Wednesday, 17 January 2018

2017 in knitting

It is time to look back over last year and see what I got up to with my knitting. You can read about 2015 here and 2016 here. I feel like I haven't knitted all of the things that I wanted to knit this year. There are just so many great patterns! I am very pleased with what I have made and I enjoyed making them so I have to remember that. These are more or less in the order that they were made. Things do get moved up and down the list when deadlines or other occasions mean a change in project is needed.

This 1960's cravat and tam makes a super set but the pattern required a bit of tinkering. The cravat works very well and I made it and the tam in a lovely mustard Sirdar Baby Bamboo. It is 80% bamboo and 20% wool. I love everything about wool but it does not love me back. It itches me beyond belief, even a fine merino or when blended with silk. That is why I always wear a scarf and long sleeved tops with my cardigans. I thought I would get away with this one but not round my neck, so my mum now has the cravat. The tam is lovely but has no rib and no hatband (as per the pattern) so it just does not stay on my head. I have threaded elastic through it and that kind of works now. I can cope with wool in a hat as I have a big fringe so it never touches my skin!

I wanted to crack the pattern so I had another go in this lovely red Wendy Merino. I added some rows of rib and this one does fit and stay on. I don't normally wear red so this one was going to be for sale but I was surprisingly pleased with how it looked on so I kept it! I knitted the matching cravat too but I don't seem to have a photo of it.

I knitted this Aran pattern hat for my niece in Sublime Merino. She loves yellow and I love knitting cables so it was a good match. It was great fun to knit. There was a small moment of difficulty when she found that the pompom wasn't quite the colour green that she had picked out in the shop, (well remembered by her, age 3), but we have got over that now!

Next up was the completion of this lovely 1950's lace panel cardigan which I knitted in Millamia. I knitted the back, sleeves and one front in 2015!! It then sat in the naughty corner for a good long while as I got a bit confused working out the instructions for the other front. As is the way of vintage patterns, it just said to reverse what you did on the other side and I could not make it work. Helpful with lots of yarn overs and lace. Eventually, I sat down with my mum and she read out all the possibilities that a row could be whilst I knitted them to see what looked right. That way we got the pattern and I could finish my cardigan! It is a beautiful teal, the colour isn't exactly right in any of these photos.

This Marriner's tank top was one that I put on my 2017 knitting wish list and is in fact one of two projects from that list that got started in 2017. I started it on the train on the way to Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I have knitted the front and back, in Fyberspates Scrumptious and have stalled on the armbands. It is currently languishing in the Knitting Bag of Doom from which it deserves to be rescued rather soon. I would like to wear it.

This 1940's cardigan from a Canadian pattern has such a lovely texture, nice and squishy, and has great forties shoulders. It was knitted in Drops Merino and the colour is more like the second photo then the top one. It was a great pattern to knit. This one hasn't featured on the blog before as it was a commission knit.

I knitted this baby helmet from a 1950's pattern for a lovely friend's baby. I like the look of these traditional helmets and they must keep a baby's head nice and cosy. The decoration on the top is a button that you knit a little cover for and then sew to the centre of the helmet. I first knitted one of these helmets for my niece as a Christmas present when she was four months old. It has a bit of a family tale behind it. You can read the story of here.

This was another one from my knitting wish list. The model is holding an egg timer as the pattern states that this jumper can be knitted in eight hours. If you follow me on Instagram you will already know the sad story of this jumper. In brief, no, you can't knit it in eight hours and nor can you knit it with the yarn that I used (a Sublime silk/cotton mix) without it looking like a dish cloth. An expensive dish cloth at that. So it had to be pulled back and the yarn is back in my stash waiting for a more suitable project.

This is another unfinished project, it had to be put aside for more pressing matters but I do intend to go back to it. I really like 1940's tank tops/pullovers and have a great collection of men's patterns. This one gets bonus marks as it also fits into my Men Smoking collection. I have knitted the back and done the rib of the front. It might be for sale, it might be for me, we shall see!

I was on a beret mission in the latter half of 2017 as I wanted more of these most useful hats and had plenty of patterns to try out. This 1960's one is knitted in Debbie Bliss Aran in a fabulous duck egg colour. It was lovely to knit and I like the pattern. No photos of it on yet but I plan to remedy that soon.

I recently wrote a post about this beret pattern which you can read here so I won't repeat the details.

I also made a black one as a commission:

Squeezing in as the last knit of the year on the 29th December was a cream version, in alpaca and silk, for me.

In November I started another garment for myself. It is a 1960's sleeveless jumper with a big collar for pining brooches on. It is not finished yet but I can share the beginnings of it. I have knitted most of the front and have about an inch more to go on the collar. So about halfway there.

2017 appears to have been a year of hats and unfinished things. I'm aiming for more garments and more completed projects in 2018. What about you?

Friday, 12 January 2018

What I read in December

Happy New Year. I hope 2018 has got off to a great start for everyone. Today's post rounds off my monthly reading reviews for 2017. I read 55 books last year, I am planning a post discussing my favourites soon.

This is a children's story about a boy and a fox and a war. Peter rescued Pax when he was a cub and they have grown up together. With a war coming Peter is forced to return Pax to the wild; a decision he regrets as soon as he makes it. The book is the story of Peter's hunt to find Pax and Pax's story of what happens in the meantime. Peter and Pax get alternate chapters to tell their stories which works very well and the fox's voice is believable.

I enjoyed reading this book and it is very moving. I felt rather weepy at points. It would also be a good book to read aloud although you would need to judge the sensitivity of your audience. It is beautifully illustrated by Jon Klassen.

This novel is inspired by the life of the Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar who was born in 1961 and died at the age of 29. She is best known for her play Rita, Sue and Bob Too which was also turned into a film. Andrea had a very tough life on an infamous estate, dealing with poverty, abuse and alcoholism whilst bringing up her children.

This book tells the story of Andrea's life both at home on the Bradshaw Estate and whilst visiting London as a playwright to see her work being produced. It describes how authentic her work was and the difficulties that she faced whilst writing. It is both tragic and comic, just like her scripts. You get a feeling of how hard it must have been for Dunbar to navigate between these two worlds, only one of which she really understood.

This novel is very well researched and written, with a strong sense of place and real empathy for Dunbar. I found it fascinating and learnt quite a bit too.

I had been looking forward to this book by Lucy Adlington coming out and I was not disappointed. Lucy Adlington is part of the History Wardrobe whose historical costume talks and events you may have been lucky enough to go to. She has written several other books, two of which I have on my to read pile.

This is an incredibly powerful young adults book which centres on four young women - Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. It is told from Ella's point of view and follows her from her first day in her new job in a sewing workshop. Only it is no ordinary first day as the workshop is in Birchwood (Auschwitz) and this is a story all about hope, friendship and survival. It is based on real sewing workshops within concentration camps.

I don't want to say much more about it as I do not want to ruin the story. It is a wonderfully written story which brings home the horror of it's setting in a way which is all the more powerful because it is dealing with sewing and clothes, things that are not out of the ordinary.

This novel begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov, an aristocrat bought down by the Russian Revolution, is sentenced to house arrest in an attic room in the Hotel Metropol. The Count has to adjust suddenly from his life of having everything and more to having seemingly nothing. However, all of life can be witnessed through the comings and goings at the hotel. The Count makes an unlikely but rewarding friendship with a young girl who is also a guest. They explore behind the scenes at the hotel. This friendship has a lifelong effect on the Count and we follow his story up to 1954.

This book is atmospheric and it gave me a strong sense of Russia at that time, especially through it's politics, music, literature and ballet. The characters are strong and well drawn and you get a real sense of displacement. The house arrest in the hotel is a clever plot device which locks down the location whilst providing lots of plot opportunities in the day to day business of a busy hotel. I really enjoyed reading it.

This is a debut novel and a really great read. I enjoyed it a lot, you end up really feeling for the main character Eleanor. It is warm, funny and tragic in equal measure. I am finding it quite hard to know what to say about it without giving too much away.

Eleanor Elephant has many quirks and a decided way of doing things. Throughout the book we realise that this is to do with a tragic event in her early life which she has not/can not deal with. She has everything that she needs on the surface, a job, a flat, some interests but it becomes clear that she is existing rather than really living. Making a friend changes all that and we watch Eleanor change in ways that she never imagined. I can't say much more but it is well worth a read.

Despite having read a fair few crime books I have never read the 'Queen of Crime' P.D.James. These six short stories are clever tales of revenge. A bullying school teacher gets his comeuppance. A heart broken husband plots a way to get his own back but there is a twist in the end. A country house Christmas weekend doesn't follow the expected traditions. A young girl confronts a mystery in her past. A new house is acquired in a twisted way. A father in a nursing home cleverly gains revenge on his children.

These tales are well written and the characters are well drawn. I don't always enjoy short stories as I sometimes find them unsatisfying but that was not the case with these. Perfect for an afternoon of light reading.

There are two novels in this book. Quicksand was written in 1928 and Passing in 1929. Nella Larsen was an American novelist of the Harlem Renaissance (a movement in African American culture 1918-1937) and she was the first African American woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. She disappeared from public view after these two novels due to a messy divorce and a plagiarism accusation and worked as a nurse until her death.

Quicksand is thought to be semi autobiographical as the main character, Helga Crane, is the daughter of a West Indian father and a Danish mother, as was Larsen. Helga is a woman who is struggling to find a place where she is comfortable in life. Her parents are dead and her relatives are not all comfortable having her around. In seeking out what she wants she finds that she often feels apart when she is in black communities and is also uncomfortable living with her white relatives. She moves around trying to find where she belongs whilst becoming bogged down in questioning her emotions and her beliefs.

Passing focuses on two women and has some similar themes to Quicksand. Clare and Irene were friends as children and meet again after marriage and children. Both are mixed race and Irene identifies as black whilst Clare 'passes' as a white woman and her husband does not know her background. Clare wants to restart her friendship with Irene so that she can have an entry into black society and reconnect with one half of her identity. Irene fears for Clare being found out and judged by her racist husband.

Both books were fascinating, thought provoking, and gave me a much better insight into life in America for an African American in the twenties. I would like to think that things have improved enormously since then but recent events show that to sadly not be true.

I had quite a Persephone Books wish list for Christmas present ideas and luckily for me my family kindly obliged. This one is from my mum and dad. I do love Persephone books, they are always interesting, I like that they are out of the ordinary and that they work hard to bring forgotten women writers back to our attention. I have never read one that I did not enjoy. Also, let's not forget how beautiful they look in their classy silver jackets that open to reveal the glorious endpapers and the matching bookmark. The endpapers for this book are a 1933 textile design from the Calico Printers Association, Manchester. Imagine that as a frock!

Marianna was Monica Dickens second book, published in 1940 and written when she was 24. It tells the story of Mary from childhood to adulthood. It is a fairly gentle tale of family life, in a small flat and then house in London with her mother and actor uncle, with weekends and holidays spent at her late father's family's country seat Charbury. We follow Mary through endless summers with her cousins, school life, crushes, heart break, academic distress, acting school, Paris and love as she grows up and finds her identity. It has plenty of enjoyable domestic detail and special little moments and is a joy to read.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

What I read in November

I am so behind on my book posts that I have decided to catch up with November and December and then start again in January and keep up to date from then. I haven't stopped reading, I just seem to have run out of time to write about reading!

I only read three books in November but two of them were great big thick ones!

I don't buy hardbacks very often but I could not resist this as I have been hoping for years that Philip Pullman would revisit the Northern Lights trilogy. If by some chance you have not read them already I really recommend those books. They are super, well written and really transport you into their world.

This book is kind of a prequel though Pullman isn't calling it that and it could be read as a stand alone book. The main character in Northern Lights, Lyra, is a baby in this book. The main character in this book is Malcolm, a publican's son who lives in the pub on the banks of the Thames. He has a beloved canoe called The Belle Sauvage and he canoes on the Thames, helps in the pub and does odd jobs in the nunnery across the river. But then it rains and rains and Malcolm meets friends and enemies and learns about politics and religion and science. He finds himself swept into a dangerous adventure.

I was torn between reading this all at once and savouring it slowly which is the option I took as I didn't want it to finish. I loved it. It was thrilling and exhilarating and nerve wracking and gripping. I was worried I would be disappointed in it because I love Northern Lights so much but I wasn't at all. I am looking forward to volume two!

This was first published in 1933; it is Orwell's account of living in poverty in Paris and London in the late twenties. The book begins in Paris and gives a detailed account of the struggle to pay for somewhere to sleep and something to eat and the difficulties of finding a job. When he is successfully employed as a kitchen porter he describes the sheer slog of the job and the lack of opportunities available whilst living that life. When he moves to London he often tramps the street from doss house to doss house looking for work and food.

Orwell describes the friends he made and the characters he met during that time and his descriptions are vivid and bring the people to life. It is interesting to find that most of the time people pull together to help each other out, sharing what little food or money they have. I found it really interesting and readable and it left me with a greater appreciation of the hardships of the time.

This is a hefty book at over 500 pages and frankly it would have benefited from some more editing. I wanted to like it and from the blurb on the back I really thought that I would but it just didn't do it for me.

It is set in rural France under German occupation during the second world war. In the small community everyone knows everyone and all their business and the reader is introduced to most of the townspeople which can get a little confusing. The main character, Jacques, a farmer, manages to evade conscription to German factories and sees out the war in his village. As a response to various trials and losses he decides to move his house, stone by stone, from one side of the village to the other. This process continues day after day whilst life in the village with its various dramas, secrets and intrigues pass him by. As the war comes to an end we see what has happened to the community.

I found it hard to like any of the characters and that always stops me from enjoying a book as much as I might. Some of them were quite frustrating and I just wanted them to get on with it. There is also some fairly terrible writing about sex which grated.

All in all, could have been good but it just wasn't.

This is my last post of 2017 so Happy New Year. Here is to plenty of great reads in 2018. Is there anything that you are looking forward to reading?

Sunday, 17 December 2017

A 1960's knitted beret

What an outfit! What a colour!

However, for the purpose of this post all we are interested in is the beret. I have been after a knitted beret for a good while, and am going through a phase of finding all the beret patterns that I have and knitting them up one by one to find my favourite. Berets are so versatile in their look and in their period correctness and I have a gap in my hat wardrobe.

I have knitted the Sunday Pictorial Beret from A Stitch in Time by Susan Crawford but I can't get it to look right on me, though I have seen it look fabulous on others. It has a separately knitted and stitched on bow and I think it might be the placement of that which is causing me problems. I need to remove the bow so the weight doesn't pull the beret down and then I can position it on my head more to my liking. So whilst that is on the 'to fix' pile I am trying other patterns out.

I bought this fabulously soft, beautifully coloured yarn from Temporary Measure when I saw them at Yarndale in September. It is 100% baby alpaca DK and it knits up beautifully with a lovely drape and good stitch definition. It is most lovely and warm too.

The colour is a bit lighter than this really but I can't get a good photo of it in this winter gloom! I love the radiating decreases.

This is quite a big beret; I would say it is larger than the pattern suggests. I rarely check my tension if I'm knitting an accessory for myself and the yarn is pretty drapey. I rather like the extra slouch; I can wear this like a tam which is a style I am comfy wearing. I'm going to go down a needle size for the next one for myself for comparison. The headband is just garter stitch so I probably would like that on a smaller needle for a closer fit.

This is it hot off the needles and straight on to my head, hence the bad lighting and the sofa selfie. I liked wearing it straight away.

It has continued to get lots of wear. This is me early in the morning on a freezing station platform waiting for yet another late train to work! It keeps my ears nice and cosy. This is a better idea of the colour too.

I have knitted another one as a commission knit. Here it is:

This one is knitted in black Drops Merino DK and it feels lovely.

Finishing touches - woven labels and vintage thread.

I have a beret from another pattern knitted up which just needs seaming so that should be getting tested out in a few days.

Do you have a favourite beret pattern?

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Gorgeous gifts for knitters

Do you have a knitter in your life that you are struggling to buy for? Maybe you don't know what they already have or are nervous about buying them yarn or you just know nothing about knitting so you can't even imagine what a gift for a knitter may look like. Well, help is on hand with my gorgeous gift guide.

My criteria were that it had to be both beautiful and useful, be of great quality, would feel like a treat to receive and come from small, independent businesses as I believe makers should support other makers. This is not a sponsored post, I just wanted to share the love! I have shopped with many of these businesses before and for others I have admired their goods but haven't treated myself. Yet.

I'm sticking with knitters as that is what I know best but many of these gifts will suit the crocheters in your life too. Make sure you take a look at the other wonderful things these companies have to offer.

This is the Garter Stitch Printed Panel from Beyond Measure This lovely print is by the artist Jan Brewerton and has been digitally printed on cotton calico. It is £12. I like the focus on the stitches but also the strong image of the hands. As makers, our hands are our most important tools and we don't always give them credit.

The marvellous thing about this panel, apart from the great design, is how versatile it is. It could be framed and hung in your craft room, turned into a cushion for your knitting chair, made into a knitting bag or pouch as is shown above. It could also be embroidered on or embellished.

How true the statement is on this rather fabulous Tillyflop Designs tea towel! It is £10. Who wants to dry up when they could be knitting?! But sometimes these mundane tasks do interrupt our knitting time so why not make it better with this lovely tea towel? Of course, tea towels don't have to be used for their intended purpose. This could also be framed or made into a knitting bag.

The Travelknitter has a really gorgeous range of special yarns, dyed in a range of glorious hues. I haven't knitted in it yet but have given it a good squish and stroke at yarn shows and it is beautiful stuff. As yarn can be a tricky choice for a gift this fantastic £5 travel tin full of stitch markers fits the bill nicely. You can never have enough stitch markers and these come in a really cute vintage ticket style tin to keep them safe. Easy to chuck in to your knitting bag and no more loosing them all down the side of the sofa!

My Random Makes produce textile accessories on a variety of materials using decorative free hand machine embroidery. These fabulous knitting brooches are a great way for a knitter to show their love for their craft. They could be worn as jewellery or pinned to your knitting bag. As they are free machine embroidered no two are exactly the same which is rather lovely. In the top photo those on the left are stitched on boiled wool, £7. The ones in the middle are button badges, £6. The one on the right is a medal, £10. If you have a particular colour in mind Wendy takes requests.

If you follow me on Instagram you will have seen another fantastic brooch from My Random Makes.

The best Christmas jumper brooch ever!

To the uninitiated this may look like a rather adorable floral sheep face with random holes in it but to a knitter this is an extremely useful tool! This pretty needle gauge from The Knitters Attic is one of the most glorious needle gauges I have seen. It is £6.50. The gauge measure the width of a needle and tells you what size it is. This is particularly useful if you are using double pointed needles as they don't always have the size on the needle itself, just the packet. Needle sizes also rub off needles through wear or, if like me, you use lots of vintage needles these are in the old needle sizes and a gauge will tell you the modern needle size. So, beautiful and useful. Tick. Tick.

Yarnisty have a great range of knitting goodies in their Etsy shop. These lovely leather knitting ribbed pattern key rings really caught my eye. They are £5. So handy and with a great pattern on them. I'm quite fussy about key rings, I don't like them too large or bulky or novelty like so I think these are spot on.

Max's World makes knitting themed jewellery and gifts for crafters. These knitting earrings with their tiny balls of wool and needles are such fun, I couldn't resist them. They are £10. The needles are silver plated. The earrings come in a wide range of colours. I liked the glitz of the white and gold pair and also the more subtle grey pair. You are sure to find your knitter's favourite colour.

A knitter can never have enough bags to put their knitting in. They need bags to transport the knitting around such as these gorgeous knitting bags from the fantastic Temporary Measure. To prove my point I can tell you that I have both of these. I love both the illustrations and the text which is so spot on and makes me chuckle every time. They are £12.99. All their bags are printed in The Lake District on either organic cotton or ethically certified cotton.

Knitters also need smaller bags that are ideal for an ongoing project. If you knit several things at once, like me, you might have each project in a small bag and then pop them all in your larger knitting bag. These project bags are £12 and whilst it was very hard to choose I finally went with the alpaca one. But, that raccoon is calling to me!

Finally, knitters need even smaller bags to put their bits and pieces in. Mine contains a pen, tape measure, tiny scissors, stitch markers, yarn needles, stitch holders and a needle gauge. These little cases are perfect for this job and are £10. Then you can just pick up your case and bung it in with whichever project you are working on, knowing you will always have all the tools you need.

I hope that has helped you find a gift for the knitter in your life, or indeed, for yourself. If you need one more idea, many local yarn shops do gift vouchers so you can give your knitter a fun shopping trip and still support a local business.