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.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

From 1978 to 2018

Some 1970's crochet goodness to start off with there. I'm pleased they have given us two different styling options just in case you weren't sure how best to wear it.

A trio of wonder. I'm sure that we can all find two friends who would willingly wear these so that we can recreate that photo.

Assuming that you didn't get enough tabard wearing time in science lessons you could knit yourself one (or both) of these stunners. The one on the right does have a wave pattern on it after all.

Words fail me.

This is not just a post about slightly suspect 1970's knitting and crochet. Although it could be, I have plenty of patterns in my collection. The real reason is this:

This is the most recent edition of Slipknot, the journal of the Knitting and Crochet Guild. The Guild is a charity dedicated to UK domestic knitting and crochet. The Guild has a network of local groups which meet regularly where people learn new skills and share knowledge. I have shared one of my local group meetings here.The Guild also has an archive collection of garments, patterns and equipment to enable it to preserve our textile heritage. I have written about the Guild before here, here, herehere and here.

I have an article in this latest edition and wanted to share it here:

If you think about the fashions of the 1970’s, what are the knitwear themes that stand out for you? Tank tops made from granny squares? Knee length tasselled ponchos? Crochet trouser suits? Lurex spangled sun suits? String vest loose knits on punks? Sequined crochet skull caps? Flick through any book on 1970’s fashion and you will indeed find these items. Dig a little deeper and you will find a whole lot more, much of which chimes with current fashion trends.

Good old granny squares.
Sun tops and skirt.
His and hers tank tops
The 1970’s started with a craft revival; people were drawn back to traditional crafts such as knitting, crochet, weaving, macramé and patchwork. This allowed people to express their individuality through what they wore and also acted as a rejection of mass consumption. Not too dissimilar from now in fact.

Knitting (both hand and machine) and crochet became very popular and this was reflected in the wardrobes and homes of ordinary people and in the top flights of fashion. Crochet skirts, dresses, suits and shawls were hugely popular alongside crochet home ware including throws, blankets, cushions, pot holders and items made from the good old granny square. Knitwear ranged from long line cardigans, aran jumpers, argyle patterns and skinny rib tops to picture knits, knits featuring many different types of stitches (bobbles, cables, diamonds, blackberry stitch), Fair Isle (taking 1930’s and 1940’s garments as inspiration) and striped garments.

Traditional Aran knit.
A long line knit
Fashion designers Missoni and Sonia Rykiel were producing fantastic knitwear. Most of us can recognise the iconic Missoni knitwear featuring multi coloured stripes, flames and zigzags. Sonia Rykiel was designing intarsia jumpers with cartoon and Pop Art motifs. As is usual, these fashion trends trickled down and you did not have to be able to afford designer fashion if you could knit or crochet yourself something similar.

Knitwear designers such as Kaffe Fassett, Sasha Kagan, Patricia Roberts, Sarah Dallas and Elizabeth Zimmermann were producing some wonderful designs and patterns using colour, innovative techniques, intarsia, Fair Isle and graphic patterns.

In 2018 the Guild is 40 years old and we will be marking this milestone with a series of events and celebrations along the theme of ‘from preservation to innovation’, reflecting on our past and looking towards our future. We thought that members might like to work within that theme and make an item using a pattern from 1978 with an innovative twist to make it into something that would be at home in your current wardrobe. A 1978 pattern would be ideal but we recognise that poses some problems as patterns are not usually dated and we can not release any from the Collection as they are covered by copyright. So 1970’s patterns in general, which cover the fashion trends above, are good enough. You may be lucky enough to have a 1970’s book of patterns. If not, 1970’s patterns are easy to find in charity shops and online, sometimes for free. Have a look and see what you can find.

I would happily wear this one. And the sunglasses.
I like brown so I would happily wear this but a change
of colour way would also produce a stunning cardigan.
If you ignore the polo necks and hair cuts these are good,
classic jumper shapes and the geometric one is nice and fancy.
Innovation does not mean that you need to redesign a whole garment, though do go for it if that is where your skills lie. You might want to look at the work of the designers mentioned above and use one of their patterns. On the most basic level you could use a 1978 pattern but change the colour way to update it. You could use the shape of a 1970’s jumper but add your own graphic pattern. You could take the granny square as your starting point and see how you could incorporate it into a garment. You could take a popular garment of the seventies and update it for today’s taste. For example, you may not have a need for leg warmers but the pattern could be used to make welly toppers which you might wear. You might want a long line cardigan and you could knit it in Missoni stripes. You could just add some metallic thread to your knitwear.

Sadly the knitted leggings are not included in the pattern. The
polo neck insert is though. If you left that out and made it to
our preferred length this would work for modern day. 
I would wear the jumper without hesitation. If I had the
blouse I would wear that too.
I’m imagining next year’s Convention with everybody wearing their 1978 inspired knitwear. What a fascinating and interesting sight that would be. Better get planning!

Lovely tank top and great hat.
You can read more about the Guild here. A head's up for vintage knitters, as a member of the Guild you have access to their pattern archive. It is a treasure trove!

I've got a bit of time to decide what to knit for the anniversary but I have a lot of patterns so I need to get thinking!