Knitting life

Style vs substance

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What started out as a bit of fun turned out to be quite a thought provoking exercise. I loved seeing everyone's #bestnine2017 photos on Instagram and, despite saying that I wasn't going to do any "looking back" type exercises I couldn't resist popping my details in to see what my best nine guide looked like. And I was a little bit surprised to be honest.

I have spent a quite a bit of time (and some money) recently on improving my photography and styling skills. Instagram is such a visual platform as we all know and with the recent algorithm changes it has become increasingly difficult for your photos be seen about the rest. I've played around with lighting and composition trying to find the type of shot that does well as well as trying to improve my own skills - for the sake of learning and growing.

It was interesting to see that of the photos ranked as most popular (by the number of likes) the majority of them were taken quite spontaneously with very little in the way of styling or editing. The blanket (top right) and sock on a beach were literally quick snaps, taken and posted within minutes with no fancy pants editing.

It's hard to draw conclusions from such a random snapshot but I think the lesson from this is clear as I move forward into 2018. To spend less time faffing about with images, editing and all that malarky and just to keep an eye open for engaging or colourful shots as they present themselves. A bit less worrying about style and a bit more substance is going to be the order of the day.

 

Fresh start

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Today marks a series of fresh starts. And of course, some knitting plans.

My first working day not in the NHS.

My first 10 minute commute (on foot)

My first time ever with a proper lunchtime break - which of course should be more properly referred to as a midday break for knitting.

A new job needs a new notebook of course and this week marks the start of me using my new Strickplanner in earnest - as opposed to keeping it neat and tidy (and empty) for fear of spoiling it. My cunning plan is to have 3 or 4 projects to work on each week with the rest stored safely away out of sight. These will include: a long term WIP (this week it's my Mdina cardigan by Purl Alpaca Designs), a plain sock (obviously), a design in progress and something garter stitch (log cabin blanket fits the bill right now).

Enough variation to keep me happy. Enough restriction to make some progress. That's the plan anyway - I'll let you know how it goes.

Twixtmas

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Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love Christmas. I love the anticipation, the twinkling lights and the smell of a real Christmas tree. I'm not so keen on the queues and the crass commercialism but on the whole I think that Christmas has a lot to commend it.

But, for me, the real joy is that period that I've recently seen referred to Twixtmas. That special no mans land between Christmas and New Year when no one knows (or really cares) what date it is, and it's perfectly acceptable to eat mince pies and cream for breakfast. 

For our family it's made even more special by the fact that after the festivities are finished, we pack as much leftover food as we can into our car and head for the hills. Literally. We make our regular pilgrammage north to the Lake District and hole up for a week in our favourite cosy holiday cottage. 

I'm sitting this watching snow fall outside the window, looking out over the valley. We have all our essentials (it's surprising how much knitting you can pack into a family car) and nothing to do for a week. I'm planning on spending the time knitting, writing and reading.

One thing I am absolutely not going to be doing is making any sort of resolutions or Grand Plans. Out of interest I brought a few of my old journals with me and one thing I was really struck with, was how repetitive they are - and not in a good way. My last 3 years journals show me here, in the same cottage writing much the same list of resolutions. But somehow I haven't transformed into that magical creature who rises at 5am, writes in her gratitude journal for half an hour and then greets the day with yoga, body brushing and a green smoothie.

So, this year I am embracing being me. I'm not going to be destashing, cataloguing my Ravelry inventory or making knitting plans for the year. I'm not going to be reviewing my 2017 knits - because, really - who cares? And it goes without saying that Cold Sheeping is never going to happen in my house.

I'm embracing my knitting, embracing my stash and embracing me.

If anyone wants me I'll be sat in the window seat with hot coffee, my knitting bag and the last of the mince pies.

We are not at home to the knitting police

Just the other day on a Facebook group I saw a comment which started innocuously enough but by the time I had read the thread to the end I had steam starting to come out of my ears. And so, another slightly ranty blog post ensues.

I hasten to add that it wasn't the Everyday Knitter facebook group where this thread happened and I'm not going to name it for fear of adding fuel to the flames. I think I've said enough over there for the time being. Anyway, it started out as a comment about people learning to read charts and whether there was any advantage in being able to do so.

There then followed lots of helpful advice with people merrily debating the pros and cons of each. There then followed a series of far less helpful and constructive comments which is when my right eye started to twitch ever so slightly.

"Knitters who read from charts are lazy" 

"There is no reason to use charts when all the decent designers provide written instructions"

And my personal favourite "Charts are antiquated"

By this time my blood had started to boil and I had to step away from the laptop. 

Seriously, why on earth do people think they have a right to criticise others for how they chose to assimilate pattern directions. If they think the use of a chart is lazy what does that say about the use of stitch markers, or heaven forfend, lifelines. Why not go the whole hog and insist that we all knit complicated fair isle in mercerised cotton whilst adhering to directions written over 2 pages of densely packed 8 point Arial font? Surely anything else is just bone idle?

As soon as people start asserting the viewpoint that there is only 1 way to do things I know it's time to back away slowly. Strangely enough, this 1 way, this solitary way always seems to coincide with the speakers way of doing something and they are never backwards at coming forwards with this view.

Faced with the Knitting Police - whether they appear in front of you in public and whip your sock from your hands, or whether they are behind a keybaord on a Facebook group I now employ the tried and tested technique which got me through many a visit from the Health Visitor when my boys were babies.

Simply *smile, nod, ignore. Repeat from * to end.

Disclaimer: In case anyone were to think I am maligning health visitors let me be clear. They do a wonderful job in difficult, trying circumstances. We had 3 HVs during our baby days (prem babies, lots of TLC needed - won't bore you with the details). 2 HVs were wonderful, sainted creatures who made me tea, dried my tears and told me that despite all my protestions to the contrary I wasn't the worlds crappest mum. The third was awful. Opinionated, bossy and never failed to make me cry. I learned to deal with her by employing the above advice and it worked a treat.

Stash dash: Or the quiet revaluation of goals

Windswept sweater in progress. Yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed, colourway Scree

Windswept sweater in progress. Yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed, colourway Scree

As you may remember from the blog last week I have been quietly contemplating my rather rash 10K goal for stash dash, after the somewhat depressing discovery that my crocheted, stripe blanket was rather smaller than I remembered it being.

As a result I took to rootling under the bed for some (very) long-neglected WIPs and came up trumps with this one. It is a Windswept sweater - pattern by Tin Can Knits which I started well over a year ago. All was going swimmingly with it as I recall. I had done the yoke, which is worked flat, separated for the sleeves and even sorted out the tricky overlap section to start working the body in the round.

Then, for reasons best known to my past self I had set the project aside without noting where I was on the lace panel chart (because of course I'm normally so good at doing that - not). When the time came for me to pick it up again, of course I couldn't remember what line was I up to so I did what I normally do and hope for the best. That didn't work, obviously and after another round I realised that I had totally messed it up.

I did what every normal, sane knitter would do with such a project. I stuffed it under the bed and went to cast on a shawl instead.

I'm pleased to report that this has a happy ending anyway. To my shame it really only took about 10 minutes to tink back, fix the lace panel and work out where I was - once I had a strong cup of coffee under my belt.

So, now I'm firmly back on track, steaming my way down the body and contemplating devious means of knitting the sleeves two at a time (to avoid my usual bout of sleeve paralysis). It may not get me to my 10K goal but it might help me to a respectable 7K with a bit of luck and a following wind.

Project overload

Too much choice?

Too much choice?

It was inevitable. Yesterday in a fit of pre Stash Dash planning I pulled out all my WIPs and neglected projects and piled them up in a heap on my bed. And then I sat back and looked at them. 

I'm not going to outline them all because to be perfectly honest with you I felt a sense of shame and overwhelm that I find quite hard to put into words.

In my house I have, let's be frank a lot of money tied up in projects that have lain untouched for months and years. And in an age where austerity and very real hardship is a problem for so many people I have to say it made me feel incredibly sad that my WIPs had got to this level. I am lucky enough to be able to buy beautiful yarn and yet some of it is yet to see the light of day and again.

I have no wise words or cunning plan today I'm afraid. My tried and tested list making skills failed to help as itemising it won't make the problem better. Equally, shoving it all back under the bed won't help either but that was the solution I opted for.

One day, when I have steeled myself I will go back and pick out a few projects at random and make a decision on them. Frog it or finish it. I'm not going to number them or set goals for myself right now but by the end of Stash Dash I'm hoping to have considerably fewer bags under the bed and hopefully a lighter heart too.

Saying goodbye

Today seems the perfect time to wear one of my favourite pairs of socks I've ever made. Simple toe-up socks with a fish lips kiss heel and made from yarn from an outstanding indie dyer.

Today is the funeral for our friend Heather aka Sparkleduck. Appropriately enough for such a big Star Wars fan, on May 4th. I was lucky enough to meet Heather at shows and events over the years and we both shared the same LYS - The Sheep Shop in Cambridge.

Visiting the shop was always a great treat but made even more so by the wall of gorgeous Sparkleduck which greeted you when you walked in. Rifling through my stash after Heather passed away I was struck by how little of her yarn I had. And then I realised that was because I have most of it away. Sparkleduck yarn was always reserved for special gifts because, Well, it was special.

Whilst the news of Heathers sudden passing has shocked us all I take a lot of comfort in knowing that her work will continue to spread happiness and joy for many years to come. As knitters, dyers and other creative folk the work that we do lives on long after we do. Cherished blankets and shawls provide a tangible link between the past and present in a way that other material goods cannot. People years from now will still be treasuring the things we make today and that is such a warm and happy thought. 

So, on this difficult day why not take a few minutes to work on something special and weave a few positive thoughts and happy memories into it as you go. In years to come you never know who might find comfort and happiness in it.

 

Strong coffee and strong stripes

After a few weeks of being missing in action I am pleased to report that my sock knitting mojo has returned. It seems like a different lifetime ago that I cast on these socks in a coffee shop in London whilst DH waited for his knee surgery. For the past few weeks I just haven't felt like knitting on socks at all but at the weekend I picked these up and with renewed joy sat down to watch the magic of these simple stripes unfolding.

I only intended to work a few rounds but before I knew it the leg of the sock whizzed by and I found myself at the cuff. This yarn comes in 2 perfectly matching 50g skeins so I know need to wind the other one before I jump in the car this morning. The yarn is one of the Star Wars series by the US dyer Must Stash Yarns and this is the Hans Solo colourway. 

It's a sure sign that my sock mojo has returned - the thought of leaving the house without a sock WIP is enough to cause consternation and distress. What if I'm stuck in traffic? So the sock WIP returns to my passenger seat and all is right with the world.

Something approaching normal

A new month is just around the corner and for me that means a new notebook and some new design projects. I've been rather taken aback over recent weeks in how much my creativity has taken a nose dive. Looking after DH after his operation, keeping the house going, being the sole parent and taxi service has really taken it out of me. Both of us have been surprised at the impact his recovery has had on us as a family. 

In the run up we were solely focussed on the operation and the logistics of it, barely giving a thought to what would happen afterwards. And the resulting adjustments meant I barely had time for anything else - and my design work was very firmly relegated to the back burner. For me, creativity requires that I am calm and peaceful and have space to myself. Chaos, stress and having other people constantly around is the kiss of death and generally means that all I'm capable of doing is knitting garter stitch  (or crocheting, it seems).

But now as we have turned a corner and DH is becoming much more mobile I feel as though for the first time in weeks I can turn my mind to sock knitting and design work. It's a good feeling and I'm excited to get back to it.

Just 1 more cup of coffee though first.

Vernal equinox

The weather today hasn't quite got the memo, as today starts off grey and gloomy but today marks the official 1st day of spring. The Vernal Equinox when night and day are of equal length and from here on in the nights will be getting noticeably shorter.

Extra daylight is always a boon for the busy knitter who wants to actually photograph their knits in something approximating natural light. Even if it does mean crouching in the hallway with the front door wide open trying to get enough light onto your project. Perfectly normal behaviour as far as I'm concerned although I did startle the postman the other week. Fortunately he has delivered enough squishy parcels to be well aware that I'm a knitter and thus, given to activities that non knitters might find be musing. 

I'm fairly certain that being greeted by the sight of me sitting in the open hallway with my feet in the air falls into this category. The knitters amongst us would know instantly that I was attempting to take photos of my finished socks and that the 'feet in the air' technique is a well established means of achieving this. It also helps to have everything abs of steel for this maneuver which I definitely don't. The non knitters might think I had fallen over or be attempting a weird yoga position maybe.

My postman just smiled, said 'Morning love' and deposited the latest squishy parcel on the doorstep.

Stolen moments

As much as I'd love to have a peaceful and relaxing weekend this is definitely one of those times when the Knitting will have to take a back seat. A busy programme of family events and general 'stuff' means that the Knitting 'du jour' needs to be simple, portable and with absolutely no counting needed. I have events to take the kids to, shopping and the usual weekend stuff but the saving grace is several hours of rugby watching time.

I've learnt the hard way that I can't do complicated stuff and even hope to follow the pitch side action but this version of my Fuss Free Festival Shawl is perfect for that. I'm thinking I might make this larger than the original single-skein version by adding in some grey stripes at the end. I just need to dig through my stash for a suitably darkish grey and see if I have anything that will work. If not, I may just have to do a little online shop later - never exactly a hardship.

Whatever you are doing today I hope you manage to squeeze in a little knitting too. I'm going to pop a progress marker in my shawl now and see how much I can add to it in the odd minutes that I get to pick it up. Will report back...

Don't be a flat squirrel

As knitting blogs go - you’ve got to admit that the title is a bit of a strange one.

A favourite saying of an old college lecturer of mine - this one has stuck with me over the years and never has it been more apt than now. Whether it is deciding on which new sweater pattern to buy from Ravelry to picking a new logo for the web site I can be guilty of the most horrible procrastination and over thinking.

The end result is predictable of course, I don’t do anything.

The worst thing that can happen to a knitting project is that it stalls at a point where a decision is needed. Do I have enough yarn to make 2 full length sleeves or should I cut them short? Should I stop and turn the heel now or turn them into afterthought heels?

A quick inventory of my WIP basket(s) shows that all of them - apart from an interminable grey sweater for DH - are stalled pending a decision from me. And the daft thing is that in most cases a quick 10 or 15 minutes of quality time with that particular WIP is enough for me to assess it, work out what needs to be done and to make a decision.

Indecision struck again this weekend during my #bedinburghyarnfest. I was determined to cast on a new sweater for myself and my task was simple. Pop on to Ravelry and find a suitable pattern. Predictably though, the more patterns I looked at the more indecisive I became. Having a time constraint didn't help the sense of pressure either.

My learning point from this was that my queue is in desperate need of a good sort out and a matching up to yarn in my stash. That way, next time I can make the process a lot more straightforward.

For this week though, my task is simple. Just make a decision. Whether I am faced with a WIP or an issue on my website. Make a decision and move on.

 

Not now, I'm counting

I'm currently enjoying working on a fab colourwork project - a kit from Lucy Locket Land - and it is a sheer joy to work on. Lovely, sheepy wool, bright colours and the sheer joy of two handed colourwork knitting. When you are in the zone it's a great feeling and you hum contentedly to yourself as you work your way along the rows and see the wonderful pattern emerging.

Except if you are in my house. In the same way that kids can sense the opening of a fridge door or the fact that you are embarking on an Important Phone Call, my two have an unerring knack for knowing when I'm in the middle of a knitting project that requires counting.

Any requests from "have you seen my trainers" to "the cats have brought in a mouse again" is met with a renewed focus on the work in the front of me and the muttered response "I'm counting". It's like they have a sixth sense and without fail, they know exactly the worst possible time to interrupt me.

They are pretty quick learners though, I'll give them that. By the end of the weekend they were wise enough to realise that if I had the 'grey woolly thing' in my lap then they should just back away quietly. My eldest boy even went for extra brownie points for sidling back into the room, quietly depositing a jaffa cake at the side of me and then leaving again.

I think I know what happened to the rest of the packet of jaffa cakes but it was a small price to pay for getting some uninterrupted time with my new favourite project.