Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Tree Sampler

For some years now I've been designing a big pattern for Christmas and publishing it daily throughout December as a sort of advent calendar. It's a good opportunity to work on projects that are too complicated to fit into one pattern and I really enjoy all the chat and companionship about the patterns on my Ravelry group each year.

It all started back in 2011 with the Advent Garland.

24 miniature knitted decorations to hang up one day at a time. This was the pattern that taught me that English Christmas traditions are not universal when knitters from the US kept asking me what the little knitted cracker was. This led to a lively discussion on my group, ranging from postboxes and robins to the exact purpose of sprouts.

Since then there have been several three dimensional Christmas projects: a Gingerbread House, a Christmas Tree and, last year, a Christmas room.

Gingerbread House

Needle Tree

The Night Before Christmas

This year's pattern is decidedly more modest - simpler to knit and only 21 rather than the normal 24 December patterns. Inspired by clean and uncluttered Swedish design, Tree Sampler is a wall hanging made up of 21 small Christmas trees. Each one is decorated with a different stitch pattern, worked in red and cream yarn. 

You can see why it had to be 21 patterns, can't you?

So far I've only published the pattern for the basic green trees. You have to knit 42 of these so the idea is to get them ready in November and then there will only be the little decorated panels to knit each day in December. In case you're wondering, there are 42 trees because they need to be sewn together in pairs to make them sturdy enough to keep their shape. I only realised this at the last minute ... turns out you can knit 21 Christmas trees in two days but I wouldn't recommend it.

I like the overall look of this one and have to confess that I'm rather fond of the back too.

It's so orderly and I like the negative spaces. As it's such a simple design, you don't need to buy lots of materials for this project (I thought everyone deserved a break from all that plastic canvas of the last few years). All you need for the Tree Sampler is some green and brown DK weight yarn and thinner 4 ply yarn in red and cream. Oh, and 21 little red buttons to sew on to the tops of the trees, together with some green sewing thread.

The nice thing about choosing stitch patterns for such small pieces of knitting is that even the trickier techniques like Fair Isle that knitters may normally avoid are quite manageable. Any of the individual trees could be used as hanging decorations and I've also included instructions for knitting a little pocket to hold a chocolate should you want to knit an Advent Calendar.

The first of the decoration patterns will be published on Ravelry on 1st December and the others will follow daily after that. I can't wait to see how everyone gets on with this project. If you're not there all ready, do come and join my group Frankie's Knitted Stuff where there'll be lots of Christmas chat around the pattern.

As ever with my patterns, if you enjoy them do think about donating to my fundraising page for the Children's Liver Disease Foundation. You can do this from any of the pattern pages on ravelry or by clicking on the pink 'Frankie's Fundraising' button at the side of the blog.

As the song says ...

Thursday, 9 November 2017

And I'm Back

After many many months of work, I'm glad to say that I've finally finished the mammoth series of patterns I've been working on for next year. The first pattern will be published on January 1st but I shall be telling you all about it later this month. On Tuesday I spent over 13 hours proofreading the whole thing for the last time, determined to get it done; it was a huge relief to print the last page and turn the computer off. For the last hour or so I was playing that fun game of 'will the ink cartridges run out before I've finished' but luckily they lasted until the end.

So ... now that's done I can emerge blinking into the light and catch up with lots of other stuff. Like this blog for example. I have several posts in my head, just waiting for me to have time to write them. First of all, I wanted to tell you about my birthday a few weeks ago.

Both my grown-up children were here for the day. I use the phrase 'grown-up' hesitantly as I'm not sure if I'm grown-up yet and, if I'm not, then how can they be? Anyway, this is where we went ...

This is Compton Verney, a beautiful house with grounds landscaped by 'Capability' Brown which also happens to be a National Art gallery. It's in the middle of the countryside between here and Stratford-Upon-Avon and I've recently re-discovered how good it is.

We went to see two exhibitions there - more of that later - and we also had a birthday picnic at a bench overlooking the lake. A small bird flew past us, close to the water and, when it dipped its wings (I assume it was some sort of birthday salute to me), we saw it was a kingfisher. These little birds are very beautiful, very fast and very tricky to see. It's only the third time I've seen one and the first time I've actually seen the bird rather than just catching a glimpse of blue out of the corner of my eye.

There were two exhibitions on in the house that we wanted to see: The Lost Words and Quentin Blake: Inside Stories. I'll leave the Quentin Blake to another post but, after seeing the kingfisher, it seemed appropriate to talk about the other one here.

The Lost Words is a beautiful and completely original book that's taking the book world here in the UK by storm at the moment. It's written by Robert Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris and is part poetry, part art book, part nature guide ... and so much more than that. The book was inspired by the rapid disappearance of words for natural things from children's vocabulary. If we have no word for something, how can we value it? So, 'The Lost Words' is a sumptuous book of spells, designed to be read aloud by children and adults to help conjure the words and the creatures and plants they describe back into view.

The book itself is huge - you could fit four average sized paperback books on its cover - and it's a joy from start to finish. Each word has three page spreads: first there's a picture of the landscape as it would be without the thing being described, then there's a glorious painting of it, together with the spell and, finally, a picture of it restored to the natural world.

For example, here are the 'before and after' paintings for the Starling ...

... and here's the bird itself ...

A photograph can't do these wonderful paintings justice

The spell for the starling conjures up the glistening array of this bird's colours 'Should green-as-moss be mixed with blue-of-steel be mixed with gleam-of-gold' while also remembering its tendency to copy from us 'if you sampled sneaker-squeaks and car alarms and phone ringtones you'd still come nowhere near the Rooftap riprap stree-smart hip-hop of starling song'. These few lines give you some idea of how musical these spells are - they just cry to be read or even shouted out loud. I think there are lots of echoes of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great Victorian nature poet here.

In contrast to the long strings of words of the starling's spell, the magpie's is short and to the point.

It begins 'Magpie Manifesto: Argue Every Toss! Gossip, Bicker, Yak and Snicker All Day Long!'
You get the general idea. One more thing about these spells, they're also acrostics with the first letter of each line spelling out the word. This is a wonderful book, do go and find it if you can. I haven't spoken as much about the paintings as they're difficult to reproduce here; you need to see the book or, better still, go to the exhibition to appreciate them in all their glory.

After all that excitement, I still had birthday presents to open. I'll just show you a few, mostly books again.

New books on Jane Austen. I was ridiculed here when we re-arranged the books recently and they discovered just how many books about her I had but, nonetheless, these two arrived on my birthday. As you can see, I've started the textual criticism one already (note the use of my best bookmark) and it's really good. It's already had me pulling out some of my oldest editions to compare them with those mentioned.

Would you believe that both of these - early twentieth century editions of 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Northanger Abbey' & 'Persuasion' (these two in one volume) - were only a few pounds in charity shops? I bought them some time ago but, even so, that's got to be cheap.

Both books feature illustrations by Hugh Thomson which are wonderful, if a little whimsical. From 'Pride and Prejudice' here's the start of the chapter after Mr Collins' proposal ...

... and look at this one, 

... Mr Bingley and a few cupids in a tug-of-war against the influence of his sisters and his friend.

One of my favourite books as a child was Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses so I was delighted to be given this picture book version from 1951.

It was illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen, 20th Century American artists whose work I knew from this book, 'A Peaceable Kingdom: The Shaker Abecedarius'.

Anyway, back to my 'The Child's Garden of Verses'. Here's the start of a poem I remember very well, I used to chant the opening lines out loud - yes, I was an odd child.

I also got this beautiful new children's book, illustrated by one of my favourite modern artists, Karl James Mountford.

Last Stop on the Reindeer Express is written by Maudie Powell-Tuck and tells the story of Mia's magical journey to deliver her Daddy's card in time for Christmas. The story is restrained and well written and the whole book is a beautiful to hold and explore, with cut-outs and rich colours throughout.

I didn't just get books for my birthday though. Amongst other things, I got three new CDs to add to my collection.

Two violin and one recorder. So far my favourites are the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major and Dvorak's Serenade for Strings. I heard this last piece at a concert given by the Adderbury Ensemble in a candlelit church just before Christmas last year and it was such a joyful experience. Here's a taste of it for you.

That's all for now. I shall be back soon.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Making Progress

Slowly but surely I'm ticking things off my never-ending to do list. First of all, for all my knitting followers, there's this ...

I know it doesn't look very exciting but that red file contains all the patterns for this year's big Christmas series. Yes, it's finally finished - knitted, photographed, written, proofread (oh the proofreading, it took me five hours and several cups of tea) - and printed out for posterity.

I do hope you'll like it. As I keep saying, it's a much simpler pattern than in previous years so I'm worried that it will be a disappointment. Still, simple means easier knitting so that's a bonus. Speaking of which, I'm also making good progress with various Christmas presents I'm making but of course I can't show them on here now or it will spoil the surprise.

I still have to finish the patterns for the big KAL I've got planned for next year. I've written the first drafts but I'm struggling with the photos. If I can get those sorted, I'm hoping to announce this series in the middle of November with details of materials (and a special discount offer) but the first pattern won't be published until January.

So, what else have I been making progress with? I spent quite a lot of time last week cleaning and sorting the kitchen and scullery. I may not be house proud (just as well really) but even I know it's time to clean the floor when your feet start to stick to it. That led to a turn out of all the cupboards and a mass migration of china.

I love collecting bits and bobs of nice china from antique and charity shops - a cup and saucer here, a jug there  - but didn't have anywhere to keep them. So they were piled up around all the everyday stuff in the kitchen cupboards which made getting a plate out a chancy business. I do however have a big built-in cupboard in my bedroom. The house is more than a hundred years old and this is one of the original cupboards. It's less than a foot deep and would originally have been used for clothes (which just goes to show how many fewer clothes the Victorians had). Anyway, Paul the builder kindly filled the cupboard with shelves to take all that homeless china.

This is about half the cupboard. It's not a very good picture but I had to lie on the bed to take it and then the camera kept wobbling. Anyway you get the general idea. Now the china has somewhere to live and I can get things out of the kitchen cupboards without risking an avalanche of broken crockery.

Progress is also being made with the violin. I've been learning for a year now and I still love it. It's very hard work and frustrating at times but I can now play actual music, more or less in tune. This is what's on my stand at the moment ...

... an interesting mixture of Harry Potter, Baroque and some pieces from Michael Rose's Sketchbook For Violin There are six pieces in this book, all of them lovely but each calling for a different bow technique. The Harry Potter music has some tricky combinations of notes and the Baroque is difficult but wonderful. The fact that I'm not doing music exams this time round means I can play all sorts of music, just for fun.

One of the reasons I'm planning to cut down on the amount of work I do next year is to give myself more time for music. As well as the violin, I'd like to play my piano and recorder more and then there's the clarinet which has been neglected for decades. I wonder if I could even play it still? 

I'm also looking forward to designing more small patterns after working on so many big series this year. In the last couple of weeks I've been trying the new Stylecraft Batik Elements yarn. This is a DK weight variegated yarn and it's lovely and soft - nice to work with. With a couple of 50 g balls I knitted a textured cowl which I'm calling 'Elemental'.

I enjoyed working on this. The wavy ripples are fun to knit and surprisingly easy; six out of the eight pattern rows are either knit or purl so you only have to really pay attention for the other two. If you'd like to knit one of these, the pattern is here Elemental. The colour I used is called Bismuth; I'm tempted to knit another one in Krypton which is a lovely green.

I've also finished the knitted mini quilt for November. We're nearly at the end of this series of patterns now which I must admit will be a bit of a relief for me. I've come to the conclusion that deadlines don't really suit me. I am enjoying seeing everyone's little quilts on my Ravelry group though; I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the ones that are being turned into blankets. Would you like to see all the quilts so far?

January - June

July - October

I don't know which is my favourite; it tends to be whichever I've just finished designing. I do like the snowman, but then there's the little Sunbonnet Sue with the umbrella and the pencils ... and all those flowers ... what do you think? Have you got a favourite?

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Getting into Practice

Next year I'm determined to turn what my family call my 'knitting empire' into a part-time empire so that I have time to do other things. Now that the end of my big projects is in sight (next year's KAL and the Christmas pattern will be done by the end of this month), I'm getting into practice for next year by getting out of the house occasionally. Apparently putting the bins out doesn't count!

So far I've had a couple of good muddy walks, complete with picnics. I do love a picnic, whatever the weather - one of the many things I've inherited from my Granny. She would take all the grandchildren down to the forest for the day (the New Forest) and we would cook our picnic on a little primus stove. I remember holding the umbrella over her one day while she cooked so that the rain wouldn't put the stove out.

Anyway, look who I met on a walk in the woods this week ...

You'll have to look closely as he was very shy. We stood and looked at each other for nearly five minutes before he bounced back into the trees.

I also managed to get to the Seurat to Riley exhibition at Compton Verney which was excellent. I saw so many clever ideas that I had to stop to buy a new pad of graph paper on the way home so that I could play about trying to turn them into something woolly. I've bought a season ticket for Compton Verney so I'm looking forward to lots more visits.

I'm lucky to live a few miles from the village of Adderbury where the church hosts wonderful music from The Adderbury Ensemble and other top musicians. I went to the first concert of the Autumn season a few weeks ago which was so good. Tomorrow I'm going again, this time to hear the Tippett String Quartet I can really recommend the Music in Adderbury concerts; many of the musicians can also be heard at the Oxford Coffee Concerts.

And now I've still got more than twenty patterns to write up ...

Monday, 18 September 2017

This week I've finished ...

...all the first drafts for the big pattern series for 2018. They're not great - the photos in particular leave a lot to be desired - but I feel I'm finally getting somewhere with this one. I do hope that it will be popular after all this work. It seemed like a great idea when I first came up with it but has occasioned much muttering of things like "making a rod for my own back" and "too much work and no play" for months now. I hope that by the time the first pattern is published on January 1st I shall have had time to decide I like it again.

I've also finished ...

... designing this year's Christmas pattern series. I've still got some knitting and assembly to do, as well as the photos and writing but it's starting to look good. As I keep saying, this year's pattern is much simpler and shorter than last year's. I decided I needed a break from complicated 3D designs and maybe you do too. There's your first clue Isolde!

This was also the week I finally got this crochet blanket finished and published. It's called Paintbox and uses 30 lovely colours of the wonderful Stylecraft Special DK. This is a good quality acrylic yarn which is both reasonably priced and, most important of all to me, comes in a huge range of colours. I love the look of so many cheerful colours combined in this blanket. The texture is more evident than I thought it would be too which is good. All those ridges of colour are achieved by working into the back strand of each stitch only.

While I think of it, did you know that Stylecraft Yarns have brought out three new shades of the Special DK?  I was lucky enough to win a ball of each in a giveaway on twitter recently and here they are ...

From left to right, they are Lapis, Lincoln and Blush. It took me ages to decide which order to arrange them in for this photo. I wanted to put the blue in the middle to balance the colours but then that would leave the two new design ball bands next to each other ... me? obsessive? I don't know what you mean. I know for a fact that my daughter would have had just the same problem. Mind you, she is a professional list maker so there's no hope for her.

I agree with Pat - Woolhelmina on ravelry - that the new shade of blue is particularly welcome. It definitely fills a gap. Oh, and I have to say I like the new ball bands.

This is the first giveaway I've ever won, yet another reason to love twitter. Do come and say hello if you're there. I'm @MyKnittedStuff (Frankie's Knitted Stuff was too long for a twitter handle). Having thought I would use twitter to talk woolly stuff, I spend most of my time talking about books with a group of lovely people and admiring the art posted daily by Dr Liv Gibbs. I've discovered several new artists through the pictures she shares (Stanley Spencer for one); I think it's particularly clever how she often chooses art that is topical. When the new term of school started here in the UK she found paintings of children on their way to school for example. Don't be put off by all the stories about twitter trolls; yes they're horrible but you don't have to read them, you choose whose tweets you want to see and I've met some wonderful people through chatting there, many of them local to me.

And now I must stop chatting and get on with some work.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Walking into the 12th Century

I'm still very busy designing (the Christmas project is coming along nicely, thank-you for asking) and most of the things I'm working on aren't ready to share yet so I thought I'd show you a walk my son and I did a few weeks ago. This is one of my favourite walks; it has everything - trees, water, history and, of course, lots of green everywhere.

The walk starts from Burford, one of the most picturesque Cotswold towns and takes you across fields, through woods and past a farm ...

... great sign, isn't it?

We stopped for a picnic, saw a buzzard and I got stung by a wasp. Naturally, I made a lot of fuss about this. Why does a wasp sting feel nothing like a sting and more like being punched hard?

One of the most beautiful parts of the walk is the wonderfully named Dean Bottom where we met these ladies ...

At the end of that line of trees you get the first glimpse of the highlight of this walk.

Yes, that's right,  it's a church in the middle of a field. It was once part of a medieval village but now stands alone. This is St Oswald's which dates from the 12th Century and was once part of Gloucestershire, despite being firmly within the county of Oxfordshire. 

Before going inside, we visit the grave of the Rector of my daughter's old college which we discovered our first time here. His epitaph reads 'A humanist, bon viveur and, above all, a wise and constant friend.' 

Anyway, would you like to see inside the church?

It's a tiny building with early nineteenth century box pews, Roman mosaic underneath the flagstones and medieval wall paintings.

You can read more about St Oswald's in this guide which also has lots more pictures; it's really interesting so do have a look. Despite the fact that the church is only accessible on foot, services are still held here once a month (Sunday Evensong, Easter to October).

The rest of the walk could seem a bit of an anti-climax after that but luckily you walk alongside the River Windrush back into Burford which is lovely - I once saw a kingfisher here and always hope to see one again.

I do this walk in all seasons and there's always something new to see. 

And now I must get back to work. I'll leave you with a glimpse of the crochet baby blanket I'm finishing off - pattern coming soon.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

How to Knit a Granny Square

I've tweaked the knitted Granny Square that I showed you last week and added a Granny Circle to go with it and you can now download the free pattern for them both from Ravelry

I had a lot of fun working on this design. For a start I got to play with rainbow colours and then there was the challenge of trying to do something that at first seemed impossible. How to knit something in the round that looked like crochet? As crochet works with one stitch at a time and knitting doesn't, this was tricky.

It turned out that the answer was I cord. This is a way of knitting a thin tube on very few stitches, using double pointed needles. As the technique I developed meant that I would only have two or three stitches on my needles, I needed some nice short ones. The ones I went for were Knit Pro Zing 15 cm needles. These are sharp enough too find the spaces between the stitches but not so sharp that they split the yarn. Also - they come in lovely colours!

You can see my needles here, along with the seven shades of Patons Diploma Gold DK that I used for this project. I have to say that it takes a lot longer to knit a Granny Square, rather than crochet it but I rather enjoyed it. The finished shapes are quite thick so would make good mats or coasters. Seven rounds of knitting will give you a 10 cm / 4" mat.

I love this sort of designing where I feel I'm doing something new and exciting - it helped that it was a quick project too. It made a nice change from all the big designs I'm working on at the moment.

I hope you'll be tempted to have a go and knit your own Granny Square, why should the crocheters have all the fun?