Delving into history

Last night I found myself ambling through the blog posts I wrote before the long break. As I was wearing my Laccaria cardigan and reading the post about completing that cardigan, I felt inspired to photograph my current ‘wardrobe’ of knitted garments and analyse how old they were. This has been very interesting because researching the dates (which meant going back through my computer records and my hand-written notebook) has really brought home to me what a fallow period I fell into with my knitting (not to mention my general creativity) in that period when I wasn’t blogging.

So, following the photos from top to bottom and left to right, we find:-

Turin – Martin Storey for Jaeger – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – August 2010
The oldest of my handknits which I still wear, this yarn has worn like a dream (no wonder I loved it so much), and this cardigan never fails me.

Square neck cardigan – Rowan Studio 11 – The Uncommon Thread BFL DK Cumulus – August 2013
Another absolute favourite which I have worn and worn. The colour is a little bit more blue than the photo manages to show, and the yarn is just gorgeous. It has pilled a little, but that can be forgiven when I consider how much I have worn and washed this baby.

Sleeveless tank – 1000 Sweaters – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – June 2018
One of my more recent knits, but using up the trusty old JC Rennie wool, this is the top I am wearing today. I wasn’t sure when I made it how much I would wear it and the answer is, not a lot so far, but I still enjoy it and it’s useful to have as a layering piece.

Rib detail v-neck – 1000 Sweaters – Willow & Lark Ramble DK – October 2018
Most recent completed project, and I am so happy with this one. I could have made a better yarn choice and I don’t feel that this will be as long-lasting as some of my garments, but I can’t fault my choice of colour or pattern at all.

Mari – Martin Storey for Rowan – Bergere de France Ideal – February 2018
This was always going to be an oddity in my wardrobe because the yarn is not the sort of thing I usually buy. It is two strands of Ideal held together – one in what I affectionately term ‘Radioactive Red’ and one in cream. I ordered the red and started one or two things in it, but the colour was a bit offputting. In the end I ordered the cream to try and take the edge off a bit, and knitted this aran-weight jumper by Martin Storey on the basis that if nothing else it would be a warm layer to wear around the house. As it is, I wear it outside for cycle rides and walks when I don’t want to wear a jacket and I really rather like it. It is what I would term a ‘sloppy joe’. The pattern is actually written as a polo-neck but I just did a little stand-up crew collar which works very well.

Laccaria – Berroco – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool – 2012
Back to the older knits and this one has seen a goodly amount of wear. I was on the brink of disposing of it earlier in the year because I had got too fat to wear it, but my diet has brought it back into frequent use, although I tend to wear it mainly indoors. The only real downside is the 3/4 length sleeves which are great in summer, but not so good now the chillier days have arrived. Also, I need to fix the second bottonhole from the neck because the button won’t stay done up.

Chevron border cardigan – 1000 Sweaters – Cascade 220 Heathers – January 2018
I bought this yarn to knit Gullveig by Norah Gaughan for Berroco and one day I will knit that beauty, but the charted patterning was too much for my addled brain when I tried it. Instead, I knitted up this lovely worstead-weight caridgan when I needed a quick warm jumper project. It fits in exactly the same niche as the next cardigan and I love both of them.

Burr – Veronique Avery for Brooklyn Tweed – JC Rennie Supersoft Lambswool + Donegal Tweed – March 2016
This pattern sat on my must-knit queue for a long while and I just love the finished object. I omitted the waist shaping and worked a simple band rather than the collar in the original pattern. I love the little shaped rib details at the waist and cuff, and the eyelet rows at the shoulders – these little details just elevate the whole design. I have worn this so much as it is the ideal outer layer over a dress during autumn and spring, then as a cardigan during the colder months.

As I said, looking back through my notes has made me aware of the failures as well as the successes, and I am shocked by the number of projects I have started then abandoned because for some reason they were not working. Much of it is poor yarn choice, and I am afraid that may always be the case as I am easily seduced by yarns that don’t turn out to be as good as I hope. Then I lost sight of my creativity for a long while (actually, lost sight of myself which is even more dispiriting) and I am extremely thankful that I have found it again this year. In fact, whilst I’ve been writing this blog post I have been simultaneously writing down notes about possible patterns to knit or re-knit – I have a Bergere de France pattern book full of cabled knits that are singing to me at the top of their voices. I did try one of these patterns before, but the yarn wasn’t well suited to it and, anyway, I wasn’t the right shape for it at the time.

I hope you have enjoyed delving into my past, and seeing my current hand-knit wardrobe. Have you thought of doing this yourself? I can thoroughly recommend it.


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Outside my comfort zone

Belgian Monk
Now it’s The Belgian Monk, but forty years ago…

Picking up on last Monday’s post when I mentioned perfume, I would like to introduce you to a celebrated Norwich restaurant, The Belgian Monk. It serves a wide selection of Belgian beers and mussels galore, not to mention an extensive restaurant menu. It opened in 2000 and is still very popular. It is on one of the historic lanes in Norwich (actually a couple of doors down from Norfolk Yarn which I have also written about recently) and, as you can see from my photo, it is housed in a lovely old building.

How, I hear you ask, does that link in with perfume? Well, back in my teenage years and early twenties, this building housed a splendid perfume shop called Crofts and that was where I introduced myself to the fragrances that I still love today, most especially Bal a Versailles. Crofts was most definitely catering to the more expensive end of the perfume-buying public and whilst it stocked popular brands, it was somewhere you could go to find things that the department stores and chemists wouldn’t provide. Mostly, though, the experience of being in there was enough, even if you didn’t buy anything. The building is superb and with jewel-bright boxes and potion-filled bottles floor to ceiling, it had all the appeal of a sweetie-shop, without the calories!

Purchases I particularly remember were, of course, the Bal a Versailles, but also my first Boule Noir bottle of Lanvin’s Arpege, and a cabinet-style box containing a selection of Mary Chess perfumed bath oils. Mary Chess is no more, Bal a Versailles is very hard to find, and Arpege is the only one still readily available (it may well be the next perfume I buy as I haven’t worn it in a while).

Currently, I am a little outside my comfort zone as far as perfume goes. I am using up a couple of little 4ml gift/sample sprays of Clinique Aromatics in White, and not being one to douse myself in scent, I probably have enough of this to see me through to the other side of Christmas. To damn it with faint praise, this perfume is okay. I like it enough to use up the two little bottles I have, but not enough to want to buy it and wear it for an extended period. If forced to think about it, I find it best suited to summer; it’s very ‘bright’, even slightly brash, and lacking something that can’t be put into words. Which, let’s face it, is the whole thing about perfume – you can never describe why one particular perfume is right for you and others are wrong, even if they are in the same broad ‘family’ or have similar components. For example, a quite common comparison I come across is if you like Arpege you may also like Chanel No. 5 – I love Arpege, Chanel No. 5 leaves me completely unmoved. It is almost as if somewhere within the particular secret formula of each perfume you love, there is an atom of magic that makes that makes it speak to you. Conversely, when you try a perfume that isn’t quite right, you experience the olfactory equivalent of Mark Twain’s spring fever – “you don’t know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.”

The other place where I am operating outside my comfort zone (albeit a little more happily) is in my knitting. As a lifelong lover of light- to medium-weight wools, I am currently working on two projects in heavier-weight yarns. My super-secret Christmas knitting is in a chunky yarn, knitting up at a gauge of 14 stitches and 20 rows to a 10cm square. I am using 6mm needles which initially felt like knitting with rolling-pins and I have to be glad that they are wooden and therefore lightweight. It surprised me how much I have come to enjoy working on this project and it is encouraging me to consider knitting something in Rowan Cocoon yarn for next winter. Me suddenly wanting to use this yarn after years of disliking it will probably be enough to ensure they discontinue it, but at least if they do I will be prepared and able to buy some before it disappears.

The second project I’m working on is a funky little neckwarmer for my Etsy shop (this is now open at pamalisonknits.etsy.com). This is ‘only’ an aran-weight wool and, although it is a bit bulkier, it is closer to my usual knitting choices. The only downside is that both of the projects I am actively working on are in almost exactly the same colour or, to be precise, lack of colour, and I don’t function hugely well with the neutrals. I keep gazing over at my vase of knitty pretties to remind myself about colour and warmth.

Knitty pretties

I am currently awash with inspiration for making colourful things from yarn so I hope some of it comes to fruition.

This weekend has mainly been devoted to steaming my Christmas puddings. I use my mum’s recipe which makes two medium-sized puddings, each enough to serve six people a good portion. As I spend Christmas alone (by choice, although for some reason many people seem to think that it is some kind of hardship to be able to spend the Christmas break exactly as it pleases you), twelve portions of Christmas pudding might be something of an overkill. I usually only make half the recipe which is still more than enough. One of the puddings will be cut into individual portions and go into the freezer, but my dieting self is eagerly anticipating the day she can just dive head-first into a six-portion pudding!

Speaking of dieting, yesterday I hit the twelve stone mark, which means I have lost one stone and ten pounds since I started dieting at the beginning of September. I feel so much better for it; I am enjoying walking again, and I love how my clothes fit me now, apart from the few which simply don’t fit at all any more. So I am patting myself on the back and giving myself a big thumbs-up for my perseverence. I am not thinking about the fact that the NHS suggest a healthy weight for my height is between seven and ten stone – the NHS are exceptionally good at most things, but I suspect they are a little too zealous when it comes to weight assessment.

I hope you are enjoying any projects you are working on, and that you have had an enjoyable weekend.


 

Knitting – 5 favourite things

IMG_0297
Oh, dear, can I call them favourites?

Today I’ve challenged myself to come up with five favourite things associated with my knitting. There is no way in the world that these five things are my “favourite” in each category, but they are one of my favourites in each category!

A favourite knitting bag

Well, this one is easy because I don’t really do project bags, although there are hundreds of project bags available and they are all, each and every one, absolutely wonderful. I, however, have my Knitting Basket and that is where my current work in progress resides, togther with my big bag of knitting accoutrements and some random things that don’t really belong, but live in there anyhow. The basket was a very much appreciated gift from one of my sisters and I chose it at a French-themed exhibition we visited in London many a long moon ago. I love the design of this basket – it is lined (vital for knitting wools) and the lining zips up at the top for the times when you want the basket to be neater (I hardly ever zip it up). I expect this to be my knitting basket for the rest of my life.

A favourite knitting book

My all-time favourite knitting pattern book is Jaeger Handknits JB16 – catchy title, eh? This book/brochure was published in 2003 and its tagline advertises that it contains “20 designer garments by Martin Storey using Matchmaker Merino 4 ply”. I turn to this book and knit versions of my favourite garments time and time again. It is standing up to use quite well, although the cover is no longer stapled to the contents; we can live with that can’t we? I love a good 4-ply (fingering) weight garment and this book has a good range of staples; cardigans and jumpers, cropped and longer-length, textured/plain/lacy/cabled and an odd one or two with coloured stripes or contrasting bands. I haven’t made any secret in this blog of my love of Martin Storey and this book is probably the biggest factor in that hero-worship. If I could only knit from one pattern source for the rest of my life it would be this book, although I’m happy that I’m not ever likely to be asked to make such a nonsensical committment.

A favourite knitting tool

This was hard. I rely totally on a tape measure and row counter, but the day has been won by the 6″ gauge ruler which I think I bought on a trip to London from the marvellous Islington haberdasher Ray Stitch. I love this because it has a sliding red marker which helps you to narrow down the stitches you are studying. Also, measuring your gauge is just so crucial, and we all do it, right kids? Okay, no, but when I do, I find this ruler really helpful.

A favourite set of knitting needles

Knit-Pro Symfonie, 30cm straight in whatever size I need. Whilst I am on the fence about most of the other categories, I am very definite about the needles. I have different brands of wooden needles; I have metal needles and plastic needles; I even have some circular needles. The 30cm Knit-Pro Symfonie straights are way out ahead as my favourites. They are lightweight and warm to the touch and comfortable to hold and the stitches have just the right balance of stick and slide to make the knitting as easy as possible. 30cm is my Goldilocks length, not too short, not too long. I like to knit garments in separate pieces and seam them together and I can comfortably get the back of most garments bunched onto a 30cm needle and work easily with it. I love these needles; and, no, that does not stop me buying loads of other needles, but I am not claiming to be perfect here.

A favourite knitting yarn

Any hand-dyed sock wool from Mr B Yarns in Brighton. I adore the design aesthetic of this hand-dyer and I even like the ones he dyes in colours I wouldn’t naturally be attracted to. I have only good things to say about the two pairs of socks I have knit so far (in colourways “Where The Wild Things Are” and “An Inspector Calls”), am enjoying the one I’m currently working on (colourway “Dr Foster Went To Gloucester”) and looking forward to using the final colour I have in my stash “Isambard”. When I have ordered from the Etsty site, the wool has arrived promptly, well-packaged, and entirely ready for me to gloat over. I generally put it in a cut-glass flower vase that belonged to my mum until I’m ready to use it, so I can feast on the beauty even before I start knitting.

A bonus extra

My favourite place to knit is on the settee, as I have shown in the photo. The lamp isn’t quite good enough for knitting light, but it is adequate and nothing else I have tried has pleased me as well as this. With a Yankee Candle wax tart melting in the burner (currently a choice between White Tea and Ebony and Oak) I am cosy and all set for a knitting session. Which is, essentially, where I will probably be in ten minutes’ time.

Here is more of a close-up of the basket and my favourites.

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I hope you are carving out time in your autumn days (or, indeed, spring days if you are the other side of the equator) to pick up your knitting and work on some of your own favourites.


 

Finished object – maroon sweater

I have finished my sweater! Although this is a distinctly autumn knit, I am counting it as the summer garment as far as my intentions for the year go (I was aiming to get one garment and three pairs of socks knitted in each of the four “seasons” this year and I’m running way behind).

Date started: 19th September 2018
Date completed: 14th October 2018
Pattern: Square-neck Ribbed Sweater from One Thousand Sweaters by Amanda Griffiths  (out of print) with modified Fitted Sleeve and modified Square V-neck Rib neck border
Yarn: Willow and Lark Ramble Superwash Wool DK in colour 110 Ox Blood (out of stock as I write this)
Size: Medium (to suit 36″bust)

This book is modular so you can mix and match different bodies, sleeves, necklines etc to suit yourself. I’ve knitted a few DK-weight sweaters using it and I rather like it.

When I last wrote about this garment, I wasn’t too sure about it at all. I am pleased to report that I loved knitting it, forgave the yarn its quirks as I did manage to get a number of balls that didn’t have any obvious flaws, and I galloped through the sleeves like a maniac who lives on the opposite side of the globe to the famous Sleeve Island where knitters often find themselves becalmed. I knitted this at the shorter of the two lengths offered for the body because I am both entirely short (5’2″) and short-waisted. The ribbing design on the body made the knitting interesting and works well in the worn garment.

I decided to make two modifications to the pattern. Firstly, I worked the centre 10 stitches all the way up the sleeves in the 2 x 2 rib pattern featured on the body. I think this worked exceptionally well. I also modified the neckband to feature a rolled edge.

The neckband is knitted as a separate piece, and I have to admit to making a silly mistake when attaching it on Sunday. Fitted correctly, the two ends of the strip of knitting are attached to the front of the neckline then the band is attached up the fronts and round the back of the neck. For some silly reason, I attached it with the middle of the band at the front and then joined the two ends at the back of the neck, giving a more scoop-neck finish to the garment. I realised my mistake as I had completely finished attaching it and was walking into my bedroom to try it on. It didn’t look bad. I spent a good few minutes trying to convince myself that “good enough is done”, then sat down and took the neckband off and re-worked it correctly. For some of us, good enough is never done.

And that’s it – a speedy, enjoyable knit and a garment I’m keen to wear as the weather cools. Currently on my needles is yet another version of my all-time favourite cardigan pattern – Rimini by the lovely, lovely Martin Storey.  This is taking advantage of a sweater quantity of 4-ply Sirdar Country Style yarn (45% acrylic/40% Bri-Nylon/15% wool) kindly donated to me by my good friend Alex W. She wasn’t going to use it on account of it being a vile colour, which it sort-of is, but it’s a colour that is everywhere this autumn and it is growing on me. We’ll have to see if I can actually carry off an entire garment in this shade!

Happy knitting, folks!


Is it just me, or is anyone else getting a vague Star Trek vibe from these photos? Something to do with that neckline and the red and gold-chartreuse-mustard colourways.


 

Knitting (in) circles

Circular cowl
Knitting on a circular needle – not my favourite

I thought I would break with recent tradition and grace the page with a photograph of a piece of knitting, and not a moment too soon I hear you say if you’ve been following this blog thinking it was about knitting.

Thus far, I have knit a number of nice woolly cowls to stock this Etsy shop that is lurking on the horizon, but I have knit them all flat and joined them into a circle by working a seam. I have made them that way because that is how I like to knit and the first rule of trying to earn money from a skill is to avoid doing something you hate. Each time I have completed a cowl I have asked myself whether it would have been more correct to knit it in the round, and the answer I have given myself is maybe, perhaps, but I don’t know, and I don’t like working in the round, and it’s not like you can’t actually achieve the same end result working the piece flat and then seaming it. You see – even when I’m talking to myself I find it hard to just give a straight answer.

This week, however, I have been discussing the progress of my projects with a knitting friend who is very strongly in the “use a circular needle for everything” camp and it has prompted me to try one project using a circular needle so I can compare it in terms of speed of knitting, quality of finished object and (ultimately) preference of buyers. Also, most importantly, can I get myself over the hurdle of the flappy cord that joins the two needles and from which the work hangs? For it is this, gentle reader, which annoys me most about the circular needle. This, and the fact you can’t use your forearms, elbows and torso to support, or control, the needles and fabric whilst you are working. It is a very different experience knitting when your work is held on two solid, straight rods compared to when it is suspended from a thin, flexible line.

So there is knitting in circles and this is where I am with it. I am also interested today in the “knitting circle” which might be a group that actually meets or just the people you know with whom you share the hobby of knitting. We like to think we are Musketeers, all for one and one for all; that the shared interest is a marvellous basis for friendship, but sometimes the criticism of your circle is harder to brush off than the criticism of the wider world. In the knitting community we pay a lot of lip service to the fact that there is room for all the various ways of doing knitting, nothing is right and nothing is wrong. Yet I find myself unable to escape the feeling that some things, to borrow a theme from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, are more right than others. The use of circular needles is one of the instances where the consensus is strongly orientated in one direction and if your preference lies in the other direction you find yourself being quite defensive. Whilst I can argue the case for seams in a garment providing a structure which is helpful in a knitted fabric, I am less able to argue the case in something like socks, gloves, or my cowls.

Something I regularly read is the Positivity Blog by Henrik Edberg. When he talks about self-confidence, he often touches on the fact that whilst we may take comments people make to heart, they aren’t really all that bothered about us and the things we do, they just move on. We might spend an inordinate amount of time pondering a conversation, re-playing it, trying to think what we could have said to put our point across better, but they won’t even remember the conversation ten minutes after it has ended. In Edberg’s philosophy, if we remind ourselves of this we can save ourselves a deal of anguish.

I would like that to be true.

Yet what if the barbs that sting us really are barbs? If the person who looks at you askance and says “Oh, you’ve knit these flat have you?” is criticising rather than simply observing? What if the people who predominantly knit their sweaters “in the round” (as a series of tubes) really believe that this is a better or more authentic or, yes, superior way of working? That, no matter how much they coat the pill with sugar, they still mean that you are doing something wrong?

I suppose if this is the case, then the best that can happen is that we accept that friendship isn’t about always being in agreement and some of the most rewarding friendships are the ones that challenge us, and in challenging us help us to define our own attitudes.

 

Pile of plans

Back from my “staycation” holiday and buzzing with ideas which rapidly need to be transformed into goals and achieved.

I previously alluded to my desire to earn my living using more of my creativity, and one part of this is my plan to open an Etsy shop selling hand-knitted accessories and baby clothes. Over the past month I have been doing some experimental knitting to establish the kind of things that I plan to make. Unfortunately, the results to date have been less than stellar, but, as with anything creative, you can learn a lot from the things that don’t go quite as you’d like them to.

One very important thing I have learned whilst working on my prototypes is that I have a quite specific vision of the style of items that I want to produce. This is more fundamental than ideas of individual patterns, it is about what my output will look like as a whole. It is about the type of knits that I enjoy doing, the colours that will inspire me, and it is also about the materials that I will use.

I have always been something of a “yarn snob” and using wools that I wouldn’t normally gravitate towards over the past month has proved to me that I need to use good quality materials if I’m going to be happy with what I produce. In view of this, I’ve ordered a couple of packages of yarn to experiment with, and now they are here I’m ready to put in some serious knitting time.

Pile of Plans
Not a pile of wool, but a pile of plans

I hope by next week I will have some finished objects that I am happy to share with you. I may do a “compare and contrast” with the items that I have been less happy with. I would also like to do a review of each company that I order wool from.

In the meantime, I would like to wish all my readers a happy, constructive, and inspiring week.

Reboot

Norwich this July as it as hot and steamy as a Palm House. Lethargy lurks at every turn and the drowsy afternoons float by, punctuated only by the chirruping of the Tour de France commentators.

Palm House, Kew Gardens
Palm House, Kew Gardens

I am at a point where I want to reboot my creativity. I have allowed it to become submerged over the years, as I’ve prioritised earning a living over and above living itself. Now I’m stepping back a bit, taking some time to work out who I want to be and how I can become that person. To determine a new purpose for myself, building on the bedrock of my creative abilities as much as on my practical aptitudes.

Care to come along for the ride?