Monday, 11 May 2015

Commuter Knitting

As previously mention I've been out of my house for a while now. For the last four weeks this has meant that I have been joining the ranks of the commuters, with a 50 minute commute each way by rail. As unappealing as this sounded at first, I discovered there was a silver lining - 50 minutes of ring- fenced knitting time! What with the commute, and with having quite a lot of time on my hands in the evening, I've been knitting like a demon for the last six weeks.

After finishing this little baby cardigan, I used the ends of some half balls from my stash raiding exploits to whip up two little baby hats.

The pattern is a free one I found on Raverly (its available here), unfortunately the blue and pink in the larger hat don't have enough contrast and the fair-isle design gets a bit lost. I think the smaller hat with the brighter contrast shades works better, and it was a great project to use up ends of balls.

I then moved on to some more raided yarn, this time some beautiful blue Malabrigo lace and made the Ishbel shawl.

I'm really please with this knit. The yarn is a beautiful colour and so very soft. I had good intentions when I started this project of giving the finished shawl to the person I 'borrowed' the yarn from. However, now its finished I'm not sure I can bring myself to part with it. Sorry C, but there is half of the skein left so I might knit you something yet ... or not ;-)

Somewhere in the middle of these two projects, I also finished my marathon Monmouth Cap making session, and then moved on to my final commuting project.

This simple little tee, is made from some beautiful cotton and possum wool blend yarn. Yes, possum wool, a very lovely gift from the boyfriend's sister who is in New Zealand. I had to undertake quite a trawl on Raverly to find a suitable project, which I liked and which didn't need too much yarn. I was a little under on the yardage for this project, and as a result made some modifications - including shortening the sleeves. But, why bother with this pattern? well its all in the back.

Quite literally in this case, as the drop stitch pattern on the back is design to reflect the shape of the spine. I think its really clever and very effective. The yarn was lovely to knit with (even though cotton is not my favourite) and the pattern was simple and ideal for train knitting. The only issue I have with the finished top is that it is just bordering on being too short in length. Even worse I know this is kinda my own fault, as I knew at the start I didn't have quite enough yarn. I seem to be an eternal optimist when it comes to my knitting and sewing projects and always think I can get them made out of slightly less yarn/fabric than the pattern suggests. On occasions this has been the case, but I'm not sure this is a good thing as it just encourages me to do that same with another project and it isn't always successful. However, I got away with it this time (just) so I probably won't learn anything from this project either :)

As well as being an optimist when it comes to my knitting projects, I'm also a huge nerd when it comes to Ravelry. Being an archivist in my work life, I like nothing better then sorting and cataloguing my stash on Ravelry, I have gone as far as to offered to sort and catalogue my friend's stashes, although no ones taken me up on the offer as yet. I've recently discovered that I can get an overview of how much yarn I've used in all my projects, and can break this down by year.  Here is what I have been up to this year.

I find it really fascinating to compare the yardage in different projects, for example my Ishbel shawl used almost the same length of wool as Christopher's felted slippers, but they are very different projects and types of yarn. Anyway, so far in 2015 I've knitted 4,581 meters, which seems quite a lot! Of these 2,246 meters, or 49%, have been knitted in the six weeks since I moved out of my house. I don't think I've ever had such an intensively productive period of knitting, except possibly in the run up to xmas when I'm knitting to a deadline. It also probably not going to continue any longer, as I've just moved back into my house, where everything is covered in dust and there is a mountain of cleaning, tidying and redecorating to be done!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

'Wake and call me early, mother dear, ... for I'm to be Queen of the May'

Last Friday was May day, and although she didn't wake and call me early, my mother dear did text me in the morning to remind me to wash my face in the dew on May morning.  This may seem an odd reminder to some readers, but it's something I've been doing for as long as I can remember. Why? I hear you ask, well let me explain.

The folk law around May Day is varied, but one old tradition is that the dew on May Day morning has magical properties and will keep your complexion young and fresh for the following year. Some traditions are more specific and suggest the dew must be used at or before sunrise, or must be collected from a specific plant. For example one rhyme says that the maid who rises early on May morning 'and washes in dew from the hawthorn tree, Will ever after handsome be'. Suggesting hawthorns must be very powerful if dew from them will make you beautiful for ever, not just for the year.

Apparently the belief that the dew had to be collected at sunrise could cause problems; the puritan Philip Stubbes, writing in 1583, recording that of girls who spent the May Day eve in the woods "scarcely the third part of them returned home again undefiled".  (Yikes, this tradition seems more dangerous than I realised.) However, the practice was still going strong nearly a century later when Samuel Pepys noted that his wife went to Woolwich on May Day eve to collect May dew the next morning "which Mrs Turner hath taught her is the only thing in the world to wash her face with".[1]

It seems that the power of May Day dew is not just an English tradition, in Dr Gerard Boate's The Natural History of Ireland published in 1652 he records that;
The English women, and the gentlewomen of Ireland ... did use in the beginning of summer to gather good store of dew, to keep it by them all the year after for several good uses both of physick and otherwise, wherein by experience they have learnt it to be very beneficial.[2]
Thankfully, I returned unmolested from my excursion to wash my face in the May Day dew, but as there was no handy hawthorne tree I had to make do with dew from the grass, and I can't honestly say I was up at sunrise. Hopefully, the dew will have retain enough magic to keep my complexion clear for another year, until next May Day.

For those who are interested the quote in the title is from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The May Queen, which starts like this:

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
Tomorrow 'ill be the the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day;
For I'm to be Queen o' the May, mother, I'm to be Queen o' the May.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Rather a dramatic title for a post about knitting, but there is a reason I'm starting with a quote from Shakespeare. I'm originally from the town of Monmouth in south Wales, which is 'famous' as the birthplace of Henry V and the place of origin of the Monmouth Cap. For many years I have been making reproduction Monmouth Caps to be sold in Monmouth Museum, but I haven't made any for a while and the museum's stock is totally gone. The requests for more caps have been getting more insistent, especially as this year is the 600th anniversary of Henry V's victory of the battle of Agincourt.

The siege of Harfleur - where Shakespeare has Henry V make his once more unto the breach speech.

But just what is a Monmouth Cap? Well its simple, tradition piece of woollen headgear popular with soldiers and sailors from the 15th to the 18th century. The main features are the double thickness brim, a wool button on the top of the cap, and a carrying loop, making it both practical and functional!  One theory is the hats could be worn under helmets in battle, and used as bag to carry the helmet when it was not in use. The originals were made of local coarse wool, and were felted, making them more weatherproof. The caps were probably produced in large quantities by local people, but as mass produced, low cost items, very few have survived - although there is one 16th century example in Monmouth Museum.

My 'modern' Monmouth Cap - not entirely traditional being from softer wool and not felted

Monmouth Caps are 'immortalized' in Shakespeare's Henry V, when Fluellen a Welsh captain in Henry's army comments;
Your majesty says very true: if your majesties isremembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in agarden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps; which, your majesty know, to thishour is an honourable badge of the service; and I dobelieve your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leekupon Saint Davy's day.
I've found it quite hard to get started on some more caps, as there are so many other things I wanted to knit. So, when I had to pack up to leave my house at the beginning of the month the only wool I took with me was Monmouth hat wool. As a result I have plunged successfully unto the breach and made ten caps which have dispatched off to the museum.

Ten Monmouth caps of varying hues and sizes

Not quite enough for all of Fluellen's men, but it should keep the museum going for a while!

15th century image of the Battle of Agincourt.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

The ethics of stash raiding

When I packed my bag before we moved out three weeks ago for the renovations on our kitchen, a not inconsiderable portion of the bag was filled with knitting wool. Well I could hardly justify bringing a sewing machine (even my portable one) and I didn't want to leave myself with nothing to do. When we moved out we were not entirely sure how long it would be for, and I had to guesstimate the amount of wool I would need. I thought I had erred on the side of caution, but last Tuesday the unthinkable happened - I ran out of wool!!! I knew I would be out at my own house later in the week to meet the builder and could pick up some more of my own wool at that point, but what to do until then???

I was staying with the boyfriend's family at the time and his mum suggested I raided the stash of his sister, which she had left in the house when she headed off to America last year. I was tempted but was this OK? How would I feel if someone when routing through my stash while I was away? I ran this ethical dilemma past a couple of my knitting friends, and they were all for it. (You know you were ladies, no good trying to deny it now). Acting on their wise advice I went stash raiding.

What did I find? A small, but perfectly formed stash. Three beautiful skeins of malabrigo yarn, and some lang cashmere dk in four colours. I decided to pinch the lang cashmere as I thought it was the least lovely and expensive, but I still felt a little guilty. In the end I decided to own up, and told Clare what I was up too. It seems I need not have worried as she had left a message for me some time ago to help myself, it had just never made it to me! Given this, and that I've finished my first project with the long cashmere, the malabrigo yarn is looking very tempting :-)

Quite cute I think, the pattern (Gidday baby) is one I've used before and really like. I just need to get back into my house so I can raid my button box to finish it off. (Update: I've just been given access to my mother-out-of-laws button box and have found the perfect buttons). There are lots of babies arriving in the next few months so I'm glad to be getting a head start on the present knitting.

I finished the cardigan last night and had left it in the sitting room, when I came down this morning I found that panda baby had moved in. He looks pretty happy with his new top.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Renovating and decluttering

Although not so much the blog but my sewing room! We have had builders in the house since last month, and for the last two and a half weeks we have had to move out - I've been putting up with the dust fairly well until now, but no electricity and no plumbing was to much for me! We've been very lucky with friends and family putting us up, but I'm dying to get back to my own home soon.

As a result of the renovations we have been living out of one red sports bag, which has made me realise just how much stuff I have, and how little of it I need. I can feel a declutter coming on when I get back to the house, and there is nothing I like better than a clear out. Although I do seem to be endlessly clearing out, so maybe I'm not as good at it as I think!?!

Over Christmas one of my friends asked how I had room in my wardrobe for all the clothes I make? I think regular decluttering is the answer, and I do periodically have clear outs of my wardrobe. Interestingly, this month in their Wardrobe Architect series, Coletterie have been asking people to talk about their biggest wardrobe planning dilemma, and it seems that clearing out unloved/badly fitting clothes is a problem for many. I feel this is not such an issue for me, and I certainly have thrown out lots of garments I've made myself, although there are some old favourites I can't bear to part with, even though I know I won't be wearing them again. It tends to be not so much a fit issue with me that causes me to throw things out but more because I'm unhappy with the construction, or because it's just not my style any more. On the other hand there are somethings I've made which I've been holding on to for years. Last night I found a pair of PJs I made years ago in a cupboard at the boyfriend's parents house - I was so happy, I thought I'd lost them. (They have astronaut teddies on them, and are fleeced lined making them the most cosy PJs ever!)

While reading through the comments on the Coletterie post I came across a reference to  Marie Kondo's the life changing magic of tidying up. I couldn't resist, and a copy is even now winging its way towards me. Once I get back into my house, and all the decorating is done, it will be beautifully clutter free! As long as I can learn to resist those charity shop bargains.

Sorry this has been a rather wordy post, but with the current restraints on my crafting I've not too much else to talk about :-) 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Happy Easter!

It's Easter, and a quarter of the way through through the year, so it seems like a good time to look back at those resolutions I made in January and see what progress I've made.

During 2015 I will sew at least five of my vintage or reproduction sewing patterns.

Hum, well, that would be a 0 out of 5 for this resolution so far. But, I have decided to take pact in the Spring for Cotton challenge, which means I will have to get one vintage project finished by the end of April. Plus, I'm planning to use a vintage pattern to make a dress to wear to a wedding in May. Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind!

During 2015 I will sew at least five projects using fabric from my stash.

I'm doing much better on this resolution, although you wouldn't know from reading this blog as I've been terrible about posting my projects this year. In fact I've made one pair of trousers from my stash, and nearly completed a second pair and a dress (they need a button hole and hand sewing of the lining in place to finished them). I think a 2.5 out of 5 for this resolution is reasonable. Although part of the reason for this resolution was to de-stash, and after a particularly heavy stash increasing visit home last month I fear my stash balance is seriously in the red.

During 2015 I will make at least one coat and some lingerie.

I fear this is another resolution I've not made much progress on, but I have finally got my hands on Amy Butler's Rainy Days coat pattern, so I'm heading in the right direction with this one.

Although as I don't have any waterproof fabric in my stash it will require a fabric purchase. But, as I'll be buying it for a project it won't really be adding to my stash, it will be more stash neutral :-)

My final resolution was a knitting not a sewing one.

During 2015 I will knit at least 10 project using (mainly) yarn from my stash.

I is only a 1 out of 10 for this resolution, oh dear. Much of my knitting time this year has been taken up with dad's birthday socks, but yesterday I completed my Lauriel cardigan. I'm going to do a more detailed post on my Lauriel and a pattern review, but in the meantime here is a sneak preview.

All in all it would seem that I need to up my crafting speed if I want to make my goals by the end of the year. To this end I'm taking advantage of the long Easter weekend to relax, watch TV and knit. Oh yes, and to eat the simnel cake I made.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Literary crafter of the month: Mme Hermelin

Yikes - it has been nearly a month since I last posted, and several months since I posted a literary knitter/crafter. However, I started reading a new book last night and on the first page I found a literary crafter, so I'm taking this as a sign to get back to the blog.

Her she is, Mme Hermelin, literary crafter for April.

'On this sixteenth day of May 1942, Mme Hermelin was wearing a new dress. It was made from an offcut of mattress ticking, long considered unsuitable for any other purpose, following the last renewal of her bedding. But after three years of war, in a moment of creative inspiration, it struck her that the blue and grey striped cotton was actually quite attractive, and with typical decisiveness she immediately had a dress made. The result was indeed strikingly novel, while suitably understatedas became a lady of her standing.'

Mme Hermelin in Welcome to the Free Zone by Nathalie & Ladislas Gara, translated by Bill Reed.

The book is set in a small village in Saint-Boniface in the Ardeche during the Second World War, and is 'a lightly fictionalized tale, based on the true story of Jewish refugees, the authors ... echo their experiences of trying to lie low in Nazi-dominated France. As I only started reading it last night I can't say a huge amount about the book, except I'm enjoying it so far and you should read it. You'll have to forgive the plug, but the translator is a friend :-)

I think there a several things I need to take from this quote; 'creative inspiration' and 'typical decisiveness' in my sewing, with the aim of a look that is 'strikingly novel, while suitably understated'.