Saturday, 30 April 2016

Spreading rainbow joy

So randomly one Wednesday in February last year I got a day to just wander the city and enjoy the delights of Melbourne. I love Melbourne. It has a beautiful European vibe, quirky laneways with amazing graffiti and a food and coffee culture the envy of the rest of Australia.

I wondered passed the City Square and was transfixed with the yarn covered trees. Bright and colourful rainbow yarn bombed trees. I may have hugged a few and definitely patted the knitted one admiringly. I couldn't help but smile.
This is my favourite. Perhaps it's because it's knitted or maybe it's the cleverness of the arrangement of the strips around the tree.
Whilst I was communing with the trees I discovered the Yarn Corner business card tied to each tree. I snaffled one, took it home and looked them up. Next thing I know, I'm a signed up member thinking I have the skills to do this and with a burning ambition to tackle a City Square tree next year.

As soon as the sign-ups were open I put my hand up for a tree. I spent the next few months knitting sporadically on a nearly three metre long tree blankie.
The rules were rainbow stripes using only the traditional rainbow colours. So I decided knitted chevrons were the go and hunted for free knitted chevron blanket patterns on Ravelry. The kids argued for a single rainbow from the bottom of the tree in purple to red at the top. (This turned out to be a really inspired choice on their behalf as it made for a unique and eye catching tree).

Pattern: Loosely based on Chevron Colour-Block Blanket by Espace Tricot - a free pattern
Needles: 5 mm
Yarn: What can I say? I worked my way through my stash. There is now no purple left... And not a lot of orange or yellow...

Install day arrived and the boy and I caught the red eye train (which turned out to actually be a bus) to the big city. We were all prepared with yarn, sewing needles, scissors, mega safely  pins, our hi-vis vests and of course a giant knitted rainbow in a bag as well as a camera ready to document the behind the scenes magic of the installation process.

And then it rained. In fact it sort of slightly poured. (The weather totally disrespected the fact that it was sill late in January and high Summer). It threw a giant spanner in the works. The central area of the City Square is sand covered and the scissor lifts needed to install the yarn bombs on the upper sections of the trees couldn't get near the trees as they would have got bogged in the mush. It was still possible to do the trees along the edge of the footpaths. So we dodged the showers - mostly.

With advice from the veteran and experienced yarn bombers we pinned our piece to its tree. The boy demonstrated that he too could sew and we stitched up as far as we could reach from the ground.

I got to go up in a scissor lift and attach the top section. Despite me worrying that the piece I'd made was going to be too long, it was exactly perfect anchoring nicely around a branch at the top.

It was a little bit wet up there though...

The boy got sort of adopted and is now a signed up member of Yarn Corner ready to contribute his skills in sewing, basic knitting and photography.

I met a lovely bunch of people all of whom have a passion for knitting, crochet and community. I got to watch random strangers smile and pat my tree. One small child even hugged it.
I followed the adventures of my tree in downtown Melbourne for the next few months on social media particularly instagram until I reluctantly helped it disrobe in the middle of March.

I may have even hugged my tree myself.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Fine Lines

About the time I began writing this blog (about 6 years or so ago) my children decided that handmade knitwear was actually something you could wear, be seen in public with, acknowledge to all and sundry that 'Yes, it was in fact hand-knitted and my Mum made it for me' and be proud of it. Only a fellow knitter understands the myriad proud feelings that come with your teenage / young adult children arriving at this realisation. We started slowly with accessories and gently progressed to whole garments.

Since then I've made the boy a handmade jumper, a scarf and five hats (as well as a knitted stuffed deer head for the Boy Cave). That reminds me, I've made three of these hats fairly recently. Stay tuned for a hat blog post featuring the boy wearing hats! He also has a queue of matched yarn and jumper / cardigan patterns waiting for me to get around to knitting them.
Not so Little Boy Blue and wearing Graeme the hat!

Examination in brioche
The middle daughter Mel (The Fanciful Fungirl) still lives at home and so is in a prime position for subtle nagging and tempting suggestions of what she really needs knit for her next. Her tally so far is two berets, three beanies, a knitted cloche hat, two pairs of fingerless gloves and two jumpers (and a knitted cover for her tablet computer complete with bumble bees). She also tends to bring out my design instincts, commissioning unique hand knitted pieces.
Funky Chunky
Cables of Europe
Sunrise / Sunset using hand dyed yarn
The eldest Doctor daughter has sadly missed out on her fair share of the knitted bounty to a certain extent. Oh, I've knitted her three berets and a slouchy hat but that is it... (The fact that she knits herself does contribute to this a bit. She made her own intricately cabled cover for her laptop and a lovely seed stitch cowl and last time she was home snaffled some knitting needles and raided the stash for squishy wool  to make some more accessories and cushion covers).
Selbu Modern
Slow Flurry on me, the daughter wearing her own hand knitted seed stitch cowl

She hasn't yet got a hand knit jumper and I decided in November it was time to remedy that. After all November is NaKniSweMo - National Knit a Sweater (of more than 50,000 stitches) Month. This time my needles were going to be dedicated to making a jumper for the Doctor daughter.

Making a jumper for an adult with their own distinct personal style is a process of research and negotiation. We began with looking at the European runway fashion for knitwear for the upcoming Winter season. Brioche, rib, cables and fair-isle (often in monochrome colourways) were the common knitwear themes. Oh and fringes!! Let's not go there, ever! She sent me photos of jumpers she had found in the shops that she had debated buying. It looked like something in a defined rib with shaping flaring out towards the bottom was on the top of her list. The colour choice was easy - grey. We often joke until fairly recently my daughter's entire wardrobe was shades of grey punctuated with black exercise wear and the odd other neutral (cream, white, denim and occasionally mushroom).

A knitted jumper is a big commitment and if done right out of good quality yarn should last for 20 or more years. So what ever we made should be classic enough not to go out of style too quickly. But it needed a modern edge. The jumper we eventually chose is classic fisherman's rib but with very modern lines and shaping - Fisherman Redux.

Pattern: Fisherman Redux by Vera Sanon
Needles: 3.75 mm and 4.5 mm 
Yarn: Bendigo Woollen Mills Stellar 8 Ply, Colourway 105 Shell - 4 by 200 g balls. This is a wool and bamboo blend with a lovely soft drape and lustre.

So we tried to knit this in November... I ordered yarn 1st November as I didn’t have anything suitable in the stash. (Thank Bob for online mail order). I did swatch with some op shop yarn but the texture didn’t do the pattern justice. The yarn arrived Thursday 5th November - swatched to make sure that my gauge was spot on. It was! And then I cast on on Friday night 6th November. I worked up the band - around 1000 stitches and then realized I had started the 1 by 1 rib on a knit and it needed to be a purl. Teach me to think know what I’m doing without carefully reading the pattern…. So I ripped it all out again and followed the pattern instructions for 1 by 1 rib. Only 4 rows and 255 sts on day 1. Saturday 7th November was move the boy home form Geelong at the end of the Uni year - lots of scope for car knitting.

And this is about where real life commitments and November NaKniSweMo knitting plans crashed into each other head on and the knitting plans got stream-rolled by marking, exams and admin plus a major assessment piece for my own study into a twisted smoking wreck. Oh, I tried. I finished the front, back, neck edging and part of a sleeve in November. I started counting stitches and got to over 30,000 for the back and front alone. This is definitely a +50,000 stitches garment.

I’d also like to give a special shout out to Hazel, the 30+ kilo 8 month old puppy with a penchant for yarn and stealth sneak stealing of knitting. I love you for the almost half a front I had to frog and re-knit twice after you took my knitting for a few runs around the backyard. It is really difficult (read this as impossible) to pick up a well dropped stitch in Fisherman's rib!!
I finished this in the post Christmas relaxing period. (I often find this is a really productive time for me knit wise. I like to finish the year with a cleanish slate and I have time to laze and watch the Boxing Day test on TV and let the needles fly away).

This is a knitting success story. It fits Doctor daughter perfectly. She loves it (except for a minor quibble about the width of the sleeves - they’re a little wide for her taste) and I love the sleek modern shaping. The yarn has a gorgeous shine and sheen and is crisp enough to show off the rib to perfection. It looked great even before blocking and amazing after.
Is that really rain - on my new jumper?
So what do you want me to knit for you next, Doctor daughter? (And thanks for playing photo shoot too early one Sunday morning in the rainy city after you'd just finished a full on night shift!)

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Taylor the Swift

I've long debated on this blog post as I don't really have enough photos of the finished object serving in its intended purpose. But then I think, hey I created a mascot for a Pom team that went to Disney World and the World Cheer and Dance Championships and I'm damn proud of that (as well as being exceptionally proud of my daughter and her team)! So blog I will... (And it is almost exactly a year since the event this mascot was made for took place so it's certainly high time).

The knitting challenge I received from my eldest daughter: Make a mascot to mark the center of the stage for her team’s Pom performance at the 2015 Cheer and Dance World Championships in April at Disney World in Florida. Her team are the Swifts. She did send me a rough sketch for colours and an idea of the size.
So I first made this little guy as a prototype. You can read more about him (and see more photos) in his own blog post: #20swiftteen. He is gorgeous and I'm happy with how he turned out  be he was but not quite what they were looking for. (Don't worry, this little swift is not a poor homeless birdy. He was quickly snapped up by Coach Casey)

Cue a modified sketch. They added a hat, hightops and dog tags - a little more gansta swift. It also needed to be larger - about 30 cm high.

It all began with these cute little crocheted hightops. This is the only pattern I used in creating Taylor. It's from a Mollie Makes magazine - a Christmas special I think. I'm proud of these as crochet is very much my secondary craft skill. I also learnt surface crochet to do the black line embellishments. They are green as that is MCA (Melbourne Cheer Academy) and hence the Swifts colours. I edged these with black and white striped ribbon, used real black shoe laces, stuffed them firmly and glued them to the base of the body.
I knitted the body and chest piece, head, wings and under wings, beak and tail separately flat on two needles, seamed them and stuffed the body and head and then attached the wings, tail and beak. The tail helps with the overall balance so Taylor stands properly. The eyes are toy safety eyes and she has real false eyelashes glued on. After embroidering the black line on her beak we added lipstick as clearly she needed her full stage make-up to compete. The boy donated the dog tags and we found a short  black chain.
The hat is sewn. The front and brim are made from black velvet and the back from acetate mesh. I'm not entirely happy with the shape of this as it doesn't stand up as vertically as it should in the front. Pattern drafting is definitely something I could sharpen my skills in. In hindsight, I should have stuffed  the hat before attaching it to help it maintain its shape. The hat is glued to the head and the 15 on the front is iron-on crystal numbers.

Here she is already to help the Swifts train to World Championship Domination.
I got to see my mascot proudly marking the center of the stage at the final rehearsal before the girls went overseas.

It was the trip of a lifetime if a little more drama filled than one would want. That's my daughter right at the front in their first team photo at Disney World. She spectacularly injured her ankle in rehearsals three days before comp and didn't get to compete on stage with the the rest of the team in the preliminary rounds. But massive applications of ice and some heavy duty strapping plus an extreme unwillingness to come this far and not compete, saw her take the stage for the finals.
Check that ankle strapping!
MCA (My daughter's cheer academy) made a little YouTube miniseries of the Swifts Road to Worlds. This is the final episode showing their performance in the finals. They finished in the top 20 in the World. Not bad for a team from Down Under where cheer has nowhere near the massive profile or funding that it has in the US. (These athletes are all amateurs with full time jobs or study commitments not semi-professional).

I'm not entirely sure what happened to Taylor. I haven't seen her since she disappeared into a bag for her trip to Florida and Disney World. Maybe she's an illegal immigrant haunting Disney World and the cheer hall at ESPN representing her little heart out forever. Go Swifts!!!

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cold Feet in Summer

January 2015 seems to have been a month of odd urges for instant knitting gratification for me. So, when I was cleaning up the massive magazine collection and found these, I knew I had to make slippers in the height of Summer! (Actually really Summer has been a bit of failure this year - a bit heavy on the rain and cool temperatures - not enough sunshine. Slippers in the middle of summer is not really that weird this year).

I have to admit it was partially the colour combination that attracted me to this pattern so I went stash diving for blue and brown. The brown tweed is leftovers from the boy's Graeme Street Slouch and the blue is my last two balls from my pi shawl Smoked Camp pi. They look cool together (more than cool in fact) and are on the thin side for DK so not too hard to work double.
I had a major issue when I got to inserting the waste yarn for the opening for the cuff. It seemed to be in the wrong place. A little voice in my head said, if you put the hole there, it stuffs up how the toe lies. Did I listen to the little voice? Not really! (I never do and always regret it later!) I did check my working from the pattern and was happy I’d followed it correctly. So I did the hat heel (Cool idea that) and completed the cuff and tried the slipper on and it fits and it’s gorgeous and the toe is all screwed up and twisted around and my knitter OCD is engaged big time. I had to frog it (or partially frog it) once I figured out where the stuff up was.

The best way to figure it out? Knit the second one! So I cast on for the tab for the toe, and followed the pattern, increasing around according to the pattern. And then it hit me. I KNEW WHERE I HAD MADE MY MISTAKE on the first slipper. Yes, right at the beginning! I was a silly, over-confident, I’m an experienced knitter and I don’t need to use a stitch marker kind of mistake! In the first knit round without shaping, I’d assumed the yarn tail was the beginning of the round (AND IT WASN’T). So all the shaping from that point was out of alignment and we all know where that little error ended up… So Slipper one got  frogged and reknit…

Slipper two was a walk in the park except for some yarn chicken at the end of the cuff. I ended up with about 1 m of the blue left at the end.

The re-knit of slipper one also went smoothly. (Except I had to use that little bit of blue yarn to complete the heel). The cast off is perhaps a little tight due to a spot of yarn chicken again but I’m really happy with the finished product. This was in fact  a fun enough pattern to knit three times. (No second sock syndrome here!)
Toasting my toes in front of the heater. this is not even a posed shot. It was cold enough to have the heater on.
Pattern: Selfoss Slippers by Rosee Woodland
Needles: 3.25 mm and 4 mm dpns
Yarn: Blue grey wool blend and reddish brown tweed upcycled from op shop.

Even after all that I was still feeling some socks but am easing into it by working them at DK weight on big needles. These could also double as slipper socks. This is another pattern that called out to me as I was attempting to tidy, catalogue and potentially cull the magazine collection.... I love Scandinavian type colourwork and the star is such an iconic motif.
These socks had a false start. I did the measuring and dithered between the medium and large sizes. I initially cast on the large size, knitted the band and nearly 30 rows of the colourwork and then tried the leg on. It was WAYYYY too large. (Part of this was probably due to the fact that I was using 3.75mm rather than 3.5mm needles - we don’t have 3.5 mm as a standard size in Australia.). So I frogged it and cast on a medium size instead. This is an addictive colourwork pattern of the" Just one more row" type thing….. (Made redoing the leg again a relatively fun process).

Day one saw the leg colourwork finished. Day two I turned the heel (with tea and breakfast) and finished off the foot (31 rows of colourwork) and the toe. The heel shaping is somewhat different to the Dutch heel I’m used to but fits nicely. The pattern called for decreasing down to eight stitches for the toe and running a gathering thread through similar to fastening off a hat. I decreased down to the eight stitches as suggested but used Kitchener stitch instead (Once I found some instructions to refresh my memory on the sequence). This is tidier but these socks still suffer from pointy toe syndrome.

These are quite a good fit on me. The leg deals nicely with my solid calves and puffy ankle. (Why is it when you are recovering from a damaged ankle, you twist it again just as it is nearly better?) So two days = 1 sock…

I decided I'd better cast on sock two straight away… (Avoid second sock syndrome at all cost). Second socks are always better. You’ve ironed the kinks out on the first one. The only hiccup on the second sock was running out of the cream yarn and having to stash dive scraps to finish the sock.
Pattern: Nordic Star by Eline Oftedal
Needles: 3.75 mm dpns
Yarn:  Panda machinewash 8 ply crepe in cream and blue grey machinewash upcycled from the op shop.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A little bit Chanel

I want to let you in on a little secret of mine. I actually like sewing in ends and sewing up garments. I find it sort of meditative. There's something so satisfying about taking separate pieces and producing a wearable garment.
I often work in cars. If I'm not driving, I tend to need distraction so that I am not the world's worst back seat driver. (I hate other people driving my car but seeing as all my children are old enough to drive, I occasionally have to grit my teeth especially when playing in their neck of the woods. Apparently I drive too country to be allowed to play in the city).
So this is a sunny Saturday afternoon heading for a lovely lunch in down town Mornington. I had my camera with me and the boy decided to capture my delight with my handiwork.
"But what are you sewing up?" I hear you ask. Well this is Graphic Grays, another of my stash to sweater efforts in 2015.

Pattern: #12 Graphic Jacket by Jacqueline van Dillen from Designer Knitting Early Winter 2013.
Needles: 4.5 mm
Yarn: 8 ply Blue grey machinewash bought from op-shop (8.5 balls) and Moda Vera Pure Wool 8ply shade 44 Dark Gray (10 skeins). 
My daughter Melissa went on a giant trip through Europe at the end of 2013. This was part of the Christmas present she bought home for me - Italian and European knitting magazines.  (Best present ever!) This pattern just sang to me - classic, elegant, a little Chanel-like and could double as a jacket / blazer. As a University lecturer, I do have a job that often calls for corporate suiting but I loathe actually wearing a conventional blazer. It feels too restrictive across my back, shoulders and upper arms. To me wearing a blazer / suit jacket is like wearing a straight jacket. I have the same sort of aversion to traditional shirts. This is a nice compromise. I have the world's largest collection of cardigans but this one will take the style formality up that little notch.

Now I don't really have worsted weight yarn in the stash. I wanted to knit this in DK (Australian 8 ply) so swatching was absolutely necessary. Strangely enough, I got gauge first time with the suggested needles (4.5 mm).
Isn't it a pretty swatch? You can really see the pattern properly here.
This was gorgeously addictive colour work. Proper traditional fairisle with only two colours per row, short colour repeats so no long floats to weave in and a easily memorised pattern.
The piece at the front shows the pattern 'in the knitting stage' so to speak. The underneath piece is blocked
Even though this was quick to knit, it was slow to finish. I swatched in January, cast on the sleeves in February, knitted the backs and fronts through the Aussie winter, sewed it up in August and officially finished in October (sewing on the buttons) but didn't get shots of me wearing it till a ridiculously hot day in December!

Let's blame it on the buttons shall we? They were a saga in themselves. The pattern called for self cover knitted buttons. Our local haberdashery has moved to a town a half an hour away so things like this require a planned shopping trip. I couldn't get the size of self cover button I wanted and so compromised on the next size up. Then I got them home and tried to assemble the first button and they were defective. They were missing the little gripped / spiked edge to hold the fabric and the fronts and backs didn't clip together and hold. So it took me a month to make the trip to return them and I couldn't get any self cover buttons that time. (They had been recalled because they were defective - strange that?). So I left with a  refund but no buttons. Finally about 6 weeks later, I had to get a poster printed for an academic conference and had an hour to kill and finally bought some appropriate buttons. It was late September by this time). I did sew the buttons on as soon as I got back from the conference though!

I'd actually worn the jacket without buttons a few times. I'm now looking forward to getting a lot of chances to wear this next winter.
This is the photo that made me realise I really needed a haircut as it's all flyaway again.
Thanks once again to my boy. He may not wash dishes or do housework without a running commentary on the unfairness of life but he has peculiar knack of (a) taking a good photo of me and (b) making the knitwear shine. (I love you Mark!)