Knitting in California

It’s time I caught up on what I’ve been doing lately, which is mainly being in California for two weeks. Although it’s very warm there a lot of the time I was still able to fit in some knitting activity. However, I have to admit that I did not do a single stitch of knitting, not even on two long haul flights. In fact, I even almost left my knitting bag behind under my seat on the flight home. But luckily I had a dig around the debris of the flight and found it there.

A while ago June Hemmons Hiatt, author of the Principles of Knitting, was in the UK and we planned to meet up, having met at the inaugural Center for Knit and Crochet conference in 2102. That didn’t happen for various reasons so when I found out that June lives quite near where I go to visit my step daughter we agreed to meet. For those of you who are familiar with Principles of Knitting you’ll know that June is a total expert on knitting. Her book covers everything from how to actually make the stitches to all aspects of planning a project.

June is also working on producing knitting belts which are available from her web site. They are all top quality leather and hand made, so a real work of art and craft. Plus, using a knitting belt is a great way to knit.

So as well as having lunch, we talked a great deal of knitting ‘shop talk’, fairs and events. June was due to go to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, October 15th and 16th, so just coming up now, techniques, needles, and all sorts of textile-ly things.

Here’s June and I having had lunch:

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Then June introduced me to a unique shop and gallery called Lacis which has haberdashery, tools, books, textiles and costume. It really is amazing, and if I wasn’t used to seeing huge quantities of old and vintage textiles in the Knitting & Crochet Guild Collection, where I volunteer, I would have been even more amazed that I was. I have never seen such a selection of thread, needles, gadgets, patterns, pins, ever. And that’s including John Lewis haberdashery in its heyday and Duttons for Buttons and all those wonderful places down side streets in London ….

When I’d recovered from that, at least a week or ten days later, I went to visit A Verb for Keeping Warm, a shop and centre for all sorts of textile activities in Oakland, so about 30 minutes away from where I was staying and not so far from Lacis. If you have a look at the web site you get a sense of the place and what they do there. Have a look at the pictures of the outdoor space at the back of the shop – it is quite special. I asked if my partner could sit here while I browsed and it was fine. We were both happy.

Here’s some pictures:

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Natural dyed yarn and dried marigoldsfor dyeing with in the outdoor space

img_1031A hanging showing natural dyed fabrics in the shop

img_1032Hats, natural dyed wools

Verb has knitting and spinning and dressmaking/quilting supplies so there was a lot to look at and all of it beautiful – lovely things, well presented, plus some that I hadn’t seen before, like this magazine from Canada, Uppercase. I bought this edition, more or less for the image on the front cover, which looks like a patchwork quilt, but made of pieces of painted wood from salvaged houses. You can see more of them at the artist’s web site.

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I also bought a copy of the natural dyeing book, written by the Verb’s owner, Kristine Vejar. A clever move, calling it The Modern Natural Dyer, as I have several books on natural dyeing, and have done some natural dyeing, but I obviously need an update. I left this in California with my daughter. I’ll get it back next time I visit if she hasn’t used it by then.

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And the last couple of things I bought (remember, I never buy yarn, and I don’t buy books when I’m abroad as they are too heavy to carry home) was a skein of Brooklyn Tweed yarn in a sludgy green that is my favourite colour more or less, and a Brooklyn Tweed book. I look at BT books on line and they are wonderful – beautifully produced and photographed and this one is no exception. It will probably be a present, as I really do not need another knitting book. I even forgive the incorrect spelling of Woolens. Joke.

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And finally, I bought some Blue Faced Leicester tops in Verb, as the spinning wheel was out at my daughter’s house. I took the wheel over there after my mother died, over ten years ago, literally in a box, held onto wheels with some bungies. It travelled as checked in baggage. Anyway, the white tops were quite ok to spin with, although not a nice as some grey Gotland which had come from the local knitting shop in Lafayette. Here’s me spinning on a Hebridean wheel in California:

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And that’s all for now. Thanks for reading if you got this far.

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A major project finished!

I’ve been working on this crochet blanket for, probably, 10 years, perhaps more. It was supposed to be my ‘easy’ project, that I could do when talking to friends or in front of the tele. It was also started with the intention of using a large bag of wool, mostly left over from my Masters course in the mid 80s, and a batch of indigo dyed wool. This wool was in hanks, very overspun, grey, originally from Craftsman’s Mark, a yarn firm that some of you may remember, which was owned and run by Morfudd Roberts. This I indigo dyed to various shades of dark blue.

The idea behind this blanket was to be quite improvised looking. I was freed from being too neat with crochet by the book, Louisa Calder’s Creative Crochet in which she shows visible joins in colours and other irregularities. Some of the reviews on the Amazon page are interesting – some people ‘get it’ and some don’t.

 

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Anyway, the whole project has been a design challenge as the quantities of yarn seem to have altered – more indigo dyed wool to use, then less, then more on one side than the other, then the whole thing getting far too big and so on. It started as a series of pieces and then got added to with strips being crocheted for the sides, and so on.

I am pleased with it though, although I think the wools used for the final edgings are too new and bright, but I’m hoping that I’ll stop noticing this in time.

The final round was going to be done in crab stitch, which I like to use as a finished edge, but I had a brain wave and decided to use a purple wool boucle for the last round. I think I must have dyed this too, as there’s quite a lot of it and it’s pure wool, not easily obtained now. It completes the piece. Here it is:

Crochet blanket

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I’m pleased with this – it looks like I intended it to look, by and large.

I now have a large bag of hand spun yarns left from my mother -what am I going to make with them?

Teaching and learning

I’ve picked up on a document put out by WordPress which suggests a prompt for every day of the year for a blog post. Don’t worry, there’s no way I’m going to start posting every day, but perhaps a little more often than I have in the past.

The suggested theme for today is ‘teacher’s pet’ which I’m taking as a start for generally thinking about teaching and learning. I, like so many of my generation, learnt to knit from my mother. She tried and tried to teach me, over two or three years when I was 5 or so. I am left handed , but it didn’t really occur to anyone that you should or could knit anything other than right handed, so that’s what I did, eventually. I also can have very sweaty hands, and the resulting damp or wet, tight mass of yarn and needles was not good. Once I had got the knack, or the penny had dropped, I was away, knitting doll’s clothes, mittens (at school) and a jumper for myself before I was 11. Crochet was acquired as a skill in my teens but in between times I did plenty of French knitting (i-cord on a cotton reel), lots of embroidery, which I loved to work and small amounts of tapestry, the needle worked sort. I learnt to machine knit when I bought a machine in the late 1970s, and that was a battle too, the instruction books being in poorly translated Japanese and YouTube not having been invented at the time.

In the context of knitting and other textiles, I had no formal teaching at all until I was in my 30s when I went on the Knitwear and Knitted Fabric Design MA at Trent Polytechnic, now Nottingham Trent University. I was a proficient machine and hand knitter but had no idea about design or designing. That is what I learnt at Trent although the balance between learning for myself and being taught was a fine one. There I learnt about using design concepts, colour, garment shape and construction, markets, fashion forecasting, promotion and a ton of other stuff. It was a massive sacrifice at the time, involving a weekly commute away from my school age family, and taking a large financial risk. However, it was probably one of the best things I have done, over the years.

Fast forward 30 years or so, and teaching and learning has changed a lot. Now we are all experts. Oddly enough I wrote about this some weeks ago, and then didn’t post it, but now it seems to be a natural follow on from this piece. It will be the next post.

 

A beautiful garment

Happy New Year!

I have many resolutions for 2016, one of them being to extol the virtues of machine knitting wherever possible. Over the New Year an old friend of mine appeared wearing a very lovely dark navy blue sweater with a roll neck. It was beautifully made and proportioned, and machine knitted in fine dense pure wool. It was perfect for the occasion where we were part of a group of friends staying high in the Lake District at Honister Hause Youth Hostel. We were at 1100 feet and not that far below the snow line so good functional warm clothes were essential even inside, especially when we first arrived.

Earlier today I had the chance to look at this garment in detail and find out where it had come from. In the past, I have knitted garments for him and also given him small knitted gifts like the small throw that I blogged about some while ago (I had trouble finding it, might reorganise in the next few days) and he is also the recipient of a pair of my hand knitted gloves. In short, I am confident that he has good taste in knitwear. I was curious about this latest model but he does sail and so I knew that he would know places to buy proper gear. It turned out that he just did a ‘heavy duty google’ for fisherman’s jumpers and this was what appeared.

I had a good look at it this morning and took some pictures of the fabric and the structure and also the label. It is made by a Danish firm that I have not come across before called SNS Herning. The web site shows their range of garments which is extensive for men, but rather limited for women. It is obvious from the site that they are pitching at a fashion market as well as to those who want functional clothing and the stockists in London are in key locations such as Redchurch Street, home to Labour and Wait, one of my favourite shops and Lambs Conduit Street, another place for great small shops.

The web site tells of the machines on which the garments are knitted and also a bit about the people who knit them and in many ways the set up is similar to that of small scale weavers such as Melin Tregwynt and Solva Woollen Mill, both in West Wales, who batch produce high quality goods using mechanised looms but hand finishing processes. Interestingly, the SNS Herning sweater label said that it was knitted in Denmark and made up in Latvia, presumably to keep costs down but it could also be to do with access to machinery or people with particuar skills.

So here’s the pictures I took:

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The rather wonderful retro back neck label

IMG_20160103_101044The sleeve and shoulder

 

 

Detail of hem finish

A rather dark shot of the hem

The fabric is constructed from a dense double jersey (the plain sections) interspersed with bands of a textured stitch, for you machine knitters a tuck stitch, which adds both elasticity and a textural interest. The garment is put together with a heavy overlock, often associated with cheaper quality knitwear but I was impressed by the superb quality of this manufacture which is really solid and immaculately done.

 

And check the label! The whole thing a great advert for machine produced knitwear.

Deadlines

In September the plan was to knit three pairs in three months – one in September, October and November, leaving December free to do more Xmas-y things … well the road to hell is paved with good intentions so here I am at the end of November with two pairs complete and one still to knit in December. Artificial deadlines are just not the same as proper external ones.

Still, the pair I’ve just finished have turned out rather nicely, I’m hoping that they fit well too. I’m showing some pictures of them with one or two ends waiting to be darned in – that can be done at any time though without daylight or any superhuman effort.

(Brief aside). Mentioning daylight, I have just bought a Luxo work lamp. As my eyes get worse and the days get darker, I need more and more light to see what I’m doing – that’s true for hand and machine knitting and any sewing – in fact more or less everything apart from gardening and doing yoga. Some while ago, I was given a Luxo light from an architect’s office that no longer needed them – it’s all on screen now. I have since bought another two Luxos – in addition to the rather ancient Habitat one (red) and an IKEA one (purple) attached to various tables. So wherever I am in the house, I’ve got a well lit spot. Luxo is the light that is dancing in the famous animation at the start of Pixar films, in case you didn’t know (I didn’t either) but they are lovely lights, very stable and not too industrial looking. I prefer them to the Anglepoise which I checked out while in London a week or so ago.

So with my knitting deadline a month late, on Monday 30th November I tried to get them finished. The first picture shows them in the morning and the second one at the end of the day – actually early Tuesday morning. So in the day I knitted three fingers and started the first thumb. That wasn’t non stop by any means – I did other things as well and while I was knitting I listened to the Zola adaptation on Radio 4 (harder than you might think while knitting gloves).

 

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Missing three fingers and both thumbs early Monday morning

 

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Late evening Monday, all fingers present and correct and the start of a thumb

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The completed gloves, in need of ends darning in and a press

(The colour differences due to using daylight or flash on my phone’s camera I think)

A note about the patterns – they are all Faroese taken from an actual Faroe jacket in the KCG Collection or a book of Faroes patterns in the KCG library. Most of them have a float of 5 stitches, one more than ‘allowed’ by Elizabeth Zimmerman, but meaning that the patterns often use multiples of 3s and 5s and are therefore really easy to work.

On to the next pair. I wonder if I should be knitting anti war mitts like Lisa Auerbach??

White poppies (not gloves)

There is a vogue for knitting or crocheting the red poppy that is worn in the UK to commemorate those who died in the First and Second world wars, and those since. Patterns are available  like this one:

http://counties.britishlegion.org.uk/media/4069303/Poppy-Patterns.pdf

and now there are patterns for wreaths as well:

How to make a knitted or crochet poppy and wreath

I used to find it hard not to wear a red poppy as it seems disrespectful to those who died but at the same time I find the tone of the commemorations unacceptable – war is glorified and the reasons for it seem to be forgotten. Issues such as the global arms trade and our governments involvement do not get an airing. I have been part, shamefully small, of the peace movement over the years, demonstrations, visits to Greenham Common and so on, and I needed a way to show that. Several years ago I discovered the white poppy and for me, this an ideal way in which to acknowledge the history of wars and my position regarding them. They are made and sold by the Peace Pledge Union here where some of the arguments for the white poppy are given:

So the next move was to knit or crochet a white poppy.

Here it is:

A crocheted white poppy

A crocheted white poppy

 

I started with the Woman’s Weekly pattern and some scraps of 4ply wool, and made the white petals last year, ran out of time, found it a week or so ago and just finished it with some modifications making it up as I went along. It has a rather curly stem and a leaf that went a bit funny – think oak meets holly – but I think it does the job.

 

 

More on Estonian Craft Camp

Well, after the first two days we had a day out. I had chosen to go to Parnu, a town on the Baltic coast. It was about an hour or so on a coach through quiet roads and lovely agricultural countryside. We were taken round the local museum and then went to look at crafts in the local shops. The weather was windy and not too warm so I headed off to the beach as I hadn’t seen the Baltic. Also, the museum had pictures of the beaches from the days when Parnu was a resort used by the Soviet authorities for the workers to have holidays. When Indira Ghandi visited Parnu, which must have been before 1984 when she was assasinated,  a wooden elephant was put in the sea, which is still there. It also doubles as a slide. It’s almost life size and looks bizarre and so smart that it must be renewed and repainted. Here it is in the unseasonably choppy waves:

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I also bought some gloves in the local Modern Art Museum. They are beautifully knitted and very fine but I haven’t taken any pictures yet.

Back at Craft Camp we had two more days of workshops. I did a day of bone work, in which I made four bone needles and a second day of knitting in which we learnt about blue and white mittens and gloves, and started a pair of them. Here’s the bone needles, of which I am very pleased. It’s an example of it being easier to learn to do something that you know nothing about as the steep learning curve is always very satisfying.

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