Thursday, 27 December 2007

Christmas - The Results

Finally unveiled for your blog-reading pleasure are the Christmas gifts of 2007.

This is the first Christmas in ages that I've knit so many presents. It seems that my re-energised knitting (thanks largely to my late discovery of the knitting world on the web last April) has reminded my loved ones that they like knitted things.

The first request came from one of my nieces in Canada who wanted to know if I could possibly knit her some mittens, preferably blue. She didn't know why, but she had developed a sudden longing for some knitted mittens -- and if it wasn't tooo hard (she asked) could I possibly put the initials of her high school on the mittens. After a bit of research I selected NHM #7 from Selbuovotter - Biography of a Knitting Tradition (lovely book). I knit SMHS (her high school) into one palm and 2008 into the other (they are New Year mitts I decided).

When I completed these mitts I loved them - but I suddenly got worried that she might prefer some plain mittens. So I made these, very plain blue mittens (American mittens) from Folk Mittens as well.

Her sister hadn't asked for anything specific but when I saw this pirate mitten pattern I knew I had to make them for her.

My sister had requested some warm socks so I made her one pair of thick socks using Regia 6ply, a thin pair using Trekking XXL and just to amuse myself a lacey pair of ankle socks. The ankle socks are Hedera socks (but shorter) knit with Lucy Neatby Celestial Merino yarn. The fourth pair of socks -the very colourful stripes - went to the niece who got the skull mittens. I figured that although she generally just wears dark colours - who can resist colourful socks?

Quite pleased with this output I made some special labels for each of the gifts and shipped them off to Canada (with the famous Lyra).

The recipients were all very pleased, particularly my Mom -who reportedly teared up when she opened Lyra - and my niece who requested the blue mittens - she LOVES the selbuvotters.

Of course last Friday I decided to make a couple more gifts and began this hat and pair of mittens for S. The hat is a simple rib pattern knit in the round, and the mittens I just sort of made up as I went along. The yarn is cashmere from Posh Yarn and was a pleasure to knit with.

On Saturday I started the final gift - a cardigan for gorgeous goddaughter G. It's Tess from Kim Hargreaves Heartfelt collection. It was knit on 12mm needles using Rowan Big Wool.

It was a very quick knit, and was a good lesson in why blocking isn't just magic for large lace pieces. When I finished it I was less than impressed. My stitches were uneven and the bottom edging was a mess. A quick wash and a few hours drying time sorted both of those problems out. (A gigantic fan was very useful in speeding up the drying process, so the cardigan was dry when I wrapped it early Christmas morning.)

My decision to make the last minute gifts was a good one. S has been wearing her new hat CONSTANTLY for the past 3 days, and G immediately put on her cardigan (over her pyjamas) and wore it later that day to her grandmothers. It looks great on her and fit perfectly. In fact, it has proven popular with her mom as well. C has already borrowed it -- she wore it on her annual boxing day theatre trip with her family.

All of this has left me with a warm fuzzy feeling -- which is I guess what Christmas giving is all about. .... but I'm looking forward to some Soo knitting now!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Christmas Knitting Done --- Oh No It Isn't!!

When last we discussed knitting I was smugly basking in the warm glow of completed (and delivered!) Christmas knitting. I think the warm glow overheated my brain because on Friday night I decided to knit hats and mittens for G and S.

So Friday night I began a simple ribbed hat. Progress was good and that smug feeling returned as I approached the end of the first hat (for S). This success led me to decide yesterday at 4pm that I should make G this cardigan instead. It's Tess from Kim Hargreaves Heartfelt collection. (Bought on Queen of the Frogger's recommendation -- thanks!!) Encouraged by the Big Wool and crazy big 12mm needles I made a trip to John Lewis and bought the yarn and buttons.
I was a knitting dynamo last night and knowing that I'm out for the rest of today I got up at 6:30 and now have the front/back completed and a good chunk of the first sleeve done. That's the good news.

The bad news is that my knitting on 12mm needles with huge yarn is pretty uneven, and the 'lace' pattern on the bottom will definitely need some blocking before I can give it. So, I've got to complete the knitting today, so I can block it tomorrow to have any hope of it being dry enough to wrap and give on Christmas morning. Eeeeeeek.

I'm off in about an hour and won't be back until 7 or 8 tonight. Then it's a late night knitting session so I can block it before I go to bed or first thing tomorrow morning.

Oh yeh - and then I can start S's mittens!

In response to the 'What do you do with the gingerbread house' questions -- well, another Christmas tradition is that the Sunday afternoon after gingerbread house Sunday, C and P host their annual Christmas party. The gingerbread house is used as a centre piece on the food table -- until -- at a moment determined by P -- the children (and there are lots of them) are permitted to begin eating the house. In a display of childhood feasting frenzy it is generally reduced to a few broken sweets and crumbs in about 5 minutes.
Hope you all enjoy the holidays whatever you do!!!

Monday, 17 December 2007

Christmas Things Soo Likes

(Warning: This post has no knitting content, is too long and probably has too many pictures.)

Every year since 1991 my best friend, her husband and selected others have got together on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before Christmas to build a gingerbread house. It is without a doubt my favourite Christmas tradition, and probably one of my favourite days of the year. It is the unofficial beginning of the season.
I do a bit of prep work the day before by raiding local grocery stores for sweets to fill the big sleigh and buying a frightening amount of icing sugar. (5 kilos this year.)(Over 10 pounds for you non-metric types.)

Sunday morning is baking time. In the early years it seemed to take forever to bake the pieces -- but I've obviously improved because this year I had all the pieces and a batch of cookies done in about an hour.

I was torn about what window shape to use in this year's house, so I went for a different style on the front, back and sides. The 'glass' in the windows is made of boiled sweets which melt to fill the cut out shapes while the gingerbread is baking.

This year the construction crew was myself, best friend C, her husband P, and her four gorgeous children - ranging in age from 5 1/2 to 13. It is fair to say that the children look forward to gingerbread house day as much as I do. They think it's amazing that we've been making houses since before they were born and love flipping through the photo album of previous years.

With a bit of Nat King Cole and the Rat Pack crooning Christmas carols in the background we get things underway. (I must confess here that I love Christmas music. I have an embarassingly large number of Christmas CDs, and will buy pretty much any Christmas album put out regardless of who the artist is.)

There is only one rule in the construction of the house and surrounds - but it is strictly enforced - and that is that EVERYTHING used must be edible.

C sets the standard for the afternon by making the best snowman ever. The body and head of the snowman are made out of granulated sugar combined with a teeny bit of water which is then packed by hand into ball shapes and dried out in the oven. I can honestly say Frosty is even cuter in real life than this photo.

Little S makes a grand pathway to the house, lined with mini-iced gems and paved with pastel coloured sweets. I particularly like the lamposts at the entrance.

A few years after we started building the houses we began furnishing them before putting the roof on. Although rather pointless, as the inside can't really be seen when the house is finished - it has become a fixture in the house building experience. This year very little L made a carpet and assisted by C made a sofa and some chairs. M made a TV, complete with a teeny face on the screen.

Health and safety doesn't feature much in gingerbread house construction as you can see by the bonfire built dangerously close to the picnic table with four seats created by lovely goddaughter G. She also built this pretty impressive well, complete with bucket for fetching water.

While all of this is going on P is quietly working on the back of the house. We have an agreement that he can put one tasteless item at the back of each house - and he never (or is that always?) disappoints. Sometimes it is a small detail, other years it can be quite a feature. Previous houses have included a dog kennel (complete with a patch of yellow snow), a hockey rink (including a stretcher, an abandoned hockey stick and a small pool of blood) and one year a motorway.

(If you have small children you may want to cover their eyes now!) This year he included the 'Christmas Hare' which he claimed was traditional. (Yep - that's a rabbit with his head chopped off. Just to the right of the rabbit is an ax. Not many gingerbread houses feature that. ) (We questioned this Christmas Hare thing and eventually he was forced to admit it didn't exist but he couldn't find any turkey shaped biscuits. )

Happily, P was also using the animal crackers in a more pleasant manner - building a very impressive carousel.

When the inside of the house has been furnished, and most of the outside is landscaped we put the roof on the house and take a pizza break. While eating pizza and waiting for the roof to set we watch "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". (Not that Jim Carey thing. The proper animated version.) We have watched the Grinch every single year since we started, and it wouldn't be a gingerbread house Sunday without it.

When Christmas is restored in Whoville we decorate the roof and put the finishing touches on the house. This year the fence is made up of mini Jammy Dodgers and red licorice posts. A sprinkle of icing sugar and we're done.

It is a loud, messy afternoon full of sugar, creativity, singing and laughter. The gingerbread house is a riot of colour and wouldn't win a ribbon at the Good Housekeeping gingerbread competion but every year we proclaim this to be the best house ever and every year we are right.

.....and this is all that remains of the 5 kilos of icing sugar.....

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Cashmere Crazy at Christmas

Well, Christmas knitting has been zooming along. I can't show you any of it. But it's looking good and I'm on schedule - sort of. The 'sort of' is that I am just about to start my Mom's cardigan. I'm pretty sure I can get it done for Christmas day -- but unfortunately it looks like I won't be going back to Canada so she won't get it until January. I'm ok with that (the cardigan thing) because of course Lyra is her real present and that was done ages ago. (Yippeee.)

The change to my plans for where I'll be for Christmas mean I won't get to see my Mom when she opens up Lyra. I'll have to rely on my sister for details on Ma's reaction.

Apart from Christmas knitting I seem to have started acquiring cashmere at a startling rate. It started with the pink cashmere for Ma's cardigan. It is crazy soft. Amazingly soft. I ordered it from Jilly's Knitwear in France and it is the softest yarn I have ever ever ever squished. That squishing experience seems to have flipped some switch in my head that has meant I have been cashmere mad ever since.

Over the past 3 weeks I have acquired 3 lots of cashmere from Posh Yarn. All beautifully soft. I have no plans for this yarn. Yet.

As usual the colours aren't quite right (dang these short days) but they give the general idea.

Although I've enjoyed the Christmas knitting I'm looking forward to getting back to pointless, no deadline knitting in January. Since my last post on the subject I've added a gazillion other potential projects to the list inspired as always by the amazing projects underway in blogland.

Z's Momma made a gorgeous Niebling shawl that I really really want. (While you are there - check out her cute sheep stuff!)

And Jane and Miss Alice Faye are working on the amazing Princess. Until very recently I've been immune to her charms -- but seeing their gorgeous work has infected me......

Littleberry has started the Honeybee stole - and it's looking good (even if she is being stingy with the pictures). The Honeybee has long been on my to do list and this is just reinforcing it.

Fleegle's been making these really cute booties -- I don't know any feet small enough for them but I am strangely drawn to knitting them anyway. And her red Lyra makes me want to cast on for a second Lyra RIGHT NOW.

Over the weekend I will be undertaking an annual construction project which, although not knitting related, will be blogged about on Monday. Bet you can't wait!

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Soo Meets her Knitting Hero

Friday was a banner day in my knitting life -- I went to the V&A to hear Kaffe Fassett speak. Despite my love for all things Kaffe I had never been to one of his lectures or workshops so I was pretty excited. (In this picture Kaffe is giving some other Susan advice on how to fix her knitted collar.)

Being me, I was also likely to abandon the whole thing at the last minute. But a firm shove out the door by a colleague (the Caked Crusader in fact) and I was on my way.

My cab driver was greatly amused by the fact that I was going to a museum, for a lecture on a Friday night. BY CHOICE! When I explained it was to listen to a knitting designer he knew he had the rest of the journey sewn up as far as commentary went. "Knitting designer? Well, at least it won't take long. Knit 1, purl 1. That's all there is isn't it?" I laughed and asked if he thought that maybe I was being conned - because they were charging me £18 for 2 hours. He advised me that the only way to get value for the money was to drink A LOT at the wine reception.

The auditorium was full and a few latecomers had to sit on the stairs. Kaffe was charming and inspiring and pretty funny. You can tell he loves what he does. The talk was accompanied by a slide show of some of his work and the objects and scenes that inspire it. There was a Q&A session and my favourite question and answer of the evening went something like:

Q: Have you ever made anything that didn't work, or that was horrible.

A: Kaffe answered that question (basically no, he watches and refines as he goes along and he always learns something from a piece) and then went on to comment that he thinks most people give up too early. And how he's often so frustrated at workshops because he can see the beginning of a great piece but the person working it loses confidence and rips it out - way too early. They don't give the piece time to work.

And I do think that is particularly true with colour knitting. Each row and colour adds so much to the rows around it - you really do have to persevere in order to 'get' the picture. When I was making the coat I was often amazed at how a colour would affect the colours around it - sometimes quite dramatically changing the look.

During the wine reception there was an opportunity to have his new book signed and meet Kaffe. I had brought along my copy of Kaffee Fassett at the V&A (1989ish) and the coat, so I ventured to the signing area. I was a bit babbly (eeeeee) and my voice an octave or so above its usual register - but I met the man himself.

He was happy to sign my older book and seemed genuinely pleased to see the coat. I gushed about how much I loved it. He said it was lovely and it made his heart sing to see people take on the really big projects. Eeeeee.

I didn't take my cabbies advice about drinking a lot of the free wine at the reception -- but I definitely feel I got my money's worth!!

In other knitting news I feel the need to rant about knots in self patterning yarn. Particularly when they make no attempt to keep the colour continuity. I mean - the WHOLE point of self patterning yarn is the pattern. If they mess that up.... Grrrr.....

Monday, 19 November 2007

A Cosy Post....

First - three finished tea cosies. Inspired by the St John Ambulance 'Big Tea Cosy' fundraising drive I've knit a few cosies from the Tea Cosies book. These are knit in a wool blend so should be washable. For some reason I really had to force myself to sew these up. It seemed like some Herculean task whenever I thought of it. Odd really, as of course, it took very little time and was pretty straight forward.

The Loopy Ewe cosies have proven quite popular in the office so I expect that I'll be sending a 'donation in lieu' for them!

I've also finished these cosy 6ply weight socks. It's a Regia 6ply - 'Country Colour' yarn. They were knit on 3mm KnitPicks dpns. I like the sharp points and slippery needles -- but they do feel much heavier than the bamboo and birch DPNs I'm used to working with.

They were a speedy knit, which is just as well as I actually have no idea who they are going to! That's a slight exaggeration - they are for a friend of M's who apparently suffers from poor circulation in his feet due to MS. How could I refuse to make him a pair of socks. Whoever he is.

And most importantly - my house is once again cosy and warm. Hurrah!! Thanks so much for all your warm thoughts and messages of concern. They didn't fix the leak in the water tank, and the flue they installed outside my house is horrific and will have to be replaced -- but I have heat. And for now that's what I'll focus on! (But British Gas should beware - I will get my second wind.)

Other knitting is underway but I can't talk about it here (yes Dyl, that's because YOU are reading this.) I'll post some pics in Ravelry (a Dyl free zone) later this week......

I just got an email that the yarn for my mom's cardigan has shipped. I hope I love it as much as I expect I will!!!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

It's Still Cold in Here

Yep. Over 3 weeks later and British Gas 'Emergency Installation Service' continues to leave me cold! I won't bore you with the details of the incompetence of British Gas (that's what work colleagues are for!) but in summary I won't have heat until Friday at the earliest.

This has resulted in me being pretty dang grumpy.

On the knitting front I spent the week pondering my 'what next' project.

A leading contenders was the Forest Path Stole which has been ready to go since May - and is the pattern responsible for my current obsession with lace.

Also under serious consideration were The Spring Shawl from Heirloom Knitting in a blue or red and the Winter Wonderland shawl.

Naturally a Niebling or two called to me - but I decided that I would hold off on Niebling until the new year.

Anyway in the midst of this pondering I received an email from my niece asking if I could knit her some mittens. For reasons unknown to even her, her current heart's desire is a pair of knitted mittens. And she also mentioned that her mom (my sister) wants some of my 'fantabulous' socks. This talk of Christmas knitting reminded me that I wanted to make my other sister some mittens which reminded me that in the summer my mother had asked for a pink sweater 'with some cables or something'.

And all of this made me wonder how long I had to knit before Christmas. And the answer was - 'not very'.


Time to get Christmas knitting. The past few days have been full of mitten book buying and yarn shopping. As luck would have it Ann McCauley left a comment on my blog a couple of weeks ago which led me to her book The Pleasures of Knitting. It arrived last week from Amazon and has some lovely designs I think I found the perfect one for my mom - the Dollar Cable Cardigan.

Of course Christmas knitting raises a blog challenge which I haven't yet got a solution for. I can't really talk about the patterns or gifts here. (Except for my mom. My mom lives in a 'no internet' bubble. There is no chance of her stumbling across this blog. None. Ever.)

PS - Despite icicles on my fingers I have done some knitting. Here are 3 ready to be stitched up tea cosies and an almost pair of socks.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Exit from Muir

I blocked Muir yesterday, and I'm really pleased with the final product.

As I mentioned in a previous post I used a needle size (4mm) that was larger than what I've generally knit laceweight on (2mm - 2.75mm). I love the effect and will try to remember that when I cast on my next lace project and the 'looseness' freaks me out.
The pattern is a 32 row repeat (even rows are all purl) and the pattern is pretty intuitive once it has been established.

I used 4mm needles and 4.5 balls of Kid Silk Night. The only modification I made to the pattern was a mistake on my part. I made the picot at the beginning of each row instead of on alternate rows as indicated on the chart. When I realised this on row 6 I decided that picots on every row was a better idea then attempting to rip back Kid Silk Night.

Pre-blocking it was 24 x 58 inches.
Post blocking it was 28 x 72 inches.

I used blocking wires to straighten the edges - but I didn't block it hard at all. In fact I didn't attempt to stretch it at all while blocking, and I didn't pin it. I just let the weight of the wires hold it in place.

I was worried the blocking would mean the stole lost its fluffiness - but it didn't. It's still oh so fluffy and welcoming.

This weekend I'll be working on tea cosies. I still have a couple of 'Loopy Ewe' cosy requests to fill, and I want to get one or two off to St John Ambulance this week. (As it was their tea cosy fundraising campaign that started this latest trend in my knitting!)

I'm pondering my next big project. I have a few contenders - all of which have been on my 'to do' list for ages! I'll keep pondering which one to tackle while I finish up these cosies and expect then I'll cast on for something else entirely.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Muir is Cast Off

I've cast off Muir. And it is easily the softest, fluffiest thing I've ever knit. Even now looking at the finished knitting sitting on the table waiting to be blocked I can't help but think how warm and welcoming it looks.

It's already quite big - 24 inches by 58 inches - BEFORE blocking.
I'll block it later this week when I figure out where the heck it will fit.....

Undeterred by your lukewarm (at best) reaction to the new Kaffe book today I did a bit of Kaffe surfing and discovered that he's speaking at the V&A at the end of November. Wahey! I've booked a ticket already. (I don't think I'll be able to coerce anyone into coming with me -- none of my friends knit and I think attempts to 'big up' the idea of attending a lecture by a 'famous knitter' would just open me up to ridicule!)

It's a Friday evening I think, so my current plan is to leave work early so I can do a section or two of the V&A before the lecture. If you've never been to the V&A and get the chance then I heartily recommend it. It has an amazing collection of fashion and design over the centuries. In fact it was at the V&A that I first saw a knitted Kaffe Fassett Chinese Rose Coat (it was part of a temporary exhibit of his work) that inspired the 18 year project.

Fleegle asked if I wear the coat - and the simple answer is no. In fact, even when I started it 18 years ago I never really thought I'd wear it. I just fell in love with it as an object. It was always about the beauty of the colours and the rose pattern -- never really about a coat. When I was too far into the project to do anything about it - it did occur to me that I should have adapted the pattern to a throw or blanket which might actually be used. But by that time there was no way I was ripping it back.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Heeeeeeee's Back!

Kaffe Knits Again arrived this week.

Like many other knitters who were inspired by Kaffe in the 80's I feared we had lost him FOREVER to those quilting types. But no. He's back.


There are a some new patterns in this book, and many of his earlier designs re-worked in shapes more suited to today than the one size fits all oversized stuff of the 80's.

Obviously I'm a fan. (You don't spend 18 years working on something you don't love.) (Even if you don't know what the heck you're going to do with it.) But I recognise there are others who aren't so inspired by the bursts of colours. (My favourite description of Kaffe's work by the 'not so inspired camp' was from Dogged Knits who described Kaffe as a "purveyor of technicolor intarsia barf")(Still makes me laugh.)(But she loves his quilt designs -- so all is not lost.) If you fall into that camp this book won't change your mind.

But if you're a fan - go get this book. Perfect for brightening up a dull wintry day.

Two follow ups on my last post. First, Fleegle and LittleBerry wanted a close up of Muir. And being ever keen to please here it is.

Although eager to please I'm not a great photographer and the photo has somehow erased the lovely fuzzzzzz of the KSH and the little specks of silver. But they are there. Trust me.

I'm halfway through the 11th repeat and really pleased with the result. This is still perfect knitting for me as I sit in my cold house after a long day in the office!

On the boiler front -- November 8th is still the installation date (!). Thanks to everyone for their warm thoughts.

The unknown light switch looking thing in the closet was indeed an immersion heater so I have hot water. And yesterday I invested in two small heating fans, which are surprisingly efficient. I've got hot water and some heat - so all in all, I'm can't complain too much.

But I really want to.