Friday, 29 August 2008

Back from Hols...and finally finishing a few projects

A bit of a gap for a coastal interlude at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk, overlooking the wonderful RSPB reserve at Minsmere. Lots of walking and birdwatching and a little bit of knitting but mainly a real switch off.
On the knitting front the good news is that over the Bank Holiday weekend I finally finished my cardigan! This is my first real design project so I'm very pleased. It's not perfect by any means, mainly because it's slightly too small and the fronts don't meet. Also I rather rushed the front bands and have some doubts whether I can live with them or will need to unpick them and re-do. But at the moment I'm just enjoying wearing it. I've learned a lot through doing this project. I could have planned things out a lot more in advance, particularly working with a limited amount of balls in each colour. On the other hand I enjoyed just starting to knit and seeing where it took me. And I took a great deal more care over the blocking out and sewing up than I've ever done before, which must be NO BAD THING.

I've also finished a pair of ballet bootees for my ballet teacher's newborn - it took me a little longer than I intended so I'm hoping that they will still be a good fit!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Mathematics of Stash Reduction

How can buying more yarn reduce your stash? As I've mentioned before, my stash is now absolutely enormous. So much so that I made a pact not to buy any more yarn this month. Guess what?

Yesterday I went to Get Knitted in Bristol for a fabulous second day with Debbie Abrahams learning all about design. This was the non-knitting day, when Debbie taught us all the calculations we need to adapt patterns or write our own. As we struggled to get our heads round her various formulae (which it has to be said are very simple, really, and are clearly set out in her book Design Your Own Knits) I wished my school maths teacher had told me how useful I would find his lessons in my late forties!

You will understand, then, that I needed some respite at lunchtime and it being a very wet day outside what was there left for me to do but browse in the shop? "I'm not buying any yarn", I said to my companion, Zoe. "Of course not", she said, herself sticking womanfully to a very strict budget. So, I picked up a Rowan magazine I haven't got and which happens to fill a gap in my run, looked at and rejected some Big Wool for my friend Lyn, which was at full price, and then wandered by the Sales Bin. I had a little rummage, just out of interest, but with absolutely no intention to buy. Then, right at the back of the bottom shelf, behind something I thought might have been reduced Big Wool but wasn't, I found three balls of Natural Silk Aran, just enough to complete a project that I've been wanting to knit for some time. And it was the same dye lot. "Guess what?", I said to Zoe. "I'm buying some yarn." It was at this point that she, brilliant woman, explained how buying this yarn was in fact reducing my stash because it would enable me to complete a project. I have now named this Zoe's Formula of Stash Reduction: S + Y / WIP = CP, where S is your existing stash, Y is an additional purchase of yarn, WIP is work in progress and CP is your completed project. Go figure!

Sunday, 3 August 2008


It seems accepted that there are two kinds of knitters: product-and process-oriented. I definitely fall into the latter category. I like exploring what knitting can do and where it takes me and I'm not all that concerned about completing projects. It's what leads me into yarn stores to buy odd bits and pieces and see what I can do with them. I've even more excuse for this now that I'm doing the City and Guilds course and need to try out lots of new stitches and techniques. My stash has grown so enormous that I've made a bargain with myself not to buy any more yarn in August!
On the other hand, there is a guilt element to all the uncompleted swatches and half knitted bag and sock projects I've got lying around, not least all the space they take up. I would like to get them finished - some day. I tell myself that it's part of the creative process to be working on lots of different things at once. I think there's some truth in this but there's also something to be said for concentrating on one project and seeing it through to completion. Which is what I've been trying to do this week at the Oxford Summer School - Monday to Friday totally devoted to knitting. On Monday the tutor Susette Palmer showed me how to do the calculations for altering the sleeves to a three quarter length (there's also help on doing this in September's Knitting magazine). Once I'd got the maths sorted I spent most of the rest of the week working out the best proportions of each colour to knit the sleeves with. There were some constraints because of the amounts of yarn I had left in the different colours and at one point I decided to re-knit one sleeve when the class consensus was that there was too much white in it. This took up rather more time than I would have liked but I did enjoy the process of working it all out and deciding which version looked best. I've now finished both sleeves and also picked up and finished off the neck band. The neck also got done twice because there were holes around the shoulders that were obviously going to sag. Susette gave me the tip of picking up slightly less stitches than you might think and knitting two together across the shoulders. It seemed worth re-doing to get this right and it does look hugely better. I used a suspended cast-off for the neck line, which is much more stretchy than the ordinary cast-off, and is one of the most useful things I've learned so far from the C&G course. I also needed to decide what to do about the side seams which in a fit of stupidity I sewed up with much too large a seam. At about 5 am this morning I realised that I would have to unpick them. So they're being done for the second time too... I've completed one and unpicked the second ready to re-sew. No disastrous cuts into the knitting so far and only one swear word used. Amazing! Then I just need to seam and sew in the sleeves and do the front bands for it to be finished.
But I'm not going to achieve that today, although I really did want to. And I've realised that it doesn't matter. Not because I'm a process knitter and don't like finishing, in both senses of the word. But because it's important to me to get this project right and to spend as much time on the finishing as on the knitting. Like loads of other knitters I don't enjoy the sewing up bit, but it is rather silly of us when you think that knitting is precisely the creation of a fabric that needs to be made into something. Unless we're just going to make scarves and socks all the time. So I will learn to like and value finishing as much as I now like and value blocking - I will, I will.
I finished the week with Susette by having a break from the cardigan and knitting an entrelac swatch, something I've wanted to try for ages. I really like the result, although it's a stitch that requires a good deal of picking up stitches, which was good for me to practise in the context of the finishing theme.
And a week of spending time sociably with others (nearly) as crazy about knitting as me ended on a high note yesterday morning when I hosted a Knit and Browse coffee morning. Several local knitters, mostly from my Tuesday evening knitting group, came along to discuss our current books and projects. It was great to spend a bit longer together and share our passion.