Monday, 18 March 2019

Mini Marshmallows

No, not sweets - these marshmallows are the name of a crochet stitch that gives the most wonderful chunky texture.

According to my pattern notebook, I started this blanket last June. I worked on it for a while and then it got abandoned for a bit. One of the good things about recording my yarn projects in My Year in Yarn is that it reminds me of old things and nudges me to get on with them. When I fished this one out in January it wasn't much more than a wide strip of crochet and I'd run out of yarn. A quick order to the Wool Warehouse and I was back on track.

I've been working on it steadily ever since and here it is (with a friend).

It's difficult to show in pictures just how amazing these little marshmallows are. Here they are looked at from above ...

The wrong side looks good too. Does this remind anyone else of pasta?

The yarn is Patons Diploma Gold DK in seven rainbow colours, plus navy blue for the border. When my new yarn arrived I found that the new ball of the pink was much brighter than the old one. I used it anyway and I don't think you notice the difference in the finished blanket.

The new pink is on the left, the old on the right

I finished my blanket with a simple border, one round of trebles and then a round of crab stitch to give it a bit of body.

Should you want to try this pattern, it's available as a free download from my Ravelry Shop. Of course, you could use other yarn and vary the size too (mine is a baby blanket) but, be warned, this stitch makes a seriously heavy fabric so don't get too ambitious. The mini marshmallow stitch would make good bags and cushions too. I'm thinking of working out how to do it in the round and designing a circular cushion, perhaps in pastel colours.

I'm much more of a bright colours than a pastel person but I've been challenging myself lately to use some paler shades. An example of this would be the Primrose Garden crochet I showed you last week which I'm making progress with now. I know it's still quite bright but, for me, this is a very understated colour palette.

That's four of the long hexagons sewn together, plus four top squares. I love the fact that the squares really look as if they're laid on top of a bigger square - just the effect I was looking for.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Temperature Blanket

Every day this year I'm recording the maximum temperature where I live so as to be able to work it into my Temperature Blanket.

This is the plan I've drawn up; each triangle represents one day, the squares with arrows are the month labels and the grey squares are the border. That bit on the side with the red squares is going to be the key. There will be a square for each of the 19 colours I'm using, with the temperature range they represent embroidered on the front. The light grey rectangle above the key is for some sort of title. I haven't decided what to put on that yet - although it needs to be short as I hate doing the embroidery.

When I was planning this blanket I had fun making a mini colour key to refer to each day.

I wove these little squares on my 2" loom from Hazel Rose and then stuck on labels with the temperatures on. Each one represents two degree in Celsius, ranging from below 0° to above 35°. I've used blues, purples and greens so far; its been unseasonably mild here, I didn't expect to get to the greens for several months. I haven't used the lightest shade of blue as the maximum temperature has always been above freezing.

This is the rest of my Temperature Blanket kit ...

This old suitcase holds the plan, the colour key and my looms and tools. The looms are the Tiny Weaver Set, again from Hazel Rose. The finished squares are about 3½" and the triangles half that size. The green notebook is where I make a note of the maximum and minimum temperatures every day and a few words on each day's weather. The most dramatic day so far was last Sunday when we had sunshine, rain, hail, snow and then sun again. 

The suitcase slides under the settee so it's handy but doesn't get in the way. So, this is how my blanket has grown so far ...

First Few Days

Most of January

January and February

And this is what it looks like today, half way through March ...

It actually looks better in photos than it does in real life. It's very lumpy and bumpy and I think the squares are turning out a bit bigger than two triangles. I'm hoping that a good blocking will sort out most of this - that and a crochet edging to tame down the waves. But I can't really do that until it's finished so I shall have to have faith until then. I'm a great believer in blocking to solve most yarn-related problems. I only found out recently that wet blocking isn't supposed to work on acrylic yarns; I've been wet blocking acrylic stuff successfully for years.

The embroidery is nerve-wracking to do; I'm using chain stitch and all was going well until I had to do the square for March. Turns out it's much harder to embroider vertical writing than horizontal - the 'r' is virtually off the square.

Things I like about this project:
  • It's made me notice the weather more (even if I tend to reply to innocent statements like "it was cold yesterday, wasn't it?" with statements like "yes, 2.9°", I really must stop doing that).
  • I love playing with colour - oh the excitement when I get to use a new one.
  • Each triangle only takes about ten minutes to weave and add to the blanket.
Things I don't like:
  • Weaving in all the ends. I'm using my yarn doubled so there are four for each triangle and I'm not very good at hiding them.
  • Embroidering the writing (see above).
  • How uneven it looks at the moment.

I think it will all turn out all right in the end though. I quite wish I'd included the minimum temperatures too - perhaps using one strand of colour for the minimum and one for the maximum. I'm wondering about making another temperature blanket next year, using the same colours but a different technique. Perhaps I shall crochet it and use the minimum colour for the centre of each day's shape.

I think, actually, the best thing about this project is that I'm working on something that I haven't designed myself. It's nice to be a follower for a change.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Colour Experiments

Every so often I get obsessed with a new idea and have to work on it at all hours and to the exclusion of everything else. It doesn't matter how many designs I'm already working on (nine or more, since you ask), I just can't leave it alone.

A few weeks ago I started doodling geometric tiled shapes and seeing what happened when I coloured them in different ways.

"That was interesting" I thought, "maybe I could use that for a crochet pattern one day. Not now obviously because I've got too many things on the go already." So I put the sketches away, feeling smug at my self control. Then this happened ...

In my defence, I did wait a whole day before starting to crochet. The plan I was trying to recreate is a combination of squares and elongated hexagons which gives the effect of squares on top of squares.

Can you see the big squares tilted on their points and the smaller, straight squares on top of them? I thought I could vary the texture on the different sections so that the top squares were quite complex and the ones underneath were simpler. 

Working out a textured pattern for the top squares was quite straightforward. This is the start - I wasn't quite sure whether to start with a neutral cream or one of the colours.

I decided I didn't like the cream in the middle and that I wanted to see more of the central colour.

As you can see, I've added a few rounds and finished the squares off with a cream crab stitch edging. I'm rather pleased with this edging as it will stand above the rest of the crochet, marking the edges of the squares. I'm planning to use it on the bigger squares too so that the eye is drawn to them.

Isn't it interesting how different those two squares look, just by swapping the colours round. I think I like the one with the green in the middle best. So far, so good but then I started questioning my colour choices. Now I really like shades of blue and green like this and I've used them quite a lot.

This is Stylecraft Special DK in, from left to right, Grass Green, Kelly Green, Green, Cream, Royal, Lapis, Aster and Cloud Blue. But ... my original idea was for something a bit more subtle and here I was, back with my bright primaries.

I had the idea of using two sets of colours - one for these top squares and another for the squares underneath. I wanted to divide up the squares underneath too so that the outer section matched the top squares. This gave me elongated hexagons that looked like this.

This was my first attempt. If you imagine four of these sewn together at the red points, you can see that you'd get a red / orange / yellow square (with cream edging) and then a bit more of the blue and green. 

Again, I'd gone for some of my favourite bright colours. From left to right, Garnet, Lipstick, Pomegranate, Tomato, Spice, Sunshine and Saffron. Not that I use this yarn a lot but I can name lots of them by sight. 

I fiddled around with the actual design, making the red section more textured and increasing the blue / green part which was better.

But I wasn't really happy with my colours. However much I like them, I couldn't really call them subtle and, when I put the two shapes together, the whole thing was definitely far too busy.

So, it was back to the drawing board - or, rather, back to the  yarn pegs. These are so useful for choosing colours. After a brief flirtation with mixing up some random colours ...

Citron, Candyfloss, Empire, Silver, Turquoise, Lemon and Fuchsia Purple

... quite pretty but not really me, I tried a more orderly range of greens and mauves. There's a colour name you don't often hear now - mauve - conjures up memories of the 1970s for me and the blue rinsed hair of my Great Aunty Eva.

Petrol, Storm Blue, Duck Egg, Cream, Parma Violet, Lavender and Violet

I quite liked this one, although I can't say it's particularly exciting. I thought the cream section might be too big in the first one so I swapped it with the palest mauve  the second time round ... but then it changed the shape of the central motif from a square to something more like a cross.

I did feel I was getting nearer to my original idea though; something Spring-like that would make you think of the new season's flowers. So, after more playing around with colour pegs, I came up with this.

Now these colours I like. They shout "Primroses" and "Sunshine" to me; I can feel enthusiastic about them. From left to right, they are Lime, Mustard, Citron, Lemon, Pistachio, Meadow and Cypress - even the names sound like spring (although possibly not mustard).

Here are two squares with the colours swapped round; I think the one with the yellows on the outside is lovely and sunny.

I couldn't decide between them so I knitted two of the long hexagons, one starting with the greens and one with the yellows. The colours seem to work best if both the top and bottom squares start with the same colours so here is the 'green first' version ...

... and here's the yellow one ...

I think I prefer this one; somehow it looks better with the slightly darker greens on the outside, more like the leaves round the flowers perhaps? I'm happy with the textures too. The top square has a range of stitches and textures, the yellow bottom square is a simple ridged pattern and the green on the outside is just double crochet, changing colours every row to give a muted, blended effect.

Finally, after many late nights and a lot of crochet, I think I know what I'm doing now with this design. The next thing to do is to weigh all the balls of yarn I'm going to be working from to keep track of how much yarn the pattern uses. I won't be able to include the two shapes I've already crocheted but I'll add on a bit for them when I work out the final amounts. 

I'm not sure how big this needs to be to look good, or what I'm going to do with the edges ('cut off' the green sticky out bits or add half hexagons?) but at least I can make progress now. I'd like to call it something to do with primroses I think - not 'Primrose Path' though which is a fun-filled path that leads to disaster. Any other suggestions?

Friday, 8 March 2019

Three Villages

Earlier this week my son had a free day so we grabbed the chance for a country walk. He's a supply teacher so doesn't know if he's working on any day until the last moment. Luckily, it was a fine day (apart from one rather vicious shower which coincided with a struggle up a windswept slope) and not too muddy, given that we live in an area of heavy clay which can weigh you down pretty quickly.

We walked out of the top of Banbury towards Drayton village and then turned off to head across the fields towards this ...

Yes, it's an obelisk in the middle of a muddy field. The Wroxton Obelisk was built in the middle of the 18th Century to commemorate the Prince of Wales' visit to the area, apparently he went to the races in Banbury. They felt the obvious way to celebrate this was to put up a big bit of stone, complete with latin inscription, which we struggled to translate in the rain. The obelisk was originally part of the landscaped grounds of the Wroxton Estate, as was this Folly which dates from about the same time.

The architect was one Sanderson Miller and we came across one more of his wonderful creations when we got to Wroxton.

It looks like a mini castle on a hill but is actually a Dovecote. This is what's known as an 'eyecatcher' basically something to look pretty as you look across your extensive estate.

Wroxton House is a Jacobean country house, built on the site of an old abbey and is now a College for students from Fairleigh Dickinson University in the United States.

This is actually the back of the building; the public can explore the grounds as long as they don't picnic or bring a dog so we did. There were masses of daffodils up but not out yet on the banks, it will be a mass of yellow soon. You can walk through the trees and admire this beautiful lake; it's a very peaceful place.

The village of Wroxton is a typical small English village, complete with duck poind.

I do like it when the ducks have their own thatched cottage. It was re-thatched a couple of years ago which must have been a tricky undertaking. You could just see some eggs inside the doorway. It doesn't show up very well in the photo but the pond has a lovely new iron railing too; I'm partial to a nice bit of cast iron.

We had planned to stop for a pub lunch at Wroxton but its two pubs are both closed down so we carried on across country towards North Newington. On the way we stopped to admire some of the first of this season's lambs.

Note the lamb using a sheep as a step

I was trying to master my new compass on this walk but the path between Wroxton and North Newington was pretty straightforward ...

The ways between two villages are often very old, following the easiest and straightest route, trodden by people for many years.

North Newington's pub has the enticing name of 'The Blinkin' Owl' but, guess what, that was closed too. So, on we went, this time heading for Broughton village.

The footpath comes into the village through the grounds of Broughton Castle which is a moated manor house mostly dating from the sixteenth century. It's the home of Lord and Lady Saye and Sele whose family name is Fiennes. This name is thought by some to be the origin of the 'Fine Lady' who famously rode her horse to Banbury Cross. 

The castle is open to the public on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons in the summer and is well worth a visit. It's been used as a location for various films, including the BBC's 'Wolf Hall' and 'Shakespeare in Love' so some parts might seem rather familiar.

There is a pub in Broughton village but it was of course closed. To be fair, it was three o' clock by now and they had been open at lunchtime. So we plodded on, heading back to Banbury via the Salt Way, one of our oldest paths.

We finally found an open pub in the shape of  The Easington where we enjoyed a pint of cider and a delicious vegetarian toad-in-the-hole. They have an actual vegetarian and vegan menu with real choices which was very exciting. I do get tired of having to seek out the vegetarian options on menus which often turn out to be few and far between and dull. It was really nice to be able to choose between several interesting options.

It was a good start to my walking week - just over ten miles. Since getting a cheap pedometer at the start of last year, I've been keeping track of how far I walk in an attempt to do more. Last year I walked over 600 miles so I'm hoping to do more than that in 2019. There's been too much work and not enough getting out so far this year so more days like this are called for.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Scrapbook for January

I've finally managed to put together the scrapbook pages for the first month of  My Year in Yarn. It might look simple but this took me ages. I couldn't work out how to arrange it all, what fonts to use, what to back the printouts with ... oh yes, and my ink cartridges ran out.

Things started to look up when I found these scrapbooking and origami papers in The Works.

I thought I could use the bigger sheets for big chunks of text and the origami paper for titles and other bits and bobs. And you can never have too much origami paper anyway.

Paper Kawaii's Origami Star

 Here's the first page with a key to the yarn block.

I rather like the look of the black photo corners, even if they did keep sticking to my clothes as I was fitting them to the papers. I was tempted to add lots of stickers and other pretty stuff but I thought that would make the whole thing much more time consuming and set a precedent for the rest of the year. I can always go back and add them later if the fancy takes me.

On the second page I've been a bit daring and added an origami model of an envelope box. This was the inspiration for my Pocket Box pattern which I published a few days ago.

Maybe this will entertain my future hypothetical grandchildren when they're forced, yet again, to look through their Grandmother's boring yarn scrapbook. The paper box opens by pulling the triangle flaps apart and it took me ages to think of a way to replicate this in knitting. Eventually I decided on stocking stitch rolls which hold the top together.

I'm not including pictures of everything I work on - the early stages of many projects aren't particularly photogenic - but I will try to put in a photo of anything that gets finished each month. The only thing I actually finished in January was my Old-Fashioned Tea Cosy, although I did add a picture of my Mini Marshmallow crochet to fill up the last page.

One of the advantages of keeping track of everything I work on like this is that it makes me get on with things that have been languishing for a while. This crochet is a good example. I needed more yarn and hadn't got round to ordering it and, to be honest, I was a bit daunted by how much I still had to do on this one. After writing about it here, I got on and ordered the yarn from Wool Warehouse who, as is their wont, delivered it in next to no time. Since then I've been powering away and mini marshmallow stitches are flying off my hook. The blanket is now nearly square so, if I can keep going like this, it might even be finished one day.

And now that March is here I can start putting together February's block ...

Thursday, 21 February 2019

January in Yarn

I'm finally making some progress with my yarn diary, which is exactly what it sounds like - a record in yarn of everything I work on this year. I came up with this daft idea months ago and wrote about it here My Year in Yarn. The idea is to create a patchwork block each month, with each piece representing a knitting or crochet project that you've worked on. You use the same yarn as the project and I've worked out several ways of knitting and crocheting squares that don't need you to work out your tension first. Should you want to join me in this, there's a free pattern here to help you get started.

I shall be making one 8" patchwork square for each month, edging them with a garter stitch border and then sewing them together to make a blanket. I also want to record the details of all the projects in a scrapbook as I go. Here are the non-yarn things I've got to help me make this work.

It took me ages to decide on what to use for my scrapbook. I've got an aversion to notebooks with instructions on the front like 'Be Happy' or 'Book of Special Things' (I've made those two up but you know what I mean) and I didn't want to use an album with sticky pages. Can you tell I've got a daughter who's an archivist? In the end, on her advice, I settled for this inexpensive, black ringbound album from Hobbycraft. It's got black pages and I shall use black photo corners like these to stick things in.

I want to include a picture of each month's block with a key to each of the projects on it and a bit more information about each of them. I think I'll add photos of finished things too and anything that might make it more interesting for people to read in the future. I've got a drawer of scrapbooking bits and pieces upstairs that I shall sort through to see what I've got to make the pages pretty.

I've also got a small notebook where I make notes of everything I work on each month. I tend to have lots and lots of projects on the go at once so it's easy to forget some. The notes include whether it's a knitting or crochet project (or, in my case, weaving too) and details about the yarn and needles or hooks used. This is useful when I come to make the patches, sometimes weeks later.

The square thing with the brightly coloured squares is my mini design board. I made this from some card and a scrap of wadding to help me work out the design each  month. 

The little card shapes are half size so I've written the sizes they represent on them to stop me getting confused. This arrangement is one of the possibilities were I to work on 14 projects one month.

In January the total was a more modest ten - seven knitting, one crochet, one Tunisian crochet and one weaving. I'm also weaving a temperature blanket this year but I'm not including that as it's its own diary. 

So, this is my patchwork square for January ...

I have to say it didn't look lovely and flat like this when I'd finished it. All those different yarns made for a very lumpy and bumpy square; luckily, blocking sorted that out.

So, starting at the top left, we have a big green variegated square representing a blanket I'm weaving on one of my Hazel Rose pin looms. I thought I'd be clever and weave this square, forgetting that this particular loom produces squares smaller than 4". I added a round of crochet to make it up to size. This is the wonderful James C Brett Marble Chunky and I'm using two shades to make a simple blanket of squares.

Next to that big square are four little 2" squares. The one at the top (mostly blue) is some variegated sock yarn that I'm using to knit my son a pair of gloves. These are going very slowly as I have to wait to see him so that he can try them on to check the fit at every stage. I'm up to the fingers on the first glove at the moment so they'll probably be finished just in time for Summer.

The red square with the grey stripe in the middle is more thin 4 ply, this time from a new design I'm working on which I think I shall call 'Pocket Box'. It's a small, folding purse inspired by origami, something like my Pinwheel Purse pattern. The last one is blocking now and then I just want to try a DK version before I write it up.

The cream square is from my Secret Garden blanket which I finished earlier this month so that will appear one more time in February's block. The light green square next to it is actually sparkly, although it doesn't show up in the photograph. This is more thin 4 ply yarn, this time King Cole Party Glitz which I'm using to knit the  mini stockings I attach to my Christmas presents each year. If I don't start knitting them in January, they don't get done.

I've used a variation of my old Mini Stocking pattern which I worked out as I went along until the proportions seemed about right. This yarn seems particularly thin but it knitted up nicely. This colour is called 'Elf' and I've also got a ball of red, called 'Santa' so that's what I'll be using next year. If anyone would like a copy of this pattern (mostly notes, not pictures), let me know and I'll send it to  you. 

That's the top half of the block. Now for the five patches on the bottom.

Starting at the top left again, the green and red square represents my Old-Fashioned Tea Cosy which I knitted to fit my 'new' 100 year old silver plated teapot. You can read more about it in Miss Clare's Teapot. By the way, this is the warmest tea cosy I've ever used; it keeps the tea hot for hours so, if you live in a cold house like me, you might like to try one of these.

The blue and green square next to it is in crochet, just a few of the rainbow colours I'm using to make what I'm calling a 'Mini Marshmallow Blanket'. I'm starting to wish I'd been a bit less ambitious with this one - perhaps a 'Mini Marshmallow Cushion Cover' instead? I do love blankets though.

I've ground to a halt now as I need to order more yarn. Just looking at the picture is making me want to get it out again.

The stripey square in the bottom left corner looks nothing like the original yarn which has long colour runs. I'm using two shades of Schoppel Wolle Edition 3 to knit triangles in the round and then piece them together into a star pattern. I haven't got any photos to show you yet but it's going to be colourful. The two shades I'm using are called English Garden and Laundry Day - wonderful names.

The blue square next to it is more crochet - this time double ended Tunisian Crochet. I'm still at the early stages with this one as I had a lot of trouble with my tension and then had to order a new hook. 

It's going to be a reversible waistcoat - I know, I don't do clothes, what am I thinking? - this is the blue side, it's mostly dark grey on the back.

The last square is the big red one, more James C Brett - this time Aran with Wool. I've only just started this project which is going to be a shawl thing called 'The Big Red Wrap'. I'm using a herringbone stitch pattern which is rather nice but, even with thick yarn, this one's going to take me a while.

So, that's what I was working on in January. I've started several more projects this month and only finished one so far so there could be even more in next month's block. Now I need to get on with the scrapbook pages for January. If only that blank book wasn't so daunting ...