Saturday, 28 March 2015

I do still love you blog...

I hate it when I come in here and have to push my way through the massive spiderweb someone's built blocking the doorway. (Where did that come from? I'm sure I've never knit any spiders). Pardon me while I spit out some spiderwebs and brush them out of my hair and off my glasses. There may well be some dust bunnies breeding in the dark corners too but I get that. Bunnies do breed like bunnies and I've certainly knit enough of them over the years to have a substantial breeding colony of the things.

It looks like I may have been neglecting my little corner of cyberspace just a little. A tiny, incy weeny tad (or something). Let's just get a broom and a mop and bucket and clean up a little in here, why don't we? There, all neatly spick and span again.

Now, I really did come in here to show you things. (Actually I got pushed in...) I have been creating lots and lots and lots. I have one, no two, three, four (and possibly some more) new knitted finished objects to share with you. I've been so busy knitting and crocheting away (and working flat out, but let's not mention that) that I've forgot to give each happy little knitted object a chance to recount its journey and shine. They may have got a little bolshi on me demanding little creatures. So here I am to do their bidding.

Remember how back on New Year's Day my daughter and I dyed some beautiful yarn? With food colouring and tea and coffee and microwave?
She commissioned some elbow length cabled gauntlets. She settled on Lady Jane Grey's Gloves by Sarah Lady. These are elbow length with a plaited cable on the the top and shaped to fit the arm.

These were one of my first projects for February COM (Cast on Month). The idea is to cast on something new for every day of the month of February. I didn't quite make it but it was an awesome ride along the way. The first glove wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. I had to use 3.75 mm rather 3.5 mm as suggested in the pattern. (3.5 mm is not a standard size in Australia). The I misinterpreted the instructions for the placement of the thumb gusset and got to the top of the gusset before realizing I had to frog back about 18 rows and move it over to where the thumb is actually anatomically situated on the hand. I successfully completed to top of glove but then frogged back and re-knit the edging on 3.25 mm needles to make it fit tightly enough around Mel’s palm.
This is a free pattern and not for the faint-hearted novice. It is a little primitive in its writing style only detailing the cable section and describing where to place it. It requires some intuitive decisions that only come from years of experience. (That said, it is a lovely design).

I love how the colours spiral around this. It makes me happy just to look at it.
 The second mitt took only two days with no fuss and drama attached! I need to dye more yarn! it’s eleventy times more fun to knit with your own hand dyed yarn!
Pattern: Lady Jane Grey's Gloves by Sarah Lady
Needles: 3.25 and 3.75mm dpns
Yarn: Hand dyed aran weight machinewash wool.

The children staged a photo shoot for this in a local cafe complete with decadent iced coffee / chocolate beverage. Mel created a personalized unique manicure to highlight her gloves. (Some of my North American virtual knitting friends suggested that these are just the ultimate cosy mitts for winter coffee runs. The kids did the best to recreate this scenario in the middle of an Australian summer).

Saturday, 28 February 2015

#20swifteen

My eldest daughter has always been a dancer. Until she finished school, it was ballet and jazz. Then she moved to the big smoke for University and had to reluctantly give it up. Two years ago, she sort of stumbled into the dance side of cheer-leading. A cheer gym near where she was living advertised an open day with free dance classes. So along she went, eager to stretch out those under used dance muscles and got asked to audition for an Open Pom team. Why not, she thought? She made it through the audition and onto the team. Being somewhat of a novice to the world of cheer she had no idea at the rarefied levels the team she had joined was playing in initially. In her first year, she found herself at State and Australian championships and at the end of year being part of a team that had won a bid to compete in the World Cheer and Dance Championships  at Disney World in Florida in America in 2015.
Australian All Star Cheer Championships 2014: She's the one on the left.
Her University recognized her as an elite athlete. She currently juggling 4 or 5 days of training a week with hospital placements. (She's in her last year of Med school). She and her fellow Swifts are on the final countdown to #20swifteen - their giant World Championship adventure.

But of course a team off to the other side of the world needs a mascot to take on their adventures.So I got one of those bizarre knitting challenges I thrive on from my daughter and her squad of fellow cheerleaders. Could I make a slightly gangsta knitted swift mascot for her team?

I got some guidance in the form of this lovely photograph of a sketch from my daughter. (She's incredibly talented at lots of things but she'd be the first to tell you drawing is not one of  her strongest points).
And here's what I came up with. I've made little knitted birdies before. There's a little knitted parrot I made years ago kicking around my house that's just the right size to fit on a child's shoulder. It's played parrot to many an imaginary pirate. The knitted Harry Potter doll has it's own owl companion, Hedwig. I used the same basic body shape.
You can see the swift's little birdy feet here. They're made from bent paperclips wrapped in yarn and secured with hot glue.
The final finished swift is about 15 cm tall and 22 cm across from wing tip to wing tip.
This was just the prototype. It's hard creating something to exactly fit the brief when all the conversations around what is wanted take place by phone, email, and Facebook chat. The swift is a little small. Now I'm scaling up to about 40cm tall with a slightly less outspread wing arrangement. It will also be wearing baby size high-tops and a peaked cap and dog-tags... This little swift has gone off to live with my daughter in the meantime.
So "Go Swifts!" (You need to imagine this said in a cheer type way - complete with pom pom waving and a kick line).

Friday, 13 February 2015

Randomly on a Wednesday

Every so often you get the gift a day to stop and smell the metaphorical roses. I spent a pleasant Wednesday morning idly wandering the streets of Melbourne camera in hand with no plan and no agenda except to appreciate our beautiful city (and take some photos of the latest finished objects).

The city square was a riotous bloom of colours - all the trees were wearing sweaters. (Clearly the trees had figured out the only way to deal with Melbourne's non existent 2015 summer was to rug up). It was a grey and overcast day.



This is a bare sprinkling of the trees. All the ones along the footpath have also been done - must be about 20 to 25 trees in all.
This one is my favourite. All the texture and pattern.
This is the work of Yarn Corner who advertise themselves as one of the largest yarn-bombing groups in the world. They left their little business cards tied to the trees. It's not an unsanctioned installation but fully endorsed by the Melbourne City Council. I love that I live in a place where people allow you to cheer the world up like this. I went and hunted up Yarn Corner on the internet and may have just joined up to play in their next epic yarn-bomb madness. I also discovered that a couple of the people I know in real life contributed to this massive effort. For those of you wondering how you dress a very large tree in a sweater, there are cherry pickers involved apparently.

I just may have also hugged a tree or two....

I did take my camera and the most recent finished shawl and scarf to specifically take some finished object photos.I may have done my own little subversive bit to brighten people's days by temporarily yarn-bombing statues. After all Chinese Lions wear shawls and cute little punk dogs need a scarf to ward off the summer chill.


This was my favourite. This is on one of the busiest corners in the city. There are a trio of statues here - depicting typical commuters in the everyday rush. I wrapped this guy in a shawl, took my photos and patted him on the head and went on my way - all to the smiles of the passing city crowd.

Melbourne has amazing street art everywhere you turn. This is outside the State Library - a giant chunk that just looks like its randomly fallen off the building. I hope it liked its transient scarf  embellishment.
(And because I know there are those of you who are wondering. (Because I know my mother did). I didn't leave the scarf and shawl behind. It was temporary adornment for the purposes of photo taking only. There are too many knitting hours in these to just abandon them to fate. The scarf in particular in the last bit of of my giant scarf-ghan. It's sort of needed).

The highlight of my random Wednesday was the last bit. I was in the city with my youngest sister. She had to work for the morning but the afternoon we spent at the John Paul Gaultier exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. I was truthfully blown away. I had a little idea of what to expect - fantastic outfits on dummies of course. Maybe a cone bra or two - corsetry and costumes made for stage. But the sheer scope and scale of the imagination of Gaultier as a designer was eye opening and humbling.

The crafter in me marveled at the hours of handwork involved in bringing the genius vision to life (1600 hours for a life like hand beaded leopard skin anyone?) Photography was encouraged with signs everywhere urging patrons to snap and share on social media. I left the snapping to my sister except for a few garments to sang to my knitter's heart. (Try searching the hashtag #jpgngv on instagram for a taste of the 160+ garments in the exhibition)

My relevation of the day was that Jean Paul Gauliter is really a freeformer.

And he can take a classic fisherman's rib and aran and twist it so it dances across a catwalk.
We'll finish this with a little peak into one of Melbourne's ubiquitous laneways. This is Amplett lane named in honour of Chrissy Amplett from the Divinyls. The official street sign may still be in chalk but the artwork is striking.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Dealing with Knitting ADHD

I suffer a little bit from Knitter ADHD - also know as the Ooh, Shinny new thing! Syndrome. Now I know this about myself and so I know I need to restrain my impulses or I end up with no needles left to use, a million new cast-ons, piles of WIPs and UFOs cluttering up the house and nothing actually ever getting finished. For me, I find I need to periodically drop the needles, back off from the actual knitting and stock-take and plan. The beginning of a new year is a great time for this.

I did make some New Years Resolutions for 2015. (But they are mostly about my knitting and they are more in the light of challenges I have set myself. On a more personal reinvention to a healthier me note, I also gave up sugar in my tea. That's a real challenge!) I'm sharing them here with you as a form of self motivation and type of self shaming.... If I proclaim it to the world, I'm more likely to follow through aren't I?
All good efforts start with good planning…. I want 2015 to be as awesome a knitting year as 2014 was!
  1. Knit up the four jumper lots of yarn that are yelling to be done this year.
  2. Find and queue patterns for said jumper lots - One cable for me, one classic cardigan for the boy, a self designed kimono with an asymmetric front, and a self designed garter stitch jumper in a chunky boucle.
  3. Apply my free forming skills to the swatch collection - I’m thinking they become a basket.
  4. At least one pair of socks this year.
  5. Charity knitting that actually gets donated to charity - I tend to need to knit toys on a regular basis - also hats but hoard them.
  6. Put the practical bits of the stash on Ravelry - garment and accessory sized batches that are labelled.
  7. Buy and knit at least one dream pattern from the queue.
  8. Seriously cull the magazine collection - this is my current January summer holiday project… (I also like idea of a long term plan to knit a project from each book/ magazine I own!) Once done stick more of the library on Ravelry.
  9. Play along in the useful Rav activities that make me knit productively - COM (Cast on Month in Village Hopelessly Overcommitted) and regular WIP wrestling bouts as well as NaKniSweMo.
  10. Try to keep the ratio of Cast ons to WIPs completed at less than 1:1. Finish at least three long term WIPs in 2015.
This looks like a lot but I knit every day so a need a decently ambitious plan.

And I signed up to Cold Sheep (go a whole year without buying any yarn) after a small final fling in early January -  8 mixed balls of browns and greys to have enough to finish Granny wants a latte macchiato and one ball of variegated red for a charity project. And I walked past my favorite op-shop and a sweater weight quantity of delicious dark blue grey sport weight just asked me for a new home at a ridiculous price.
I really, really do have enough yarn to knit from for a whole year and not run out. I do!

I gave myself the following loopholes:
  1. Yarn to finish already started projects.
  2. Yarn for commissioned projects. (Though the other person can supply this).
  3. A free pass for Craft Shows and road trip yarns - but a serious budget limit to be applied here.
  4. Shopping my mother’s stash is always allowed.

I seriously did a list of the current UFOs and WIPs. Lists are good. I like lists:
I'm only including the stuff on Ravelry - There are a couple of very old UFOs that haven’t made it to Ravelry yet but they are not on the radar this year.

UFOs (I have to really go digging to unearth these. They are in deep storage. There are only eight though).
AK Traditions Doll
Dead Fox
Dickensian Mouse
Domino Shawl - has a chance at life soon - I know where it is at least….
Gentlemans sampler afghan - next long term knit afghan project - plan devised as part of January 2015 stocktake process.
Longitudinal - damn second sock syndrome.
Of mice and mushrooms - self designed cardigan suffering for a lack of yarn to completely execute plan. A lovely fellow Raveller is sending me 4 balls of yarn so I can execute the original plan….
Order of the Garter - what project? - this is yarn with a plan.
Welcome to the UFO cave

WIPs (Have received recent love. Not in the rotation at the moment though. Only five of these).
A headless bear - needs clothes
Fungus among us - Want to make more fungi and lichen. Have patterns ready.
Monochrome - freeform exploration piece. Being added too as inspiration strikes.
Pallina di natale - one down - lots more to make. Christmas baubles for my daughter’s tree. Little diversions that only take a day or so. The Christmas goat is next.
To tag an owl - Little crocheted owl tags /ornaments - want to make a few more out of the oddments. Planned small diversions.

Current WIPs (I’m not a monongamous knitter. Four at a time is pretty standard).
Anyone got Cable! - the scarf afghan - one scarf to go. Pattern and yarn picked - will be next new project on the needles this month.
Granny wants a latte macchiato - long term granny rug that has just been assembled so far and the crochet hook is out and I am making new squares. About 1/3 finished. It will be queen bed sized….
Pitted Olive - the current knitting project
Swatch buster - free form C/KAL for Jan / Feb 2015. Theme: Polar opposites. Aim: To cover my work tub with all those pesky swatches.

Queue (Burning a hole in my knitting basket waiting its turn)
Sunrise / sunset - We hand dyed the yarn, we have a plan. Next to the needles.

This is typical me. It's nearly the end of January and we're only just letting the plans out in public. The good thing about the delay is that I can report on the progress as well!

So far, I have:
  1. Added all the magazines and knitting books that I located to my Ravelry library. (And earmarked about 6 or 7 magazines for sale / trade) (Serious Progress on Resolution #8).
  2. Logged all the identifiable stash into Ravelry. (I took lots of photos of yarn...) (Resolution #6 done and dusted!!!)
  3. Joined a couple of new Stash busting / Finish a thing and Cold sheep groups on Ravelry. You need your support mechanisms and these types of groups are wonderful.
  4. Tried to fit plans to yarn - queued a few patterns, swatched a bit, etc... (This is the subject of next blogpost). (Resolution #2 seriously underway).
  5. Decided on a hastag for the year #Stashtosweater.
  6. Began wrestling those swatches into a recognizable project form. (Resolution #3 is source of great current enjoyment and knitting challenge).
Oh, and of course I have picked up the needles again I've been knitting up a storm.... (I love holidays)...

Friday, 16 January 2015

What I did in November - the final reveal

In November, I knitted and knitted and knitted some more and 27 days later I had a completed cardigan. It was all in response to NaKniSweMo - a challenge to knit a sweater of more than 50,000 stitches in November. (The acronym stands for National Knit a Sweater in a Month. Though it should more properly be international these days). It was inspired by NaWriNoMo (National Write a Novel of 50,000 words or more in November). The sweater tried to document the process and kept a diary which you can read here.

A sweater in a month? Why not? I’ve done it before. A sweater of 50,000 stitches plus in a month? Doable. When the month is November….? Now maybe, we’re pushing it. It’s marking month. I’m going on holidays at the end of the month. It’s late spring here in Australia and the weather is warming up. We’ve already had a few days over 30 degrees Celsius. And I have to finish my DFAD for the IFFF Fungus Among Us CKAL by the 18th. But what the hell, you never know till you try.

It’s time to knit something substantial for me. I’ve knitted both Mark and Mel a jumper this year. I’ve made me two shawls and a stole and a hat and some fingerless mitts (2 pairs). Must be time for a sweater (or more properly a cardigan). I’m not so much of a sweater girl but I do love me a good cardigan.
Rhodium has been on my radar / floating around the queue since I got a copy of The Knitter’s 70th issue. In fact, I pretty much want to make the whole platinum collection. I have three jumper lots of yarn for me just sitting around. This is going to be stash busting. I have some weird dirty cream / tan / latte coloured up-cycled yarn I got from the Lifeline Op shop for $5 for the whole bag. It’s a pure wool blend with little black threads and angora in it I suspect. I have 16 balls.

I swatched on the 31st October and washed and blocked the swatches on the first of November. The pattern calls for DK weight yarn on 3.25mm. I knitted swatches using both 3.25mm and 3.75mm of all three main stitches. The row gauges given in the pattern for the rib are weird - less rows over 10 cm for rib than reverse stockinette? I’m going to match the row gauge for the reverse stockinette as the bulk of the jumper is this and it only has rib bands.
I’ll count the stitches in a spreadsheet but a quick calculation based on gauge and the schematic is fine to meet the target of 50,000 stitches.
Pattern: Rhodium by Deborah Helmke from The Knitter Issue 70, The Platinum Collection
Needles: 3.75mm
Yarn: dirty cream / tan / latte coloured up-cycled yarn, pure wool blend with little black threads and angor, op-shop special
Total cost: $5
The family is ambivalent about this and an overall finished garment. They like the colour, praise the execution and the lace but really dislike the overall design. Long fronts and a short back look weird according to them. I love how deliciously snugly and warm this is. They just don't get modern design.
It took a while to get the finished modeled shots for this given I went on holidays as soon as I finished and it's been too hot to wear a winter weight cardigan. But finally courtesy of the non existent summer weather, we got the photo-shoot. Thanks to the boy for his awesome photography skills once again.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Mum, I need this!

In September I went to conference in Sydney. I took the head of the household and he holidayed while I worked and middle child, Melissa, minded house back home. On the last morning as I sitting savoring a cup of tea before the first session, I get a panicked phone call from Mel saying the gate to backyard had blown open in a storm and her hand reared extremely beloved pet chicken Pesto (+ the other chook) were missing. We discussed strategy for finding said chook and she went to work very agitated.

Later that same day whilst waiting for my flight at Sydney Airport, the head of household and I made extremely good use of free airport internet and had a long Facebook enabled conversation  with Melissa. She made her Dad tell her a nonsense story (an excruciatingly slow process when he is a two finger typist). He stirred her unmercifully about her poor chicken sitting skills and she peppered me with pictures of random knitted hats from Etsy with the plea - "Mum, I need this!" During her giant European tour earlier this year, she became a ‘hat’ person, returning with three tres chic felt numbers, a number of new knitted ones and an insatiable appetite for all things hat. When she got to this one, I immediately recognized it. I had the magazine (Knitscene Winter 2012) and it was one of the patterns that made me buy the magazine in the first place. So, I said sure. We debated colours and settled on cream with a mustard band - things I knew we’d be able to find without purchasing new yarn.

The chicken demonstrated immense homing chicken skills with Pesto back in the backyard when Mel got home from work. The other chicken (Nutty, short for Nutmeg) was never seen again.

When I arrived home, we shopped the stash and dug out this Cleckheaton Country naturals in cream and gold. I love Country Naturals - gorgeously soft to knit, it washes like a dream and has this delicious tweediness. I knitted her a hat that very weekend. We cuddled the chicken but it refused to divulge its adventures.
Pattern: Lucy by Carina Spencer from Knitscene, Winter 2012
Needles: 4mm (Those antique jumper length Aeros that I love so much again).
Yarn: Cleckheaton Country naturals 8ply in cream and gold.
Postscript: Unfortunately in mid November, Pesto had her last adventure. Something feral that really wanted a chicken dinner dug a hole under our fence and we awoke to a yard full of feathers and no chicken. We miss Pesto, the chook who loved a selfie, ate chips and bacon rind from your hand, helped me hang the washing by stealing clothes and pegs and occasionally flew onto the washing line but required help to get down and lived to terrorise the cat. You were the best pet chicken a family could have.
An appropriate last picture to be taken of Pesto... She did love selfies. Rest in peace chicken puppy.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Dyeing the sunset: a photo tutorial for dyeing yarn with food coloring

One of my New Years Resolutions is to learn to dye yarn. So what a better time to dye some yarn than New Year's Day? Messy stuff and holidays go together.

The wonderful font of information that is the internet tells me that the easiest way to dye stuff involves vinegar, food colouring and a microwave. It's so easy that other people even let children participate. I used little bits and pieces of several sets of instructions from blogs and wool manufacturers to get this to work. (I also enlisted the help of my 21 year old child)....

Materials and tools:
  • Yarn - needs to be 100% natural animal fibre for best results, e.g. wool, alpaca, mohair, angora, cashmere. Acrylic and cotton need different techniques.
  • White vinegar
  • Food coloring
  • Towels, paper towels, old rags, etc... to protect your bench tops from looking like a rainbow.
  • Cling film / plastic wrap
  • Microwave oven
  • Rubber gloves (after all you don't want to dye your hands the color of the rainbow) and an apron if you are a habitually messy cook. The good thing about food coloring is that it does wash out / clean up reasonably well if there are spills.

Step 1:
Skein up your yarn. I used three balls of aran weight beige / fawnish up-cycled yarn from unraveled jumpers that came from an op shop / charity store / thrift store. For greatest success natural animal fibre is recommended, such as wool, alpaca, angora, etc... This is wool. (And even better it was cheap and I could afford to destroy it potentially if it all went horribly wrong).
I wrapped the yarn around the back of a kitchen chair and tied it off  in four places fairly loosely.

Step 2:
Mordant your yarn. A mordant is a substance, typically an inorganic oxide, that combines with a dye or stain and fixes it in a material. This step is essentially preparing the yarn to accept and hold dye. The simplest mordant is vinegar. (Note: This works if you are using food colouring as the dye. If you are using plant based dyes such as onion skins, you need a chemical mordant).
Use equal parts of warm water and white household vinegar soak your yarn thoroughly. (For my skein it was two cups of white vinegar to two cups of warm water). Leave it long enough to soak through properly; at least an hour at minimum but it could be as long as overnight.

Step 3:
Set up for dyeing. Remove the skein from the vinegar solution and wring out gently and pat dry. The yarn should be damp but not dripping. I've covered my kitchen bench with an old towel and then laid a sheet of cling film / plastic wrap on top of this. Then arrange the skein on top of this reasonably spread out and without any major twists and tangles.

Step 4:
Dye the yarn all the pretty colours. This is the fun creative bit. We used yellow and red food coloring as well as very strong black coffee and a mixed berry fruit based tea infusion. I would fondly refer to this as kitchen cupboard dying. The coffee and tea were an experiment that didn't really work out as well as the food coloring. They didn't provide the intensity of color of the food coloring and didn't set and stay as strongly in the finished yarn.

Squirt / dribble the food coloring  on the yarn in  the pattern of your choice. We've gone for short bands of color here. Mix up specific colors first if you want. There is some orange and purplish red in here as well.  We were going for sunset / sunrise colors.

Massage the color well into the yarn. Wear rubber gloves unless you want weird and wonderfully colored hands. You can color the whole skein or leave some gaps  of the original yarn color as we did. This takes more food color than you might anticipate. Our one skein used two small half bottles of food coloring, a small cup of strong coffee and about 50 ml of very strong fruit tea infusion. We could definitely have done with more food coloring.

Step 5:
Micronuke the hell out it. Wrap the yarn firmly in the cling film / plastic wrap to make a giant sausage shape. Place in a glass casserole dish or on a microwave proof plate and microwave on your microwave's highest setting. Remove yarn from the microwave and allow to cool. Do not unwrap the yarn. It should look like it does below with condensation on the inside of the plastic film.
Looks kind of like some bizarre sausage....
Once cool, place the yarn back in the microwave for another 5 minutes. Remove from microwave and allow to cool. Remove and discard the plastic wrap.


Step 6:
Rinse the yarn thoroughly under warm water until the water runs clear. It was at this stage that I realized the coffee and tea hadn't worked as well as I would have like as they rinsed out a lot. (I suspect that they need a chemical mordant as they are essentially plant based dyes). The food coloring held very well.

Drape the yarn to dry in place out of the sun. Mine is on the drying rack in the lounge room.


Step 7:
Photograph the pretty yarn from all its best angles. Once its totally dry make a cool twisted skein or roll into into balls or cakes.
Swatch and see how it knits up. Then plan a pretty project. (This is going to be cabled armwarmers and a matching hat).
One successful New Year's resolution.