Monday, 22 January 2018

Special Books

I nearly always read fiction on my Kindle nowadays as it's much easier on my eyes but I still buy real books where you need more than just the text - art books for example. Not having to worry where I'm going to find shelf room for all the fiction I read means I can indulge in these sorts of books without guilt.

For Christmas I got two such books and they're both really beautiful as well as being great to read.

The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair is the story of 75 different colours, all with the most evocative names. Cerulean, Heliotrope, Dragon's Blood ... to name but a few. For me, heliotrope always conjures up the image of Maria Merryweather's governess Miss Heliotrope in Elizabeth Goudge's wonderful book The Little White Horse.

I was particularly taken with the story of Scheele's Green which, because of its high arsenic content was responsible for many deaths, including Napoleon in exile on Saint Helena. Or how about Scarlet which originally meant a fine leather which took strong dye so well that it became associated with this particularly bright shade of red. Scarlet has been associated with martyrdom, the military (in England) - both presumably because it was the colour of blood - but there are also numerous 'scarlet women' in literature, from the whore of Babylon to Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and beyond.

This is a beautifully produced book, as befits its subject. Those little coloured dots on the cover are slightly indented and then, when you open the book, you see this ...

... colourful endpapers for a book on colour. All the colours are well indexed but each colour also has a wide band down the side of the page so you can just flick through the book, choosing a colour to read about.

Add to this some interesting articles on the science and language of colour, as well as a glossary of other interesting colours that wouldn't fit in the book and you have the perfect book on colour.

The second book, Year of Wonder by Radio 3's Clemency Burton-Hill is sub-titled 'Classical Music For Every Day' which is exactly what it gives you. For each day of the year there's a piece of music to listen to, along with a story or description of the piece chosen. For example, the music for 9th January is the Offertorio from Verdi's Requiem. This was sung by a choir of prisoners in Theresienstadt, the numbers gradually dwindling as they were deported to Auschwitz. Knowing that adds something to the experience of listening to the requiem. 

I particularly enjoyed the Adagio from Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in D minor on 17th January. I'd never even heard of him before; apparently he was the first composer to write solo oboe concertos. I'm looking forward to discovering lots more exciting music as the year goes on. This book sits well alongside the subscription to BBC Music Magazine that I bought with some Christmas money.

Again, this is a lovely book. The hardback cover feels soft, like a subtle velvet. How do they do that? It makes it a pleasure to hold and read. So, all in all, two very special books and thank-you Stephen for getting them for me.

I'll leave you with that oboe piece to listen to.

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.