moray Firth Gansey Project answers the question better than I could:

A gansey is a knitted, woollen pullover, traditionally worn by fishermen around the UK and beyond since the 1800s and possibly earlier. Generally seamless, they were practical, comfortable and warm to wear, and provided some protection from the harsh conditions at sea. They were generally designed to be fairly tight fitting, with an underarm gusset to allow ease of movement and sleeves which finished short of the wrist.

Ganseys feature many different patterns and theses were often handed down through families and adapted and developed by different generations of knitters. Close examination of the garments also reveals very fine stitching indeed.

Close up of one of the ganseys

Close up of one of the ganseys

And another

And another

Ganseys were usually knitted in the round on very thin needles (sometimes bicycle spokes were used!) up to the armholes and often fake side seams were created with one or two purl stitches. From the armholes, the front and back of the body were knitted separately and joined at the shoulder. Stitches were then picked up around the armhole  and the sleeve was knitted down to the cuff. I can’t imagine the patience that must have been required to knit some of the ganseys on display, especially those knitting in dark colours in dim lighting – a real labour of love.

The exhibition also featured a gansey belonging to the actor, Daniel Day Lewis, which had been passed to him by his father, Cecil Day Lewis.

Gansey belonging to Daniel Day Lewis

Gansey belonging to Daniel Day Lewis

There were also lovely contemporary garments inspired by ganseys from designers including Di Gilpin and Alison Casserley and intricate textile work from students at Hull School of Art and Design.

mitts, inspired by ganseys, designed by Di Gilpin

mitts, inspired by ganseys, designed by Di Gilpin

My own simple design, for a mini hot water bottle cover reflects the stitches used in a gansey but not the construction as the front and back are knitted separately rather than in the round. Knitted in aran weight yarn, it is a good project for beginner/improver knitters.

a simple cover for a mini hot water bottle

a simple cover for a mini hot water bottle

Materials

  • 50g Aran weight yarn
  • 4.5mm needles
  • Size: to fit mini hot water bottle 12cm x 16cm (22cm including the neck)
  • Tension: 20 sts x 20 rows = 10cm x 10cm

FRONT 

Cast on 28sts.

Rows 1-4: *k2, p2, rep from * to end of row.

Work 17 rows in stocking stitch (1 row k, 1 row p) finishing with a k row.

Start  ‘Gansey’ pattern

Knit 4 rows

Row 1 (ws): k3, p4, k1, p4, k4, p4, k1, p4, k3

Row 2: k6, p1, k1, p1, k10, p1, k1, p1, k6

Row 3: k3, p2, k1, p3, k1, p2, k4, p2, k1, p3, k1, p2, k3

Row 4: k4, p1, k5, p1, k6, p1, k5, p1, k4

Row 5: as row 3

Row 6: as row 2

Rep rows 1-6 twice more, then row 1,

Next row: cast off 6 sts, k to end of row

Next row: cast off 6sts, p5, k4, p6**

Leave rem sts on a spare needle

BACK

Work as for front to **then continue to collar

COLLAR

Next row: *k2, p2, rep from * across 16 sts on back then across 16 sts on spare needle from front

Work another 27 rows in k2, p2 rib.

Cast off loosely in rib.

Sew front and back together. Sew cast on edges together (there is enough room to insert the empty hottie through the neck of the cover). Sew side seam of collar.

Abbreviations

  • k – knit
  • p – purl
  • rep – repeat
  • rem – remaining
  • st (s) – stitch(es)
  • ws – wrong side
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The Towersey Festival Knitalong

This time last week I had just returned home after a fabulous weekend at the 49th Towersey Festival, held in the Oxfordshire village of Towersey, near Thame. It’s a real family festival and many of the people I spoke to first attended when they were children and now bring their own kids. I’m still a real newbie as this was only my second time! The attractions include folk and roots music, ceilidhs, international dance teams, family entertainment, crafts and- this year for the first time – a knitalong.

In addition to our stall in the craft tent selling Knit ‘n’ Caboodle yarns and kits, we hosted daily sessions knitting and crocheting squares to be donated to the charity KAScare. This family-run charity does great work collecting squares and sewing them into blankets for orphans and vulnerable children in South Africa. You can read more about the work that they do and access free patterns for squares and other items at www.knit-a-square.com

How many squares do you want?

How many squares do you want?

We offered workshops to teach people to knit every morning but also invited knitters to join us to knit a few rows or a few squares at any time of the day. From the start, we were surprised and delighted by the number of people who turned up (some with needles in hand) to join the venture. The knitting tables in the craft tent were buzzing all day and many continued to knit or crochet in the concerts – the Guardian’s reviewer of Martin and Eliza Carthy’s performance mentioned at least one knitter in the audience!

yet more knitters

yet more knitters

 

People made new friends and swapped tips and techniques – we had right-handed and left-handed knitters, continental and UK style, needles held out in front or tucked firmly under one arm. It’s probably fair to say that we had as many different techniques as we had knitters. Tensions varied considerably too – although everyone was casting on the same number fo stitches the size of the finished squares vary quite considerably so my next job is to block them all into as uniform size as possible. We also got a great mix of design from simple garter stitch squares to some very intricate caballing (thank you, Robin) and some brilliant colour work. People who had never picked up needles were willing to give it a go, including two of the Spooky Men Chorale.

Spooky Men knitting

Spooky Men knitting

We’d initially hoped for forty squares over the weekend but ended up with a magnificent 90!

A magnificent result

A magnificent result

Thanks to everyone who made squares, brought wool or just offered encouragement – it was all greatly appreciated. We had such a good time that we hope to repeat it next year – we’ll just need to get more chairs!

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Knitting myths and superstitions

I recently spent a wonderful weekend at the Lossiemouth Folk Weekend. Lossiemouth, a town in Moray, Scotland, was the port of Elgin and used to have a thriving fishing industry. On Saturday morning, before the music started for the day, we wandered down to the harbour and visited the museum. What a delight! As well as lots of information about the fishing industry and a very moving memorial room, there was some exquisite ganseys on display.

A gansey is a knitted, seamless, woollen sweater, traditionally worn by sea fishermen in the UK (and in some other countries). These ganseys often feature intricate patterns and these pattern combinations vary from region to region. Whilst at the museum, I bought ‘Fishing for Ganseys’ a booklet that outlines the Moray Firth Gansey Project (www.gansey-MF.co.uk) which has been recording different Gansey patterns from the area.

The individual and intricate patterns of ganseys

The individual and intricate patterns of ganseys

I had always believed that the patterns were knitted into ganseys so that, in the tragic event that a fisherman was drowned, the body could be identified. However, according to the booklet, there is no written evidence that this is the case and, although a gansey could have been used for identification, this was not its main purpose.

The booklet gives a lot of information about knitting ganseys and the tools that were used (including bicycle spokes instead of needles in some cases!). It also introduced me to some superstitions associated with knitting ganseys. The first is that, if a gansey was not fully knitted by midnight on New Year’s Eve, it was bad luck and would not be completed as the devil could be in it. If I follow this superstition then I’ve got rather a lot of unfinished projects that will have to stay that way!

Another superstition was that if a gansey was still on the needles when the person it was being made for passed on, it would not be completed but would be unravelled and the wool kept aside for at least a year before being reused. A superstition my Mum told me is that knitters always put one deliberate mistake in a gansey pattern.

Knitting ganseys

Knitting ganseys

Please share any other knitting superstitions that you know.

A new exhibition, ‘Close Knit: the Art of the Gansey’ runs from August 3rd to November 24th at the Hull Maritime Museum. You can find out more at http://www.hullcc.gov.uk. I, for one, will definitely be going.

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A Grand Time at Wonderwool Wales

This time last week, Sue and I were still in the process of setting up our stand at Wonderwool Wales. This fabulous show is held in the Royal Welsh Showground at Builth Wells. It’s always a bit daunting when you first arrive and are faced with an empty shell and, it doesn’t seem to matter what time you get there, other people seem to be way ahead in terms of set up. Nevertheless it all came together in the end and we divided our space into three segments.

Firstly the shawl wall – featuring shawls, scarves and cowls – each requiring just one ball of sock yarn:

Sample shawls on display

Sample shawls on display

Opposite this is the sock wall, with 4ply and dk socks as well as baby jackets (also knitted with sock wool):

Sample socks in all shapes and sizes

Sample socks in all shapes and sizes

The back wall of the stand featured my favourite  Zauberball Shawl which always attracts a lot of very positive comments as well as a mixture of items in (slightly less than) 50 shades of grey!

Zauberball Shawl plus 'neutrals'

Zauberball Shawl plus ‘neutrals’

There was a great buzz around the showground on Saturday but, at one point, I thought I was going to miss the show completely! Just before opening time, I’d climbed into the back of the transit van to sort something (I can’t even remember what) and the wind blew the back door shut. The interior light operates like a fridge so, as soon as the door shut, the light went out and I was plunged into darkness. The backdoor doesn’t have a handle on the inside and I was starting to panic – then I remembered the side door. There was a load of stuff stacked in front of it so I ended up feeling my way along the side of the van to the handle – I’ve never been so pleased to get into the fresh air!

Apart from that, the show was fantastic and it was good to catch up with people we haven’t seen for a while including our neighbours ‘Purlescence’ .  It was so busy on Saturday that we hardly moved away from the stand but Sunday gave us time to have a quick whiz round to see who else were there. As you might expect, there was a dazzling array of wool, fleece and fibres – everything that knitters and spinners could want and, of course, the key wool producers – sheep:

Tme for a rest

Tme for a rest

There were lots of British indie companies there including Toft Alpaca and Eden Cottage Yarns (poor Vikki had lost her voice by day 2):

Toft Alpaca

Toft Alpaca

Eden Cottage Yarns

Eden Cottage Yarns

For me. the best thing about the show is the opportunity to meet our customers face to face rather than online. So thanks to everyone who came to say ‘hello’ and special thanks to those who came to show us the projects they had knitted with our wool. Here is Maureen, kindly modelling her Zauberball Shawl, knitted in Crazy Zauberball, Tropical Fish:

Maureen in her shawl of many colours

Maureen in her shawl of many colours

Finally, thanks to Chrissie and her team for such an enjoyable and well-organised event – even the weather was kind this year!

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A button is a little thing, but it’s a thing of use

Like many crafters, I have a big jar of buttons sitting on the shelf in my study. Until now, if I’ve given them any thought at all,  I’ve thought of buttons as decorative and useful. However, a new novel has made me look at them in a different light.

A button jar

A button jar

I was privileged to be sent an advance copy of ‘The Button Collector’ by Elizabeth Jennings. The novel begins when the central character, Caroline, visits a flea market and comes across a stall selling jars of buttons in a myriad of colours. When the stall holder asks if she’d like to buy a jar, Caroline replies “I have one already”. Caroline’s jar of buttons, inherited from her mother, is sitting on the back shelf of her study, hidden behind old yearbooks.  That night, unable to sleep, Caroline takes the jar down from the shelf and tips out the buttons. As a result, memories, many of them buried for a long time, start to come to the surface.

Each chapter begins by describing a button from the jar and the item of clothing that it came from or the reason it was bought. Each recollection is the starting point for a vividly described episode in the complicated history of Caroline’s family.  The events described stretch from 1935 to 1996, although most occur in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and Jennings’ use of language is very evocative of time and place. Some of the events have national significance, others are much more personal. Some are tragic whilst the significance of others is not necessarily apparent at the time. What they have in common, however, is that all have consequences for the extended family in some shape or form.

I loved this book from the start. I felt I got to know the characters through the glimpses provided by the vignettes and it was a very difficult book to put down. I liked its gentle progression and the way in which the episodes captured the prevailing mood of the times in which they occurred. It is not a short book but I was still disappointed when it ended. I’ve become concerned for Caroline and would like updates on how things turn out for her in the future.

The book has also made me look at my jar of buttons in a new light. It has now been moved from the shelf to the windowsill so that it can catch the light. Buttons are just too important to be hidden away. In Jennings’ own words:

“A button is a little thing, but it is a thing of use. Something to connect, to hold things together. Not perfectly – not strong and fast like a metal zipper – but holding them together still.”

Whether I’m brave enough to tip my buttons out to see what memories they evoke is another matter. But do read this book – if you use buttons, you’ll love it.

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The joy of sock yarn

I just love the versatility of sock yarn. It’s not only wonderful for socks (and I’m still addicted to sock knitting) but is equally great for other projects, including baby garments. For me, the colour changes also keep boredom at bay, even when knitting very simple designs. My current work in progress is a baby’s domino cardigan, from a pattern designed for Viridian by Frances Fletcher:

The back of the domino cardigan

The back of the domino cardigan

The cardigan takes only one or two balls of sock yarn (depending on size). The one shown here is the smallest size (to fit a newborn). As you can see, there’s quite a bit of wool left and I’ve only the last part of the sleeve and the edgings to go. The yarn I’ve used here is the fabulous Jawoll Magic Degrade in shade 050, Parrot. The cardigan is knitted in mitred squares that you join up as you’re going along – I’ve got a few ends to sew in but, apart from that, there are only the side seams to sew up. The pattern is available at http://www.knitncaboodle.co.uk/acatalog/Viridian-Patterns.html

I’ve also been working on my own designs using sock yarn and am absolutely thrilled to have my first pattern published in issue 20 of Knit Now magazine. The Tiffany Shawl is a rectangular shawl knitted with just one ball of Kunstgarn sock yarn.

Tiffany Shawl from issue 20 of Knit Now. Photo by Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing

Tiffany Shawl from issue 20 of Knit Now. Photo by Dan Walmsley for Practical Publishing

The pattern is a six-row repeat with only two ‘lace’ rows  – and they are both the same. I deliberately kept the pattern simple because I didn’t want to detract from the colours of the yarn – the shawl in the picture is knitted in Kunstgarn 05 bright. This sock yarn, from Danish company Hjertegarn, comes a range of beautiful colours – I just want to knit them all:

The beautiful colours of Kunstgarn

Some of the beautiful colours of Kunstgarn

That’s the trouble, really, too many projects and not enough time….

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