Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Woolly Plans

I had a lovely time at Bicester Wools yesterday, choosing yarn for some of the many designs I've got in my head at the moment. This year I'm trying to only work three days a week - Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So far it's going well, although it's a bit strange not to be working all the time, especially in the evenings.

I do seem to have got my enthusiasm for designing back though; I've got masses of new ideas and am desperate to get to work on them. Which brings me back to my yarn shopping.

This is a selection of what I bought. The red at the back is destined to be turned into two related but not-quite-the-same mitten patterns. The brown is some more Stylecraft Special DK which, with a few other colours, will be some slip stitch legwarmers. Yes, I know it's not the 1980s, although I was very keen on legwarmers back then ... 

The variegated blue and green is a big ball of DK weight sock yarn as I thought I would work out a pattern for some thicker socks. It's freezing here as I type (even with a cat sprawled across my lap) so these seem like a good idea.

So that leaves me with two more lots of yarn. First of all, that cream at the back ... I know it doesn't look very exciting but it feels great. It's Rowan Wool Cotton which is 50% wool and 50% cotton (just in case you didn't guess from the name). The bad news is that Rowan have discontinued this yarn, the good news is that it's in the sale at Bicester Wools so I bought eight balls. Want to see what I'm going to knit with it?

Ever since I found a copy of Mary Thomas's Book of Knitting Patterns in a secondhand bookshop on a wet day in the Lake District about thirty or more years ago, I've been fascinated by the Garden Plot Square in the chapter on Medallion Knitting.

It's a traditional leaf square, knitted in fine white cotton in the 19th century and used to make a blanket or counterpane. I always thought that, one day, I'd knit a blanket like this. What with my new 'only working three days a week' thing, I found myself with a free afternoon last week so I rooted out some old cream cotton (I don't knit with white ... or black, come to that) and had a go.

Guess what? It's huge. I was using 4 ply yarn and the square came out at about 10" which, given that you'd need four to make a block, would make each block 20". I suspect that the original knitter would have used much finer cotton than mine but I didn't really want to go any thinner than my 4 ply. 

So, I decided to design my own leaf square, inspired by this one but smaller. I also changed the shaping as I didn't like the holes you got from increasing with a  yarn over at the start of rows. This is what I came up with.

That's the square knitted from the original pattern on the left and my version on the right. I've kept the leaf, albeit a bit smaller, and the welts on the first half of the square but replaced the leaves in the centre with a panel of moss stitch.  I did want to include some more motifs though so I put in a section of bells, adapted from the stitch pattern in the same Mary Thomas book. My eyelet welts at the end are again an echo of the original, just with a bit more spacing between them. My square is about 6" so four sewn together will be 12". I'm planning to knit a small blanket, four squares wide and six squares long and then add some sort of border. I'll see if  I can find the inspiration for that in the book too. 

I may make a few more changes once I start knitting with the new yarn but I'm looking forward to making a start on this. 

The rest of the yarn in the basket (the pink, blue, yellow and cream) is going to be used with some other colours of Sirdar Country Style DK that I've already got. This is a lovely yarn and I've been using it for years but recently I've become disappointed with the range of colours. Nearly all my favourites have been discontinued and what's left is rather subdued and uninspiring. 

Anyway, this is what I'm using eight of my shades of Country Style for ...

I know, crochet circles in pretty colours - so what's new? Well, if  you look closely, you'll see a ring of tiny holes on each circle; they show up on the yellow one. Those holes are there so that you can turn plain circles into something much more exciting.

Aren't they good? I've been so excited about this idea and couldn't wait to put it into practice. Many late nights (and a lot of graph paper) later, I came up with eight different designs to embroider or weave on to the circles. It's a combination of both really, mostly embroidery but you do have to do a bit of weaving to make the patterns look continuous.

I'm going to turn some into decorations and join others together to make a wall hanging or maybe a table runner. I wouldn't actually want anyone spilling tea on them though so maybe the wall's the best place for them.

And yes, in case  you're thinking those patterns remind you of something, I did have one of the original Spirograph sets as a child in the 1960s and I loved it. I've just bought myself a new set to play with; there are so many lovely pens to use with it now and they don't make holes in the paper like the old biros used to. 

That's about it for now. If you're in the area, Bicester Wools has lots of reduced yarn and some really nice fabric in the sale too so do go and have a look. I bought some more fat quarters to make bags with. Which reminds me, I really must write up that pattern ...

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Secret Crafts

Happy New Year everyone. I hope that 2018 turns out to be a peaceful one for you all, full of yarn and other good things.

Now that all the presents have been unwrapped, I can share with you some of the things I made for other people last year. Every year I promise myself I'll make more of the presents I give and every year I run out of time. Having said that, I did quite well in 2017 as you'll see.

I've been weaving on and off for a few years now (more off than on if I'm honest). My loom is an 12" Ashford Knitters Loom  which is a small rigid heddle loom that folds up and can be stored in its own bag. I do hanker after a wider loom - perhaps a 24" Kromski Harp - but for the moment I'm happy with what I've got.

Anyway, I had a bit of a phase of weaving towards the end of last year and wove three scarves for presents.

The pink and green one was woven with a ball of variegated sock yarn and the other one used three shades of Stylecraft Carnival Chunky. For this one I used each of the three colours in turn, both in the warp and weft, which gave a nice tweedy effect I think.

The scarf I'm most pleased with though was the one I wove for my son's birthday in November. He loves bright colours so I decided to warp the loom with lots of rainbow shades. These are all odds and ends of Sirdar Country Style DK, one of the yarns I use a lot in my designs.

How's that for a colourful warp? I didn't want to swamp all that colour when I started weaving so I chose a thinner sock yarn (about 400 m / 100 g) for the weft in charcoal grey. That meant that the colours still dominate the scarf, with the grey just holding it all together.

I really enjoyed weaving this one, even if that thin warp made any missed threads very obvious (there was a fair bit of un-weaving when I got tired). Here's the finished scarf in all its glory ...

I particularly like the colourful twisted fringe. My son was very pleased with his scarf and wears it all the time.

I made two more scarves as presents (and yes, people do sometimes get presents that aren't scarves). These were crocheted with double ended Tunisian crochet hooks. I've talked about this technique before and I'm still very excited by its potential. Scarves with a different colour on each side!

This one was made with aran weight yarns and the other one was two shades of Rico Creative Melange DK which I think worked especially well together.

This scarf was for my brother. he wore it throughout Christmas and may even be wearing it to bed for all I know. I haven't liked to ask.

One more Tunisian Crochet present, this time using a normal hook. I made this case for my daughter's mini iPad using three colours of the same yarn as my brother's scarf. 

This only took an evening or two to make and is a bit more secure than the sleeve she had for the iPad before. In case you're wondering, yes I did knit a few presents too (socks and gloves) but I haven't got photos of those.

I also made a few of my reversible tote bags, including these two. A friend gave me a bundle of Christmas fat quarters earlier in the year so I turned them into bags.

I'd been wanting to work out a pattern for a smaller version of my tote bag for a while now, one that could be made from two fat quarters of fabric, so this was an ideal opportunity. They turned out a decent size - 10" tall, 9" wide and 3" deep - plenty big enough for your latest knitting project. I'm planning to turn them into a proper pattern so look out for that here.

I really enjoyed making all these presents so I'm hoping to do something similar again this year. Not scarves though, I think I need to branch out a bit.

Before I go, a quick reminder that my 2018 Frankie's Blankie KAL has started on Ravelry. I published the first pattern yesterday, the rest will follow weekly throughout the year. There's lots of chat about it on my Ravelry group and you can buy the yarn from Wool Warehouse. They're very quick at sending out orders and you can get a 10% discount by quoting the code FRANKIE10 so what are you waiting for? Come and join in the fun.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Christmas is ...

... a time for giving

Christmas 1966

... a time for decorations

... sometimes a time for snow


... and always a time for family

In the middle of all the last minute preparations I try to pause to remember Christmases past and to look to the future. At this time of year I always think about my first Christmas as a single parent with a five year old and a toddler and I make a donation to Gingerbread, the charity that supports single parent families. Back in the early 1990s single parent families were still seen as 'not proper families' and I think that, all to often, this is still the case. 

So, to all those celebrating Christmas on your own with children this year, I wish you a very Merry Christmas ... oh and try to take some pictures. It took me ages to find one with both children in (and sitting still).

My apologies to those in the above pictures but it's a Christmas tradition to embarrass your nearest and dearest with old photos. And in case you're wondering, that's me with my new doll's house and also in the snow.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017


I've been playing around with crochet puff stitches recently (as you do) and I came up with this little flower pincushion.

Now it's quite nice but the bit I really enjoyed was the domed top with all those puff stitches. So I dived into my pile of Stylecraft Special DK and pulled out some rainbow colours (I know, I'm so predictable) and came up with this ...

It's a rainbow puffball, isn't it nice? The trickiest part was working out how to join the two halves invisibly; in the end just sewing them together with a sort of mattress stitch did the trick. 

There are seven rounds in each puffball, one for each colour of the rainbow so, naturally, I got a bit carried away and made seven of them, starting each one with a different colour.

Each ball is about 5 cm in diameter so they're just the right size for babies or for juggling. Or ... you could crochet a hanging cord and use them as Christmas baubles. Tolly cat finds they'r just right for practising his pawball skills. He's getting quite good at that, although what looks like clever tricks may just be him getting his claws caught in the ball.

As ever, you can download the free pattern from my Ravelry page. There's still time to make one or two (or seven) for Christmas.

Let me know if you'd like me to turn the pincushion into a pattern too.

Friday, 1 December 2017

A Year of Mini Quilts

Today sees the publication of the last pattern in my 2017 series of mini knitted quilts. It all began back on January 1st with this little snowman ...

January Quilt

... and then carried on each month. In the season of April showers there was little girl ...

April Quilt

... and the start of the school year was marked with this one ...

September Quilt

Each little quilt is about the size of a postcard and you can hang them up or incorporate them into other projects. There are some lovely calendar blankets in the pipeline which I'm looking forward to seeing. Maybe I'll be able to share some photos of them here next year.

So, I felt December's quilt should have a Christmas theme but I didn't want to do yet another Christmas Tree pattern (I've done more than my fair share of those). In the end I took my inspiration from old-fashioned tree baubles and came up with this ...

December Quilt

I'm particularly fond of the one with the sunburst embroidery.  All twelve of the mini quilt patterns are free to download on Ravelry. As ever, if you like them, do think about donating to the charity I support, The Children's Liver Disease Foundation through my fundraising page. I know a lot of people donate to charity at this time of year so I hope you'll help me raise even more money for this very worthwhile cause - over £16,000 and counting so far!

My little quilts have been hanging in turn from the handle on my bread bin all year ... which has been a bit awkward every time I want to get at the bread. I should really choose a more practical place for next year.

As well as knitting a little quilt each month this year, I've also been making matching fabric quilts and sending them to my daughter. I think she had to wait a week or so for one but, other than that, I've managed to send them off for the start of each month. I've tried to make them copies of the knitted designs but sometimes this works better than others. This month though I think the fabric quilt is as good as (perhaps even better) than the knitted version. What do you think?

I like the embroidery with the gold thread, even if it is a pain to sew with. Those little gold things that look like bats are actually meant to be angels.

I hope everyone taking part has enjoyed knitting and displaying their little quilts. If you didn't finish them all this year you can always catch up in 2018. 

There's still lots of knitalong fun to be had though. My Advent series of patterns is underway now with the first decoration for the Tree Sampler and, in the New Year, the adventure of Frankie's Blankie will start. Happy Knitting!

Tree Sampler 1

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Frankie's Blankie

Well, what else do you call a blanket designed by Frankie? I'd like to introduce you to a special sampler blanket that I will be running as a KAL throughout 2018 - and actually into the first few weeks of January 2019 too.

I see this project as a masterclass in knitting. There are 48 different squares to knit, each one featuring a different stitch pattern. Half the squares are worked in one colour using all sorts of techniques and patterns. The rest of the squares are knitted with both the main colour and a rainbow of other shades. These coloured squares all use slip stitch, possibly my favourite knitting technique of all. Just look at those colourful patterns in the picture above to get some idea of how versatile slip stitch can be.

Some of the stitch patterns come from the Barbara Walker Treasuries, others are inventions of my own ... and then there are those which are a combination of both. By the time you've knitted Frankie's Blankie, not only will you have a lovely blanket to treasure but also a resource to refer to for future projects. When next you want an interesting pattern - for a scarf perhaps - you can choose a stitch pattern from your blanket.

Speaking of scarves ... should you not want to knit a blanket, the individual patterns could be used in other ways. How about a sampler scarf or shawl? For each of the 48 squares I give details of how to knit different widths using the stitch pattern and I also tell you if that pattern will lie flat and whether it looks good on both sides. All particularly useful for scarf knitting.

The yarn I've used for this blanket is Stylecraft Batik DK. This is a lovely soft yarn which has a subtle flecked look, reminiscent of hand-dyed yarn but is very reasonably priced. To complete the blanket you will need to buy 600 g (12 balls) of the main shade (Biscuit, 1901) and one 50 g ball in each of the following ten colours:

Cherry          1904
Coral            1903
Pistachio      1910
Olive            1911
Sage             1908
Storm           1913
Teal              1909
Violet           1912
Plum            1907
Raspberry    1905

The colours are changed every four rows or so (it varies), giving a rainbow effect. This will give you lots of ends to darn in but slip stitch makes quite a thick fabric so there’s plenty of room to hide them. If you would prefer to use only one contrast colour per square, I would suggest buying eight colours and working three squares with each. Be warned though, if you do this, I can't guarantee that you will have enough yarn for the edging which rather eats up yarn.

I bought my yarn from Wool Warehouse and I can recommend them wholeheartedly. They offer a very quick service, their yarn comes packed in useful drawstring bags and, best of all, you get a special discount. Just quote the code FRANKIE10 at the checkout to get 10 % off your blanket order. Within the UK the postage will be free as it's over £25, details of their International shipping rates are on their website. Rates vary between countries but there's a particularly good deal for customers from the US as they will send a package up to 2 kg in weight (which would cover all the yarn for the blanket) for just £2.99. 

You've got plenty of time to buy your yarn now before the KAL starts next year. The first pattern will be published on January 1st. the second on the 8th, the third on the 15th and the fourth on the 22nd of the same month. There will be four patterns published each month for the rest of the year, always beginning on the first of the month with the other three being published at weekly intervals. I hope that makes sense. This will give you a slightly longer gap between patterns at the end of each month to catch up and to sew the squares together as you go.

So, by the end of 2018, you will have knitted 48 squares and sewn them together. Then there are two more patterns to complete the series, first for a knitted on border and then a colourful edging that really brings the whole thing together. These two patterns will be published in January 2019 - which seems a ridiculously long time away at the moment.

I'm particularly proud of this knitted edging which looks just like crochet. It takes ages to do but it's the last of the 50 patterns so there's no rush to get it done.

I'm really excited about this project and look forward to lots of you knitting it together next year. We will be chatting, comparing notes and generally admiring each others work on my Frankie's Knitted Stuff ravelry group so do come and join in the fun. It's going to be a wonderful year.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Two Artists

If you could choose these things, I would love to have been an artist. Given that I can't draw and even copying takes me ages, I have to content myself with admiring others' work. Recently I've had encounters with two illustrators' work which have both delighted and inspired me.

The first one was Clara Vulliamy who has illustrated many classic children's books, as well as the wonderful Dixie o'Day series written by her mother Shirley Hughes. Clara is also responsible for bringing Mary Plain back to life in new editions of some of the classic books by the Welsh author Gwynedd Rae. The first of the Mary Plain books was published in 1930 and generations of children have loved this independent and willful little bear. In my family my Mother, myself and my daughter have each in turn relished her adventures. I remember liking the fact that she was a real bear, rather than a teddy bear and I think I also identified with her confident, self-importance! Here she is, watching the kettle boil. As ever, she's very interested in everything.

Mary also has her own special way of writing, mixing pictures and words. Here's the message on the cover of one of the new books.

Isn't it good? This inspired me to write like this when I first read the books; perhaps I'll do that again. How about some picture messages in the next knitting pattern? That would certainly make them more interesting.

Anyway, Clara did her first Mary Plain event in Wantage a few weeks ago and my daughter and I, lured by promises of cake and rosettes, decided that this was something we had to go to. We were in fact the only adults present without children but who cares? It was lovely to meet Clara in person, having chatted to her on twitter and the afternoon was wonderful.

She introduced Mary to us, drawing the characters as she talked. This was probably my favourite part of her talk - watching an artist drawing is so exciting - and then we had a go at drawing Mary for ourselves. All I can say is that mine turned out with short legs, slightly dislocated from her body. It was fun though. Clara had made special Mary Plain rosettes as rewards for good drawing; some of the older children didn't put theirs on but we wore ours proudly for the rest of the day.

My new books and the all-important rosette

Clara spent a long time signing books and chatting after the talk. We just about managed to let the children go first before monopolising her for the rest of the time. As well as our new Mary Plain books, we'd taken some old favourites for her to sign and my daughter wanted to give her this special present. A little wooden Mary Plain she'd carved for her, complete with her own label in picture writing.

It was such a good day.

The other artist I want to talk about is Quentin Blake who has illustrated many, many excellent children's books. I saw an exhibition of his work at Compton Verney recently and it made me realise just how many of his books we've enjoyed over the years. Perhaps the best part of the exhibition for me were the two films of him working in his studio. Again, seeing an artist draw was magical and it was fascinating to see how he builds up the illustrations and shapes them with the text. 

One of the books he talked about was actually a wordless story Clown which tells of a toy clown thrown in the dustbin with other toys.

Clown manages to climb out of the bin and sets off in search of a new home and to rescue the other toys (don't worry, it has a happy ending).

Quentin Blake draws with pen and then adds the watercolours - working quickly and not worrying about keeping in the lines. this was a revelation to me - who knew you could do that?

These glimpses of artists at work have inspired me to do more drawing. Clara was very encouraging about it being all right to copy drawings to learn how to do them. I'm not the only one who feels like this - look at the birthday card my daughter drew for me ...

So, I used some birthday money to buy myself  a book by Peggy Dean called 'Botanical Line Drawing: 200 Step-by-Step Flowers, Leaves, Cacti, Succulents and Other Items Found in Nature'.

This is a brilliant book; it's basically a workbook with step by step drawings for you to copy. I've been having a lot of fun practising some basic leaves.

The book has spaces for your drawings but that was far too scary for me (also, draw in a book? not me) so I've been using my little sketch book. This gives me room to try each leaf lots of times which is just as well.

I did buy some drawing pens but haven't been brave enough to use them yet. Perhaps when I've got a bit more confident. I'm really enjoying trying my hand at this. When I was at school, art was only for those who were really good at it so it's only recently that I've realised that, although I may not be naturally good at it, it's a skill that can at least be improved by practice. It's funny really that there's a general feeling that learning to play a musical instrument is within most people's reach but not learning to draw.

That's enough arty thoughts for today. In my next post I'll be revealing my big knitting project for next year. I've been working on it for months and it's the biggest series of patterns I've written so I hope you're all suitably excited.