Changing times & tools

I’m loving my knitting at the moment. Now that may sound a little odd but when knitting is your day job  the joy of it can seem to go out the window when a deadline looms large and a million other things get in the way of what you actually should be doing. Happily though that’s not the case for me at the moment although I do have my hands full looking after Ma & Pa Trot. I’m currently working on a scarf design for The Knitter which is due for publication in the February issue and that’s why I’m keeping it under wraps rather than posting any pics of my progress online. Well, that would  spoil the surprise wouldn’t it?

I’ve chosen an unusual combination of yarns from the Isager range for the scarf and, mixed with garter stitch, the results are much nicer than I could have hoped in terms of colour, texture and drape. So I’m knitting away happily with that little excited knot in my stomach hoping that others will like this design as much as I do when it’s finally published. What has also occurred to me is that it’s been absolutely years since I worked on straight needles. Years ago, probably around 15 years when I ran a yarn shop in Edinburgh I fell in love with the feel and colour of Boye needles. So much so that, a bit like Victor Kiam who famously liked a razor so much he bought the company, I liked them so much I started stocking the range. Straights, circulars, crochet hooks and dpns I pretty much bought in the lot and worked on nothing else because they were light to handle, smooth to knit and oh so very purdy to look at.

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Fast forward to today and my tools of the trade have changed. Nowadays my ‘go to’ needles for knitting are Knit Pro Interchageables because whether I’m working in rows or rounds they’re light in the hands, will accommodate almost any size of project and wherever you are there’s no chance of jabbing innocent bystanders in the eye with the end of the needle whilst you work. So why am I back to the Boye’s for this project? It just felt like the right thing to do to be honest. Horses for courses as they say. The yarns I’ve chosen are quite fine and I’m finding the knitting is much quicker on straights especially as I can revert to shoving the left needle under my arm for stability… plus of course although the deadline isn’t exactly looming it’s for work so I need to get on. I wonder if any of you find your tools of the trade have changed over time? Do you look for the latest trend in needles/hooks and buy those or do you prefer to stick with your favourites? Or perhaps like me it depends or what you’re knitting?

I’m sure I’ll be back to my Knit Pros when this is finished but in the meantime what I can show you is how pretty my Boyes look with what I’m knitting today

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Oh yes and for those of you wondering who the hell Victor Kiam is click here 

J x

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Book Review: The Artisan by Helga Isager

*This is an unpaid/ unsponsored book review

fullsizeoutput_68cFrom the moment you turn the first page this book screams absolute class. The simple, elegant designs aren’t over styled and this allows you to see the clever details that will make you want to cast on as  quickly as you can find the yarn. The title of the collection ‘Artisan’ sums the book up perfectly as it’s evocative of the skilled craft and attention to detail that’s evident in every single design.

Whether it’s the innovative yarn combinations that bring together contrasting or complimentary textures from across the Isager yarn range or a clever stitch detail that draws the eye to a shoulder seam or neckline I found something in every design that made me do a double take. I’ve got a milestone birthday at the beginning of next year and have been promising to find a real ‘hero’ pattern to knit for myself as a treat – well it’s definitely coming from this book. The trouble is, which one to choose?

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There’s the Pearls sweater which is a highly textured raglan design where the dipped stripes of the pearls(bobbles) echo the shallow ‘V’ neck which is edged in a 3 x 3 rib. The body of the sweater starts with a 3 x 3 rib that gently rises at the sides forming a triangular shape above each hip when the garment is made up. The sleeves also begin with a 3 x 3 rib but rather than creating a hard horizontal band across the edge of the sleeve the rib, as on the body, rises up on the inside to create a V shape when the seam is joined whilst the pearl textured stripes on the top focus the eye down the centre of the sleeve towards the back of the hand when the garment is worn.

When it comes to yarn the garment is worked in a combination of Spinni (a single ply 100% wool) knitted with a single end of Alpaca 1 ( a 2 ply 100% alpaca) which creates a intriguing ‘rustic/luxurious’ feel.

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Another design that had my eyes popping out on stalks is the Lace Blouse. Admittedly it’s been quite a few years since I knitted anything this fine but again it’s the details that made me fall in love with this pattern. It’s a wide, scoop neck sweater that employs lace holes to create a faux ‘V’ shape at the neck which is in-filled with 1 x 1 rib that’s echoed on each side of the garment’s shoulder seam.  There are vertical stripes of Bear Track pattern at the centre of the jumper that travel up the garment body cleverly widening out towards the shoulders and these are echoed by a single line of Bear Track on both sleeves. I don’t usually go for ‘pretty’ knits but this is both elegant & feminine but could easily be elevated to funky by using a really punchy colour. The yarn used for this design is Spinni but this time it’s used singly (just for the record this yarn shouldn’t be used singly if you’re knitting in the round).

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Although there’s a lot of yarn combining in this collection none of the designs requires you to knit on anything larger than a 4.50 mm needle so even the 2 long jacket styles are  lightweight and well fitting rather than heavy, shapeless and sloppy. I love the refined layout of this book; the clearly written instructions, the simple hanger shots at the start of each pattern that allow you to see the finish project ‘unstyled’ plus the charming line illustrations within the individual instructions that have a lovely hand drawn quality. As an avid note maker I like that there are several lined pages throughout the book where you can jot down details of tension etc and in the back of the book the ‘Knitting School’ gives details of some of the techniques used in the collection as well as advice on how to care for the finished items.

I lost my knitting mojo a couple of years ago and really didn’t think I’d want to knit let alone design anything again but this collection of designs literally fills my heart with joy. It makes me wish that the UK had the sort of Scandinavian Winters that would allow me to hunker down and knit my way through the book from front to back. You’ll find the book and the full range of Isager yarns online at www.isagerstrik.dk

 

The details

Title: The Artisan

Designer:  Helga Isager

Number of designs: 10 ( 8 garments, 2 accessories)

Instructions: Combination of written and charted

Language: English, Danish, German

Price: 199.00 DK (Around £24.00)

 

Constance cowl for Erika Knight

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Even as recently as 10 years ago I was never really one for wearing neck accessories – you know, scarves, cowls, shawls and the like. That was of course until I cut all my hair off (if you know my medical history I won’t need to go into why) and it’s not until you have no hair at all that you appreciate having something warm and snuggly around your neck to keep you warm. Yes, whilst a hat may be the obvious option for some reason hats just aren’t my ‘go to’ accessory.

So as a proud wearer of neckwear I’m really pleased to present the Constance cowl, my second design produced for  the Erika Knight yarn range.

Now as I mentioned in the previous post on the Camellia sweater these designs were commissioned/knitted around the time of my ‘brain squatters’ so even now some of the details are a bit hazy. I remember (I think) knitting it before my op then sewing it up and despite my best efforts to write notes for everything when I came to write up the pattern I couldn’t remember or see if it was knitted flat or in the round – so I had to search for and eventually undo the seam to confirm how it was made. Annoying at the time but it does say something for my expert mattress stitch technique.

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Browsing through the many books in my library of stitch patterns always sparks off lots of ideas and in this case the stitch came before the project itself. I wanted to create a rib based stitch that had a touch of lace but with the advantage of being reversible. A couple of hours, a bit of graph tinkering and a few swatches later I was happy with the results.  The 30 row repeat stitch pattern combines simple knit & purl with double yarn overs and slip stitches to create an unusual slanted rib structure that creates a lovely zig zag side edge that disappears when the project is sewn up after knitting.

The design is knitted in Erika’s British Blue 100 which is a beautifully soft DK weight yarn spun from 100% Bluefaced Leicester wool. It’s available in a choice of 10 shades and the cowl shown on the front of the pattern is knitted in Regent’s Park.

It’s generously sized so that it can be looped twice around the neck and of course you could always add a few extra repeats to the length if you wanted to make it deeper. 

I hope you like the pattern and would love to see what colours you choose for your version #Constancecowl

Have a great weekend

J x 

 

On meeting your heroes

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I’m not sure who it was that one said you should never meet your heroes. No doubt it’s because they often don’t live up to our far-too-high expectations and are therefore not worthy of the pedestal on which we’ve placed them. Or they’re just bloody rude. This is a case however where any expectations I had were far, far exceeded.

I first met Erika Knight in 2014 (I think) at the Unwind yarn festival here in Brighton and have to admit to being a little star struck. At the time I’d been trying in vain to get the Jeanette Sloan yarn range off the ground and was feeling more than a little jaded about my work and my place in the ‘knitting community’. So meeting someone whose work I’ve admired since being a design student was no small deal but I couldn’t have imagined where it would lead just a few years later. We chatted over the course of the show and did that ‘oh we should meet for coffee’ kind of thing, you know the one that normally never transpires. Thankfully though it did and we’ve met up on more than one occasion over coffee, gin and cake (not at the same time mind).

As someone who is incredibly modest she won’t thank me for talking about her in great detail so I won’t embarrass her by doing so. Instead I’ll simply say that she is a genuinely warm, funny, beautiful  and classy lady whose personality is reflected in her designs which are timeless whilst at the same time feeling current. (Right Erika, no more gushing I promise).

When I was asked by Erika to do a couple of designs using yarns from her own range you literally could have picked me up off the floor. In fact I was still pinching myself when I rushed home – again starry eyed – to tell Sam. Life however got in the way of our best laid plans and last year when I was diagnosed with the ‘brain squatters’ it meant that I couldn’t meet the original deadline set for the designs.

Fast forward around 14 months and thanks to a bit of re-jigging and a lot of patience from this incredible lady and her fantastic daughter Bella – her right hand woman – the designs have finally been published. (I’m planning to write a longer post to talk about the designs in more detail).

Erika you are definitely a design hero to me. I hadn’t really thought of exploring my yarn / design heroes before but I think it would make for some interesting blog posts as creatively we take influences and inspiration  from countless diverse sources.

Ms Knight, I owe you so much. Thank you…xxx

 

 

Black people DO knit

I can’t be the only one who finds themselves scanning social media when they really should be doing something else….and it’s usually something that has a deadline attached to it.

Despite having a  very VERY heavy head on Friday I’ve actually been surprisingly organised and productive over the last week having delivered 2 magazine submissions (keeping my fingers crossed for them) and 2 more designs for a lovely project that’s a bit hush-hush at the mo.  I’ll let you know more when I can.

During one of my many Instagram visits last week I noticed that I’d been tagged in a post by Lorna Hamilton Brown (@lhamiltonbrown). She’s a black artist based just down the road from me in St Leonards on Sea and she’s currently studying for an MA in Textiles specialising in Knit at the Royal College of Art. Lorna’s knitting and illustrative work is diverse to say the least; from protesting Helen Titchener’s innocence when on trial for attempted murder in Radio 4’s The Archers to knitting life-size artworks that encourage us to reflect on the way that our youth  are portrayed in the light of the 2011 London Riots.  She’s produced a film called  ‘Knitting ain’t Wack’ that’s a rap video based on a traditional knitting rhyme that was recently selected for The Craft Council’s ‘Real to Reel Film Festival, has been referred to by  Deadly Knitshade  as the ‘Banksy of knitting’ and on top of that was awarded an MBE for services to her local community.

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Lorna with the knitting legends Kaffe Fassett & Brandon Mably

Now I don’t normally refer to people in terms of their skin colour but the fact that both Lorna and I are black is key to how we came to be in touch. For her MA dissertation Lorna is examining the myth that ‘black people don’t knit’ and one of her RCA tutors, the lovely Freddie Robins with whom I used to work suggested she get in touch with me.

I have to admit that when I ran a yarn shop in Edinburgh I’d hear ‘no one knits now’ daily (which was infuriating given that I was running a business based on that fact that people did and do knit) much more often than ‘black people don’t knit’. It’s one of those sweeping generalisations – a bit like ‘men don’t knit’ –  that’s worth examining in much more detail. Thankfully Lorna’s dissertation has set out to do just that and I was really pleased to be able to answer a few questions for her and hopefully have contributed in some small way to her thesis. It was submitted last week which must be a huge relief and I look forward to reading it when it’s made public. I haven’t met Lorna in person but given that she’s just up the road I’m hoping that we’ll meet up this Summer. In the meantime – again by the magic of social media – I’ve found Gaye Glasspie (what a great name) also known as GG whose blog Confession of a Yarn Ho can be found here. Well what do you know? One minute ‘black people don’t knit’ and the next thing you know there’s me, Lorna, GG, the great Shirley Paden…….ok you know where I’m going with this.

GG came to knitting later in life but this hasn’t diminished her infectious enthusiasm for creative knitting and all things yarnie. She’s extremely active on Facebook, in fact she puts me to shame, and has been generous enough to be promoting my work to the followers of her Facebook page here. You’ll find her knitting patterns, ready made accessories and her wide range of witty Yarnho products over on the blog which also gets a heads up in the latest issue of Knitscene magazine. I particularly like her ‘we knit too’ and ‘natural knitter’ mugs

 

Now just in case you read this and are thinking that this is a ‘race thing’ it really, truly isn’t.  I genuinely don’t judge anyone or their crafting habits on the basis of skin colour, race, religion or sexuality. I don’t care if you prefer knit over crochet, hand knit over machine knitting or whether you hold the yarn the Scottish way or Continental style. But ask me to knit something in high bulk acrylic and we may have a problem.
Have  lovely day and as the great Jerry Springer used to say. Please take care of yourselves… and each other.
J x

Hove Actually, The Knitter issue 112

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Well, just like buses, you don’t design anything for a couple of years and when your creative mojo does finally return both designs hit the shops in the same month. No complaints from me though. Given how life looked at this point last year I realise how very blessed I am.

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My latest design Hove Actually has just been published in issue 112 of The Knitter. It was  originally submitted back in March of last year when I was blissfully unaware of the interesting turn the year would take just a couple of months later with the diagnosis of two brain tumours. Understandably this meant that I couldn’t complete the commission but fortunately when I approached Kirsty McLeod ( The Knitter’s Commissioning Editor) back in January of this year, she still wanted to use it.

In a lot of ways this design reflects how my life has changed over the last 12 months. I really wanted to create a simply shaped, relaxed jumper. You know, the sort you’d throw on with a pair of linen trousers if you were going for a beach walk on a bright sunny day. (And in a strange echo of things to come, although it wasn’t the case when I came up with the design, we now live just 3 minutes from the sea). Worked in one of my all time favourite yarns, Rowan Denim, along with Handknit Cotton it has a boxy body and slash neck that help to give it a relaxed feel.

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In terms of techniques both body and sleeves begin with a 3 colour braided cast on then continue with a 2 colour border worked in mosaic stitch that splits at the sides just above the hips. The main body uses the same chart as the border but it’s worked in a single colour in simple knit & purl texture that will develop in character as the denim yarn fades beautifully with each wash.  In fact the whole garment will age gently the more it’s worn and washed, it’s one of the reasons I chose to use the denim yarn.

I tend not to name my designs until after I’ve knitted them but wanted to celebrate something of a new beginning having been given a clear bill of health (again), our move to the seaside and of course the standing joke that if you ask a Hove resident if they live in Brighton, the reply usually comes back in a flash. ‘No, Hove actually’.

 

I love the way the garment turned out and the styling in the magazine suits the design perfectly. As I said it’s been a while since my work has featured in The Knitter and this issue sees the launch of a new look cover along with a new series of 8 page pullout booklets. Issue 112 also has designs by Liz Lovick, Emma Vining, Kaffe Fassett, Mary Henderson, Penny Hemingway, Pat Menchini, Kyle Kunnecke, Chloe Webster, Helen Ardley. So understandably I’m truly honoured that they chose to feature Hove Actually along with an interview I did with the lovely Helen Spedding just a couple of months ago in the first of these spreads.

I’m not sure how worthy I am of being described as ‘inspirational’ I but felt very humbled (and more than a little bit emotional)  when it arrived in the post this morning. The weather is supposed to be ‘scorchio’ here this weekend so grab a copy, get down to the beach (or just sit in the sun) and enjoy!

Jx

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On The Tiles Clutch Bag

Well hello!

Yes I remember back in January when I did the #31daychallenge that it was meant to get me blogging more regularly but over the past week the building work has had to take priority. We’re still living on ready meals (albeit very delicious ones from Cook), we’re still at the mercy of a temperamental immersion heater that produces water so hot it’s like standing under a boiling kettle so we switch it off 8 hours before we actually want to shower and yes I’m still washing the dishes in a plastic crate in the bath. BUT we’re definitely on the home straight.

The walls have now been plastered and the first ‘miscoats’ of white emulsion paint applied. I’m actually a little worried about how much light bounces around the newly extended kitchen / dining / lounge room. When I was painting last week it was so eye piercingly bright that it actually caused a migraine – no really,  I’m serious. I had to take two Sumatriptan and go to bed for an hour. Thankfully Sam and my nephew Jas were both around to pick up the slack, it’s amazing how hard a 19 year old will work when there’s hard cash involved. Anyway we’re definitely making progress – well the builders are – and we may even take delivery of the new kitchen by the end of the week. So with all this going on I completely forgot that my latest design has just been published in the July issue of Knitting Magazine.

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On The Tiles is a simply shaped clutch bag knitted in a pure wool yarn that’s then felted in a washing machine. It’s knitted in The Little Grey Sheep Hampshire Chunky which is a yarn I first saw when I visited Unravel back in February and I have to admit it was love at first sight. It’s rounded with a soft, lofty feel and a hints of black/grey and ecru that add lots of interest to the colour. I normally start with a sketch of the design but in this case we (that’s my editor Christine and I) had got chatting to Emma from TLGS about the possibility of a design and I had to select the colours then and there.  It wasn’t easy as the range of shades that Emma has put together is truly tempting and although I went for my usual spicy combinations of rust, reds and pinks I thought it would be interesting to venture in a different direction colourwise.

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Each of the 19 colours is intriguingly named after places and people in Hampshire so rather than my default combo of Mickelmersh (a weathered rust) and Sense and Sensibility (pinky brick red) I eventually plumped for Dragon Racing (a dirty teal) and Walking the St Swithuns Way  (a gobliny green with a touch of yellow).

 

fullsizeoutput_526Having chosen colours I knew that I wanted a stitch that would work as a stripe with some sort of texture where one colour ‘intruded’ in some way onto the next. I absolutely love the swatching process and after a few experiments found the combination of slipping certain stitches then eventually knitting them ‘out of order’ created an elongated stitch that worked as I’d imagined. As an added bonus it also created a scalloped edge that could be used as a feature cast on at the opening edge of the finished bag. I’ll admit that the stitch pattern does take a while to get your brain around it but if my wonky brain can manage then I’m sure you’re up to the challenge.

Once knitted the bag is felted and then the making up process begins. Now I really am not a fan of saggy knitted bags so as well as felting I thought that lining the bag with a heavyweight interfacing would help the bag keep it’s shape when used. I’ve recommended pelmet interfacing but since making the bag have found that Decovil interfacing has a nice heavyweight that works better. It’s slightly more expensive than standard interfacing but worth it for the quality, I found it here at Cotton Patch where you can buy it by the 1/4 metre. As it’s not the most straight forward making up process to interface and insert the lining into the bag so I’ll be posting a tutorial over on the website (which is currently being updated) so keep an eye out for that. I’d be interested to hear what you think about the design and would love to see what colour combinations you’ll be coming up with when you make your version of On The Tiles ( use #onthetilesclutchbag on twitter and Instagram and I’ll find you). Oh and the name? The way that one coloured stripe stacks on top of the next reminded me of tiles, plus it’s a great sized bag for carry the basics when you’re on a night out. Or perhaps it’s the influence of all this building work….

In the meantime I’d better get some knitting done, I’ve got a couple of design submissions to work on….and kitchen appliances to source.

J x