Friday, 21 December 2007

KnitWoman to the Rescue

Don't you hate it when people disparage knitting as the epitome of everything that's dull? I got so cross about it this week that I wrote a letter to The Times. And what do you know they published it!

An article by Hugo Rifkind about people in public life who should retire included a reference to Germaine Greer. "Let it go, love", Mr Rifkind wrote. "Take up knitting." I've had enough of this, I thought. Time for KnitWoman to go to the rescue in defence of her craft. You can read the letter online at

So in wishing everyone a really good Christmas and Happy New Year, I hope you'll all be prepared to put on the (knitted of course) mantle of KnitWoman in 2008 and defend our craft from the sneers and slurs of the uninitiated.


Oh, yes, that trip to the South Atlantic. More about that next time, with pictures of some of the lovely knitted things I bought in Chile.

Friday, 16 November 2007

More Haste Less Speed, or to Fudge or not to Fudge...

Do you ever rush towards the end of a project and make a mistake that just slows you down? I've done this twice lately with my two lace scarves. This is the moment when you need to decide what kind of knitter you are...

In their rather weird but very fascinating book The Knitting Way - A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery Linda Skolnik and Janice Macdaniels talk about the need to let go of perfection and speculate that every experienced knitter practises the art of the "fudge" from time to time. You just need to be able to live with the consequences. With my recently completed blue scarf from the Arctic Lace book I discovered three rows from the end that there was a dropped stitch a bit further down. I honestly hadn't the heart to go back, so I fudged it, using some matching yarn to tack it in. I could live with that, I decided, rather than face unpicking when the finishing post was within my reach. Perhaps I was influenced by the fact that this scarf was one to be grafted together and so the fudge would be concealed at the back of my neck! But without that permission from Linda and Janet I'd probably have sighed, pulled it out and started over.

Sometimes, though, starting over is the right thing to do. I'm on the last section of my New Shale scarf and, having had a bad day generally yesterday, of course my knitting went wrong as well. I dropped a stitch and then botched picking it up so that the clear pattern of the lace edge has become blurred. So I'll be ripping out - I can't live with that. It will be visible as this is a "top to bottom" scarf and I think it's also because I haven't actually enjoyed knitting this scarf as much as the last one. I want more than ever for it to be perfect, to justify the effort. Strangely, it was a much easier pattern than the last - maybe I just got bored.

These two different approaches to discovering mistakes remind me that what I'm learning about knitting is that it doesn't work to "end gain". Whenever I start thinking things like "three more rows and I'll have finished that section", or "I'll be able to get ten rows done on my train journey to work", mistakes creep in or knots mysteriously appear. Maybe that's why I'm also coming to see my knitting as a spiritual practice: it's about turning up and doing it each day, without expectations and in whatever mood I'm in. And in my view the goal of practice is not, as the saying goes, to make perfect but rather to make progress.

This will be my last entry for a while as next Tuesday begins the great South American and Antarctic adventure. We fly to Santiago in Chile (hope they allow those bamboo needles on the plane!) and then it's down to Ushuaia in Argentina and onto the boat for the Antarctic Peninsula. After the 'ice desert' experience we have a few days back in Northern Chile, in the dry Atacama Desert. I'm taking Marcia Lewandowski's Andean Folk Knits along with me as it has lovely patterns and lots of interesting things to say about the knitting traditions of South America. And for those long days at sea I'm also going to take Sarah Don's Shetland Lace to see if I can begin charting those patterns. I'll probably take Arctic Lace as well just for the fun of taking Shetland and Arctic lace to South Shetland and the Antarctic. Read all about the trip next month...

Friday, 9 November 2007

Shetland Lace

Not sure how it's got to be 9th November already! I've finished knitting and grafting my Arctic Lace scarf but am waiting to wash and stretch it until I've completed another scarf, as it's just as easy to do two as one.

The new scarf is from Sarah Don's book The Art of Shetland Lace, in new shale pattern. This book, which is sadly out of print, is a treasure trove of the traditional lace patterns of the Shetland Isles. It can be quite difficult to use, though, because all the patterns are written out and inevitably there are one or two mistakes. I'm longing to try some of the more complicated patterns, such as Rose Lace, and Hexagon with Spider Pattern, but long lines of instructions such as K4, *O, T, K15, T, O, K1. Rep. from * to last 4 sts, O, K4 etc. etc. are rather daunting. I'm thinking about charting these patterns to make them easier to knit. Never thought I'd be saying that: until this year I was pretty anti-chart but Donna Druchunas' book Arctic Lace has convinced me otherwise. They definitely make lace knitting easier, like bamboo needles!

For this scarf I'm experimenting with different colours using Jamieson's Ultra: traditional Mogit (a mid-brown) for the background with stripes in yellow, Natural white, Sholmit grey and blue. The coloured stripes work really well as they create lovely wavy lines across the fabric. I've changed the pattern a bit to make a longer scarf which I think will suit the open lace design - this one is knitted on 4 mm needles rather than the more usual 3.25 or 3.75 mm.

There's something very special about these Shetland patterns, their long history and the way they reflect the landscape they come from. I've been lucky enough to visit Shetland twice this year, once in January and again in June. Watching waves break onto the beautiful long sandy beaches at St Ninian's Bay it's easy to see where the inspiration for traditional patterns like Print O' the Wave, Horseshoe, and Old Shale came from. The finest lace was knitted on very thin knitting needles called "wires" and a shawl could fit through a wedding ring. There is a lovely tradition in which the two mothers of an engaged couple would knit separate pieces that would be grafted together just before the wedding. It's great that these patterns can be adapted for modern use now that lace is fashionable again.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Have (bamboo) needles will travel

A slight delay in updating the blog as I had to fly up to Edinburgh for work and have been busy catching up ever since. It was a good opportunity to test out the advice from Knitting magazine that there are currently no restrictions on taking knitting needles on flights. I checked in with hand baggage only at Heathrow, firmly ignoring the sign that said no knitting needles, on the basis that it must be out of date. I felt slightly nervous queueing up to go through security, though. What if the advice was wrong and my knitting was confiscated... I wished that I'd taken the stitches off the needles for safe-keeping. But they were bamboo needles, surely not at all dangerous - after all I had an umbrella in my bag, what about all those spokes? My courage was tested when eventually I got to the conveyor belt and my yellow rucksack was taken to one side for a full check. (This has happened before, there must be something about that rucksack. When I came back from Shetland in January it was emptied at Aberdeen airport and I had to promise not to throw a pebble from St Ninian's Beach at the pilot.) "Is it the umbrella?", I asked, hoping to draw attention away from my knitting. The security guard, however, took absolutely no notice of either umbrella or knitting and, having assured him I had no gels or lotions outside my little plastic bag, I was through security and into the departure lounge. Free to knit on the plane - and I did! I'm working on a scarf from Donna Druchunas' book Arctic Lace at the moment, of which more later. Next challenge will be the international flight when we go down to the Antarctic next month - if I'm not allowed to knit on a fifteen hour flight there could be other kinds of security problems!

Friday, 12 October 2007

Knitting the Blues

Most weeks there's that "I hate knitting" moment when something's gone wrong and you wonder why you're wasting your time tying bits of string together with sticks. I hit this big time on Sunday night when, instead of consoling my man about Scotland losing the rugby, I was giving him grief about my needles sliding off the stitches on his mitts. The next day it was straight out for some bamboo dpns - they saved my life (and possibly my marriage). Spouse was greeted at the door the next evening with gloves safely hanging from their needles, only slightly larger than cocktail sticks and ideal for those tight turns on half-finger gloves. They were finished in no time after that, and have met with much approval from the recipient, but it will be a while before I risk knitting something else for the man in my life!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Gloves, Gloves, Gloves

As well as teaching myself to knit Shetland Lace this year, I've been learning how to knit in the round. A few months ago I was lucky enough to be given two rolls of old knitting needles, one of which contained loads of different sets of four needles. I made a couple of pairs of socks first and have now moved onto gloves. I think gloves could be the new socks. They're such fun to knit, although the fingers can be a bit fiddly, especially if your needles are slippery. Mine are always clattering onto the floor leaving the stitches unsupported and, guess what, they start to unravel. I've also managed to lose two needles this way. Can someone pleases invent a sat nav for lost knitting needles? As with lace knitting, I think bamboo or wood are probably best.

I knitted my first pair of gloves using a Debbie Bliss pattern on two needles. This was just as well because at the time I was having to take the bus to work as the railway was closed due to flooding. I don't think I could have coped with four needles going round corners. (When I tried doing Fair Isle socks in the car going up to Scotland this spring I lost the plot big time - my pattern book still has the scars to prove it!) However, this meant that I had to seam up everything and I'm not exactly a great fan of sewing-up (huge under-statement). So for the second glove I moved onto four needles. This worked until after the thumb, when I was alarmed to see the second finger appearing where the little finger should go! It took a bit of working out but I managed to fiddle with the pattern until I got it right. They're lovely and soft in Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino and I really like the colours.

Now I'm working on a pair of half-finger mittens for my other half (check out the piece in this month's Knitting magazine (43) about knitting for the men in your life). He says he's always wanted a pair of these (honest) and plans to wear them for cold-weather photography, of which he does a lot. This is my second proper design project as I'm working it all out as I go along, using a pattern from a very old BBC book called Knitting Fashion as my starting-point. As he's Scottish and Scotland are (so far) doing well in the Rugby World Cup I thought I might embroider a St Andrew's cross onto the navy blue. I'm using Rowan Wool Cotton, which has a lovely feel and should keep out the cold even when we go down to the South Atlantic in a few weeks' time.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Season of knits and yellow leaf designs

Autumn's here and I've completed my first knitted design project, a pretty leaf pattern collar based on one of the lace edgings featured in Knitting magazine for May 2007 (check their new website at ). I've also finally finished the two Shetland lace scarves I've been working on over the summer, in traditional cockleshell and horseshoe patterns. I've been lucky enough to get up to Jamieson's woolshop in Lerwick, Shetland twice this year and to buy the very fine Ultra wool for these projects in person. The cockleshell pattern was quite fiendish and I nearly gave up after four tries and several swatches working out an error in the pattern (from Sarah Don's out of print book The Art of Shetland Lace)! The second one, based on one of Jamieson's own patterns, was much easier to knit but for some reason the grafting together kept going wrong. But they look great now that they've been washed and stretched out to dry on my dressing-room floor.

Here in the UK the days are shortening and it's time to think of some cosy autumn and winter projects. Mohair seems to be back in fashion, along with all things from the 1970s (which I'm afraid to say I can remember the first time round!) and a kind person in my Knitting Group has just given me some very fine red fluffy yarn to play with. So a good start to the season and to my new blog. We'll see how it goes from here.