Tuesday, 27 March 2007

The world wide knitternet

I love being an internet knitter. Having access to a worldwide community of people all doing the same thing as you - and all doing it slightly differently, with their own travails and insights - has thrown knitting wide open to me. From the nervous poking I accomplished under the watchful eye of my second instructress (it's ok, she doesn't work there anymore), I can now look out to thousands of knitters for support, advice and encouragement - and give the same out to others in turn. I've tried things in my first year of knitting that I might have taken years or decades to get to on my own (cables! lace! provisional cast-ons! posh yarn! cheap cotton! dishcloths! I fear nothing in the knittiverse!). I thank you, knitters. Knit on.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Le petit slouch et le grand kimono

Yesterday was spent poorly in bed. Mr Nath came into the room and saw me looking at this pattern. "How appropriate," he said. To cheer myself up, I had decided to use my single hank of LL Lion and Lamb to make myself a beret. I knew my yarn was slightly thinner than the yarn in the pattern, and knew I should check my gauge, but I remembered Elizabeth Zimmerman's injunction to make a hat as a swatch when knitting in the round, and jumped right in.

(Writing this, I realize that since the pattern is written in seed stitch with an equal number of knits and purls, I could have swatched flat perfectly accurately. But I didn't want a swatch. I wanted a hat NOW NOW NOW.)

Anyway, after a few inches it became obvious that while the hat would fit, it was not working out big enough to slouch. In fact, I was making myself a perfectly acceptable, perfectly boring little cap. But when I popped it onto baby Moomin's head, it was suddenly just right. I didn't fancy giving away my Lion and Lamb but I did have half a hank of Shepherd Worsted left over from a cardigan I'd made her, and which I'd been saving to make a matching hat. I knew that Lion and Lamb and Shepherd Worsted have similar gauge, so I dug it out the stash and cast on. And the picture above is the result. You can also see the cardigan, which is a sized-up version of the Mason-Dixon Baby Kimono.

Pattern Le Slouch from Knit and Tonic
Materials Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in Watercolor
Adaptations I knit it at a smaller gauge than the pattern requires to make it baby head-sized, and after the increases I knit until the piece measured 4" from cast-on rather than the 6" in the pattern, to make sure it didn't sag right off her little head.

Pattern Baby Kimono from Mason-Dixon Knitting
Materials Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in Watercolor; two 1" wooden buttons
Cost and source £25 on yarn (from Get Knitted), £1.20 on buttons (from John Lewis)
Adaptations I increased everything by about 25%, so I cast on 50 stitches, knit for 5", cast on 3 stitches at the beginning of each row over 10 rows for the sleeves rather than the 8 rows in the pattern, etc etc. I also included two one-row button holes to fasten it rather than the suggested ribbon (I dislike tying ribbons around babies).

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

A knit on the wild side

Once upon a time there was a blog called You Knit What? Some people liked it. I didn't care for it much, and eventually it fugged itself into a corner and suffocated under a muppet pelt. But now I find myself sitting here, asking the authors of Knitting Wildlife much the same question. Oh, it's a skirt suit with a massive tiger face on the front, of course. And why is it a skirt suit with a massive tiger face on the front? Because, my friends, Ruth Herring and Karen Manners are saving the natural world one stitch at a time: top left of that cover you may have spotted the WWF logo, and the fly-leaf tells as that all royalties from the book will be donated to that charity.

Which is presumably how they convinced Michael Palin to pose like this. On the reverse of the jumper, the designers have included the message, "extinction is forever", which I cannot say is any the more true or tragic for being knitted. Wait, is Michael Palin, "ex-Monty Python" and star of "many international motion pictures" not starry enough to convince you of the whales' plight? Well how about this then:

It's Susan George, "who has starred in over thirty motion pictures, most notably Sam Pekinpah's Straw Dogs." She's smiling here, which means she probably isn't thinking about Straw Dogs, unless perchance she is reflecting that while modelling a chunky-knit representation of an Orca whale might be a sort of torment, it is at least better than having to act out two brutal rapes.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this book now. Certainly I've nothing but admiration for the person who could design and knit such creations, and a fair whack of admiration for anyone capable of wearing such a thing and pulling it off. In true 80s fashion, there's a lot of colour and pattern here, not much shaping and plenty of volume (Susan's sweater is one size to fit 32-42" chest).

If I ever get into intarsia, perhaps this book will suddenly leap of the shelf at me, and "Giraffes Browsing in the Savannah: Fringed Suit" will be graven on my heart. Yes, perhaps one day I, like the famous Mandy Smith (famous for shacking up with Bill Wyman when she was 14 and he was 47, not that Herring and Manners mention this in the little puff biog), will wear this amazing tribute to the "tallest of all land animals" whose great height "not only allows them to browse in the tops of trees, but also helps them spot potential predators from a distance" and yet is sadly "less useful against man"... oh sorry, I was lost on the savannah for a moment. Yes, I too, like the lovely Mandy with her "string of hit singles", will be wearing this as I go about my everyday work of saving the planet and seducing old bassists:

I'll just put it on the list for now, shall I?

Ruth Herring and Karen Manners, Knitting Wildlife (London: Pavilion, 1989) RRP £13.95, bought in Cancer UK for £2.50

Saturday, 17 March 2007


I have been a knitter for one year. Twelve months ago, I fumbled my first cast-on, wobbled through my first row, frogged it all and started again, and never really looked back. This wasn't the first time I'd tried to learn. As a child, my mother guided me through the production of a couple of small squares in pink and red: I remember thinking that I would make enough for a patchwork blanket, but I clearly ran out of enthusiasm early.

I tried again when I was 21. My grandmother is an excellent knitter, and her refrain of, "you spent what? I could make that for you..." had become a part of my mental furniture; finally, it recurred to me as a conviction that I could make that, and in any colour I liked, and in natural fibres too, and I could make it fit. Excited, I booked a session with the Rowan consultant in John Lewis. Two days later I rolled up with a hangover and I remember her look of frustration as I utterly failed to understand anything about the knitting process.

Third time, a friend offered to teach a small group of us and I enthusiastically agreed. There were small signs that this would be any improvement on my earlier efforts. My friend commented on my determination as she watched my struggles to hold the yarn and pic the stitches (she was a continental knitter, though obviously I didn't know that then). I left, still unable to knit, but with an unshakable will to become a knitter - and since I was on maternity leave, with the time to dedicate to it.

I bought Stitch 'n Bitch. I earnestly followed Debbie Stoller's instructions - and I managed a long tail cast-on. I diligently imitated her knit-stitch, English style - and I made a square of garter stitch. (Actually it was a rectangle, because in my naive eagerness, I knit chunky wool on 4.5 mm needles; it hurt my hands so much that I cast-off after ten rows, having produced a little patch of carpet.) I sighed at the impossibility of learning to purl, but persevered, and felt like a magician the first time I made stockinette and saw my knits and purls stacking up on top of each other.

I made a stripy garter stitch scarf from Big Wool. It is horrible, but I was enormously proud, and wore it to admiring comments. I made a ribbed scarf for my little boy from Rowan Yorkshire Tweed, and it looks lovely, but was much too scratchy for his tender little neck. I made my first garment. I asked an online shop to recommend a shrug pattern for a beginner and ended up with directions for a dumb-dumb square of ribbing which was then seamed to make arm holes. The pattern said "any dk weight yarn may be substituted", and I somehow ended up with mushroom coloured mercerized cotton. The resulting floppy, slippery, unwearable mess of an item recently found a resting place in the bin. I started a child's jumper in the left overs from the shrug and gave up when the pattern called for short-rows and I couldn't get the slippery yarn to co-operate. When I made my boyfriend a tank-top, I measured my gauge sloppily, and it turned out enormous (it's still waiting to be frogged and remade).

In fact, my solo venture into knitting was a series of disasters. Why did I never stop to just ask for help? But I loved knitting so much that I didn't feel the failures, I simply bounded on to my next effort. I don't think I would advise anyone to take my way round. Everything I've learned, I've drilled into myself the hard way. But every time I came upon something new, I reminded myself that knitting is just making loops and pulling them through more loops, and eventually my knitrights began to outnumber my knitwrongs, and the things I made began to be usable, wearable objects. But this post isn't about them. It's about the wrongs which made me a knitter.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Any old aran

This little heap of navy and electric blue aran-weight 100% wool cost me the pip-squeaking sum of £3.98 from the Shelter shop today. They had a couple of binfuls of yarn, in fact, but while much of it was delightful after its own 80s acrylic style (has anyone in the knittiverse ever knit with Lee Target "Poodle", and can you tell me if it lived up to its name?), this stuff was the real bargain. The colours (to which I've done a hideous injustice with my camera phone) are strong and vibrant; the wool is soft, clean and, well, wool.

For those who care, here are the specs.

Navy: Emu aran 100% pure new wool, 50g (no yardage), shade 6179, made in England by Emu Wools Ltd Bradford. "EMU LEAFLET INSTRUCTIONS SHOULD BE USED WITH THIS YARN", shouts the label.

Blue: Sunbeam aran-knit Irish aran bainin wool, pure new wool, 50g (no yardage), shade 64 blue fin, Richard Ingham & co. Ltd, Pudsey, Yorkshire.

One of these colours will be reincarnated shortly as Ester. The other, possibly a neck-down cabled cardigan (I am prepared to live with the dire consequences of not using Emu leaflet instructions).

EDIT: I mistakenly blamed Robin for the Poodle wool. Actually, it was made by Lee Target (I've now corrected this above), and I went back yesterday to capture it in all its poodle-y glory. Feast your eyes on this. And then scrub them clean with wool wash.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007


Some of these...

... one of these...

... and some of these.

I have to be patient, though. I've got to wait two weeks to payday before I can buy the wool, and write a chapter before I can really get my knit on.

Slip, slip, knitwrong

I have been doing my SSKs wrong. Look at them, not leaning left at all but brazenly veering right. They mock me as they pervert my fully-fashioned shaping into zig-zaggery. They laugh at me, knowing I have not the patience nor the inclination to rip.

How has this come about? I've been thoughtlessly slipping purlwise rather than knitwise (presumably because I have acquired a brainless conviction that all slipping is done purlwise; the instructions I learned from are definitely correct). Would a non-knitter notice? I don't think so, and I hope that even a knitter would have to be hyper-critical to pick up a few faulty decrease made in dark-coloured dk-weight yarn. I am not planning on subjecting my Picovoli to that kind of inspection. I am all about forwards not backwards with this thing. That's a manifesto, my friends. It may even be a maknitfesto.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Picovoli apace

This morning I found some greengage jam stuck to my foot in the kitchen, which was the last hint I needed to remind me to wash the floor. So I nobly sacrificed my morning knit time in order that my family might live in relative hygiene - which means that Picovoli is where I left it last night, just at the end of the waist decreases after six days of knitting. Doesn't that look excitingly like a wearable garment? Thank-you, top-down knitting in the round, for gratifying my impatience!

This is not a bad workrate for me, so I had better confess to my knitwrongs before I'm accused of betraying my blog title. Well I've mysteriously lost two stitches at one underarm (probably by overzealous k2tog-ing to tidy up the stitches either side of the mid-row cast-on), and my picked-up short-row wraps on the right side look like this (see right): not exactly monstrous, but not the perfect, invisible result I was hoping for. However, as they're discretely positioned under the arm hole and won't be seen, I can't bring myself to rip back and fix them. I'll just do better next time, and given that the short rows make for a pretty much perfect fit, I think I'll be making much use of them from now on, so I'll get my chance to get them right.

I'm now on ball 4 out of the 7 balls of Rowan Wool Cotton I snagged on eBay, so I'm planning on continuing the top to upper-thigh length and wearing it as a tunic. Apart from that, and the addition of the short rows (borrowed from White Lies Designs' Shapely Tank Top), and the loss of the 2 stitches, and the colour accent around the edges, I'm following the pattern exactly as written - and hail to the Grumperina, for it is a very fine pattern indeed with beautifully conceived shaping. My yarn, while not the recommended yarn for the pattern, gives the combination of drape and warmth I want for a Spring tunic and is soft to knit. It's also machine washable, which is the practical choice if you are, like me, liable to find clots of jam adhering to you first thing in the morning.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Knit wrongs

All of a sudden, I blog! Although I feel I should confess before I start that this has little enough to recommend it as a knitblog. There is no virtuoso knitting here, no delightful and puzzling new creations, not even an underlying narrative of personal tragedy for your voyeuristic delight; only a record of my ongoing efforts to become an independent knitter, while somehow reining in a family and a thesis. In fact, I'm going to kiss you, reader, because if you're here, you probably already know me.