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?

Monday, 28 August 2017

Quilt Show

A couple of weeks ago I had my annual trip to the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham. I've been going to this show for years, initially with my Mum who was a very good quilter and, lately, with my daughter and my knitting buddy Pat.

We enjoyed out day but were to sad to see that the range of crafts represented was, yet again, narrower than before. Obviously, most of the exhibitors are linked to Patchwork and Quilting in some way but there always used to be a few good cross stitch stands, some general book stands and so on. We also thought there were less exhibitors from mainland Europe than before - maybe a result of Brexit. It would be a shame if they no longer felt they would be welcome here.

Despite this we managed to find lots of good stuff to inspire us and plenty to spend our money on. We also met up with one of the regular members of my ravelry group for coffee - it was lovely to meet an online friend in real life.

So, this is what I bought ...

Where shall I start? The red spotty thing in the middle is a kit for a sewing bag from Dandelion Designs. It was quite expensive and will take me a while to make but it's lovely - shaped like a small suitcase and full of little details. Mandy Shaw is a prolific and very talented designer; we always like exploring her stall.

I bought a Sizzix die and some clear, plastic templates ready to start on a Patchwork of the Crosses quilt, inspired by the quilt pieced by Lucy Boston, author of the Green Knowe books. I've talked about it before here but I'd really recommend this book if you're interested in her fantastically detailed quilts.

I thought the plastic templates were particularly good. I bought them from Sew & Quilt and, as well as being clear so that you can position the template exactly where you want it on the fabric, they have the seam line marked and tiny holes at the corners and in the centre to take a pin to hold the template in place. I'll use my Sizzix machine to cut the papers and the templates for the fabric.

Hiding away in the main picture is a little scissor keeper kit from Sue Hawkins which I'm looking forward to making. I don't even need another scissor keeper but Sue's designs are such fun to sew and the vibrant colours are lovely. Also, it's only a small kit so I might have a chance of actually finishing it quite soon. I can just hang it up and admire it when it's done.

See those brightly coloured plastic shapes at the front of the picture? Now they're very exciting. I bought them from Tactile Treasures who sell all sorts of bits and bobs to add interest to children's toys and quilts. There are squeakers, rattles, crinkly paper and mirrors - all of which can be sewn into things and washed. I bought a selection to play with including some coloured teething shapes which are the things you can see. I'm wondering if I can incorporate some of them into knitted designs ...

... speaking of which, as you can see I also managed to find some wool. I bought a ball of  James C Brett's new Stonewash DK which comes in some very nice, subtle colourways. The cream yarn at the back of the picture is very special. It's Superfine Alpaca 4 ply from UK Alpaca, a family farm in Devon. Now this yarn isn't cheap and I didn't need it but it's so soft! I could just imagine how wonderful it would be to knit with - sometimes the process of knitting is more important than the product. So I treated myself to four balls and plan to knit some sort of shawl or wrap. Of course I'm constitutionally unable to use a pattern I haven't designed myself so it will have to wait until inspiration strikes.

In fact, all these lovely things are still sitting there, hopefully waiting for me to start using them. I keep looking at them longingly but there's still Too Much Knitting Work To Do! When it eases up a bit, I shall start one of these exciting new projects as a treat. Which one shall I do first, I wonder?

Monday, 21 August 2017

Running fast ...

... to stay still - that's what it feels like I'm doing at the moment. Other sayings that come to mind are 'All work and no play', 'Time flies', 'Bitten off more than you can chew' - you get the general idea.

At the moment I'm working frantically on The Big Pattern Series for 2018 and wishing I'd never thought of it! I shall feel better once the knitting is finished and I can concentrate on the writing. As for this year's big Christmas pattern, every time I think of it I start to panic. Maybe I don't actually need to sleep?

Calm down Frankie, deep breaths ... I have actually had a few days out in the past couple of weeks which I'd like to write about but, in the meantime, what do you think of this?

This is what I was working on late last night and it's my first attempt at a knitted Granny Square. I need to try again with some bigger needles as it comes out very thick but I quite like the rippled outside edge. It takes a lot longer than a crochet one would but I think knitters who don't crochet might like it. Can anyone guess how it's knitted?

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Long Look at a Small Bookcase

This little bookcase lives in my hall and, during the great book sort last weekend, I decided to use it for some of my smaller collections of children's books. The bookcase itself is about seventy years old and was made by my Grandfather out of old packing cases. I have a workbox that was made in the same way.

Anyway, back to the books. On the top shelf are my Ladybird Books; some are my original childhood books but most have been bought more recently.

Since the 1940s Ladybird books have been popular and affordable small books for children. Printing each book on one large sheet of paper meant that quality books could be sold at reasonable prices.

I loved this book as a child and used to pore over the pictures. Children's books with coloured illustrations like this were a real treat in the early 1960s.

These two were mine as a child too. I like the picture of the school milk - those were the days.

The next two are more recent acquisitions.

I particularly love this one, it's just my sort of thing.

And of course I had to have the Ladybird Book of Knitting.

I think I may have to add to this collection soon. Books & Ink have lots of old Ladybirds, just waiting to tempt me.

Next to the Ladybirds on the shelf are three small books.

These are King Penguins, they were published in the 1940s and 50s and are a similar size to the Ladybirds. They're beautifully designed - just look at this one ...

This is 'A Book of Toys' written and illustrated by Gwen White. Nearly all the toys pictured can be found in London museums so you could visit them and look for the originals.

'Wild Flowers of the Chalk' by John Gilmour

This last one is an amazing book. The maps are from John Speed's Atlas of 1627; it's fun to see how much (or little) counties you know have changed since then.

On to the second shelf of the bookcase now. 

I expect these are familiar to most people - some of the Arthur Ransome series of 'Swallows and Amazons' books.

I do like books with map endpapers - this one's from 'Picts and Martyrs'

In this illustration from 'We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea' you can see the rescue of Sinbad, the ship's cat.

I only read 'Swallows and Amazons' as a child (thank-you Puffin Story Books - more about those in another post) but have since read and re-read the whole series as well as sharing them with my two children. This led to an Arthur Ransome themed holiday in the Lake District where we climbed Kachenjunga and found the Dog's Home, as well as visiting Captain Flint's houseboat and picnicking at Darien. If none of this means anything to you, go and read the books - they're wonderful.

Next to the Arthur Ransome are some non-fiction books. First, a few books from the Blackwell's Learning Library, school books from the 1960s and 70s.

I like these for their social history as well as the illustrations. Here are a couple of pages from 'Edna Johnson's Summer Book', first published in 1963.

In 'Dancing in Britain', as well as the expected references to Morris Dancing and Maypole, I also found this ...

Scottish soldiers from the 51st Highland Division dancing in a German prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. The book says that they invented a new dance which is still called the Reel of the 51st Division.

Next come these two books which I expect were also school books.

These were published by the Blandford Press, I would guess in the 1950s. As you can see, I have yet to find Book 2 of the series. More lovely illustrations in these pages from the two books.

The tiny little books at the end of this shelf are my collection of old I-Spy Books.

Modern versions of these little books are still being published by Collins; the idea is to spot things around a theme. You get different numbers of points for each thing you spot, depending on how hard they are to find and, when you have enough points, you can send off for a certificate. You used to get a badge which I think was nicer but the books are still lots of fun.

'I-Spy Wild Flowers'
'I-Spy History'

Not that my house is full of old things but I have everything on that page from 'I-Spy History'!

And now for the bottom shelf of the little bookcase.

These are my Little Grey Rabbit books. I had just one of these as a child which I read and re-read, 'Wise Owl's Story'.

I didn't know that it was part of a series so imagine my delight when, as an adult, I found that Alison Uttley had written more than 30 little books about Little Grey Rabbit and her friends. The stories are lovely, full of details of the countryside and they have the most beautiful pictures by Margaret Tempest.

Here are just a few of my favourites ...

Two books featuring Fuzzypeg the Hedgehog 

How wonderful is it that there's a book about making lace?

I bought 'Little Grey Rabbit's Christmas' just last week and it's already one of my favourites. There's sledging and snowballs (Fuzzypeg gets stuck in one), carol singing, primrose wine and lots of kindness between neighbours. 

And we've finally got to the end of the bookcase. I hope you've enjoyed this look at some of my collections and that it's brought back happy memories of your own childhood books. 

I have more book collections on other bookcases, including hundreds of first edition Puffin Story Books and Green Penguins But they will have to wait for another day.