Saturday, May 23, 2015

Jitterbug Perfume

Way back when I was in my early 20's, I was handed a copy of "Jitterbug Perfume" by a housemate who was moving on and told "here, take this.  you'll love it".  Thus was my introduction to Tom Robbins and his body of work.

At that stage I'd never read anything like his style of writing and I was completely entranced. I subsequently read all his available work in fast succession.  However as they say in the classics, you never forget your first and JP has remained a sentimental favourite, re-read and re-pondered more than once in the 20+ years since the initial encounter.

Fast forward to 2009 at the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show. It was my second trip to the Show, and I'd spent a good two days wandering around and adding to my stash with glee.  I had all but spent my budget but was doing that one-last-look-around before leaving to head back to Melbourne and I came across the Stranded in Oz stall.  The majority of the skeins were laceweight, which wasn't on my list at all, but one in particular jumped out at me with such force I had to pick it up for a closer look.

A symphony in shades of mandarin and lavender; it was just gorgeous.  But it was expensive and my budget was almost gone.  I went to put it back down when suddenly I noticed the colourway name.  

Jitterbug Perfume.  

I think I gasped, because the stall owner Melissa came over quickly and then we both had a fandom moment exclaiming how much we loved that book, and that was that.  I knew it was coming home with me.

For nearly 6 years, I have safely stored this precious yarn.  I've aired it each year, making sure it's protected from moths and any damp.  I've pondered all the possibilities of what it might become (other than a precious skein).  At one point, I actually decided it would never be knit; that it was perfect just the way it was intact in the skein.

But of course, that was not what it was purchased for and this year during the Summer of the Single Skein I pulled it out again with the firm intent of Finding The Project.

Thus the Jitterbug Perfume Cowl.

I had decided the intensity of the colours needed to be tempered somehow, and so went looking at the wonderful palette of Isager for inspiration.  As luck would have it, not only was this plummy purple a good foil for the oranges, the Isager Spinni (another laceweight single) was also a good match in both fibre content, ply and weight.

I could not be happier with this colour combo if I tried.  The Spinni just knocks the edge off the Jitterbug in such a perfect way while simultaneously allowing the variegated to really shine.

I worked this up on my knitting machine, which in itself was a bit of a steep learning curve.  There were multiple attempts at casting on, and much frustration at getting the colourwork to flow but we got there in the end. This simple diamond pattern wasn't my first choice, but again - I think it's right.  I had been trying to replicate the Jasmine perfume bottles in the book, but it was just too fussy overall. 

I worked half the cowl with the solid colour as the base and half with the variegated as the base, then handstitched the two panels together to form a long reversible cowl.  It's not the prettiest construction, but it does the job and once on you really can't see any of the flaws anyway.

I still can't decide my favourite side!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In case you hadn't heard...

Ugh, the weather in Melbourne has turned dramatically.  Gone are my beautiful warm Autumn winds and sunshiny days, and in their place is the bitter cold that is usually attributed to deep Winter here in Melbourne.  

As a result, I'm definitely feeling the need to start knitting sweaters.  The annual planning has begun with a vengeance, and I can't wait to get started on my 2015 collection of garments.

I'm trying to live a bit lighter as a general practise at the moment, and this correlates to my knitting by the aim of working through some more beautiful stashed yarns, so I initiated my search on Ravelry based on the yarns on hand and started tagging them with "winter2015".  I narrowed it down to these six, and after much (oh so much!) deliberation, I have settled on starting with Daelyn (bottom LH corner) - a simple relaxed pullover with some lovely textural detailing.

Blank Canvas, Ysolda Teague; Ommegang, Thea Colman; Airbrean, Isabell Kraemer; Daelyn, Isabell Kraemer;  Mailin, Isabell Kraemer; Portage, Melissa Schaschwary

This lovey Berroco Ultra Alpaca in the "Lobster Mix" colourway, which is a rich plummy-brown heathered colour, is a great pairing for this pattern, and so far it's knitting up so beautifully.

Warnings of the stretch of this yarn I have heeded, and will be knitting it at a slightly tighter gauge than required. This works well however, as I am kind of between sizes so I'll knit the larger size and tweak to fit as required.  It's designed to be worn with positive ease and I'm basing the measurements off my Beeline which is a great fit and similar style.

The yarn is already proving to be as delightful as I had hoped, with all those tones coming together to form a beautiful, complex heathered colour that chameleons with every change of light and angle.   The texture and knitted hand of the wool/alpaca blend is equally satisfactory to the tactile senses.   Can you tell I'm a bit enamoured by this project?

I'd love to be monogamous on this one but unfortunately the dark yarn is a bit difficult to work on at night, and it's too big to transport on the train with me each day so I'll do a few rows each morning before I leave, and dedicate my weekends to it. 

To fill the gaps I've got some more socks on the go (I know, you're shocked right?!).   These are for my Mum, who has a birthday coming up at the end of May.  Originally I thought I'd give them to her for Mother's Day then we all decided that we wouldn't do gifts this year, just nice cards and a lunch, so I will now keep working along and be well prepared for her birthday instead.

I'm using some Colinette Jitterbug in "Caramel" that I picked up when Sarah Durrant closed up shop last year.  I'm a big fan of Jitterbug, both as a yarn base and for the colourways.  It isn't everyone's cup of tea, mainly due to the absence of nylon for durability, but I've never had an issue with the wear of this high-twist pure wool yarn and I do find it keeps toes nice and warm.  This is one of my own basic sock patterns, a simple waffle rib that forms a nice snug fit on the foot so I hope Mum likes them!

Another sock yarn favourite of mine is Regia, and the recent limited edition Arne & Carlos collection they've released has been high on my radar, especially these two colourways.

Summer Night #3657
Fall Night #3655
After a little initial trouble finding it in stock my order finally arrived  today, and as soon as I finish Mum's socks I'm planning to knit these toe-up and use up every last scrap of yarn, so they will probably be close to knee-hi stockings. Which, of course, will work perfectly with the faux fair-isle, Scando theme they've got going on.  They look quite similar in these photos, but in reality they are very different.  The Fall Night is quite dark overall, with bright orange pops and the Summer Night is very teal blue, cream and coral.  

So there you go.  Soon to be toasty from top to toe in preparation for Winter.  Because it's coming.  In case you hadn't heard.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Exploration Station

This weekend, I finally finished the Exploration Station shawl from Stephen West.  

This large, beautiful, textured shawl was his mysteryKAL for 2014 and although I didn't take part at the time, as soon as I saw all the finished project photos popping up on Ravelry and Instagram, I knew I had to make one.

I've mentioned before that this shawl was the impetus for The Summer of the Single Skein KAL I hosted over the 2014/2015 Summer (Southern Hemisphere).  I had been looking for a good vehicle for combining a few of my lovely single skeins and what better project than a big shawl?

Incorporating four colours, the pattern suggests 3 be fairly close in value and 1 a high contrast.  I chose Waikiwi in a natural stone colour, Colinette Jitterbug in "Oyster Blush" and a variegated skein of Top Draw Sock from Skein in "Fig".  My contrast was a deep plummy skein of Cascade Heritage that I'd been saving for something special for a long time.

2015 shawl knitting texture summerofthesingleskein

The Waikiwi is a sock yarn from New Zealand that has merino, alpaca, possum and nylon in it's composition.  The combination of fibres gives a beautiful heather, especially in the lighter colours.  This heather perfectly stopped the cream from being too stark against the other colours in the mix.

The Jitterbug was probably the thickest of the four yarns, even though all are considered the same "weight" (fingering).  Because the shawl is worked on larger needles than normally used for this weight yarn, and incorporates a lot of textures, this slight difference wasn't terribly noticeable but I do feel the slight heaviness of the Jitterbug gives a good weight to the overall piece.

Out of the four skeins, the Cascade and the Skein were the closest match for softness and composition, and as luck would have it I think I have enough of both yarns left over to make a pair of two-tone socks.  There isn't much at all left of the Waikiwi, and a small amount only of the Jitterbug - perhaps enough for some contrast toes/heels, I'd say?

Stephen West is known for his love of squishy garter stitch, sweeping lines, and brioche (and goofy photoshoots!).  I really enjoyed the different textures on each section.  I can imagine it would have been pretty cool to work as a mystery KAL, actually.  My favourite was the brioche.  Although I ummed and ahhed about whether my designated yarns were the right combo, I'm glad I stuck to the combination as per pattern.  The effect is more subtle than some other versions, however I think in my shawl it works best.

All edges are finished with i-cord edgings which, again, I feel was a lovely detail finishing off the shawl.  It's the first of the WestKnits patterns I've knit, and it's also the largest shawl I've knit to date, with a wingspan of 1.4m.  I cant' wait to wrap myself up in it all snuggly and warm this winter.

I absolutely loved the construction of this shawl, and the attention to detail in the pattern from the designer.   At each step, there were clear and timely notations to reassure the knitter of the next section, and there were also stitch counts included at the break of each section - something I greatly appreciate in patterns, especially on this scale.  However, as good technically this pattern is, I think it's key strength lies in it's overall aesthetic and how well Stephen West has managed to bring all elements together.  

Mystery KAL's can be a bit of a risk, as the knitter takes a leap of faith with the designer as to the final outcome, and adding in the process of selecting colours without really knowing how they are going to fit together is another requirement of trust!  I think this pattern has hit all the right notes, on all accounts and judging by the fact there are over 2,000 projects on Ravelry alone; I'd say so do a lot of other people.  

I may be late to the WestKnits party, but I can say now I'm well and truly on-board!  Who else has knitted his designs?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on the experience. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Toe-up Socks

Handmaker's Factory workshop - April 18th

The way one knits socks is a topic that often polarises knitters - people tend to be very passionate about their preferred methods!   
Many stick with the method they first learned, often through familiarity and sentimentality, which is perfectly fine.  However there is a lot to be said for utilising specific methods for specific results, rather than one–size-fits-all approach.
Both techniques can be knit using your preferred method - dpn’s, two circulars, or magic looping, and both have a vast array of variations to employ to customise to your preferences. 
Toe-up socks have some specific benefits that often make them very appealing to many sock knitters, if for nothing else but the fact that you can try them on as you go and make adjustments as required to ensure perfect fit.

Om Shanti from Socktopus by Alice Yu
There is also the benefit of “maximising your yardage”, something very close to the canny knitter’s heart.  Sock yarns can be expensive, and many people like to either use every last scrap or use up smaller skeins of yarn.  With toe-up socks, you can simply divide your yarn and knit each sock until you run out, instead of guesstimating how much is left as you approach the toes, as with the cuff-down method.
Climb from Journey, by Jane Richmond
Knitting socks from the toe-up is also a seamless method, requiring no Kitchener or “grafting” of stitches (unless you use an afterthought heel, of course!).  you often find the colour sequencing is kept in order better with this method too, which is especially appealing when working with self-striping or patterned yarns.
 I'm teaching a workshop this Saturday at the Handmaker's Factory in Melbourne, where we will be learning all sorts of lovely techniques and tips for making your socks toe-up, including Turkish cast-on, a short row heel that minimises the "gap", and a super-stretchy cast-off.  We'll also be working with the "Magic Loop" technique, a great one to have up your sleeve for not just socks but all sorts of things...including sleeves!

There are a few spots still available for this Saturday's workshop (April 18 - 10am-4.30pm), so if you're keen to have a go, head over to Handmaker's Factory to book in - we'd love to see you there!

Monday, March 30, 2015

waning Summer

Oh my poor neglected blog!  I've been so wrapped up in other things that time has yet again slipped away and it's been weeks in-between visits.  A lot has been happening, so here's a quick recount...

I finished my Farmer McGregor's socks, and I love them so much.

I spoke a little about the yarn (WYS Signature) last post, and nothing's changed my opinon.  It's a great yarn to that has blocked exceptionally well, and I'll definitely be ordering more.

The pattern is the most delicious texture too.  I really love twisted stitch patterns, especially when they are all waffley like this one.

I taught a lovely Beginner's Knitting class at the Handmaker's Factory last weekend.  We had loads of fun working on some sweet little mug cosies and eating cupcakes!

I've got a couple more workshops coming up, so if you're interested head over to Handmaker's website and take a peak.  There's workshops for Toe-up socks, Textured knitting, and Flattering Fit, just to name a few.

My little KAL - The Summer of the Single Skein - is winding up. As we draw close to Easter, the weather here has remained warm and pleasant but you can feel the change in the breeze and I'm definitely ready to start thinking about bigger projects and winter woollies.

My final project for the KAL is Exploration Station, a large shawl by Stephen West.  It was his mystery KAL for 2014, and watching all the progress photos pop up on Instagram, I knew I wanted to make one.  I missed the original KAL, but no big deal.  I actually preferred seeing how the pattern played out because I think colour choices were key to the success or fail of this shawl.  Having the information in advance, I chose this group.

from top left, clockwise: Skein Top Draw Sock "Fig"; Colinette Jitterbug "Oyster Blush"; Waikiwi "Stone"; Cascade Heritage " Plum"

The shawl combines sections of short-row garter wedges to start, then finishes with sections of different stitch patterns.  I've just finished the brioche section which combines Colour B (Skein "Fig") and Colour C (Waikiwi "Stone"), and I'm quite torn...the top photo is the right side, and the variegated Skein is sitting "on top" which is very subtle.  

You can see in the second photo that the solid Waikiwi is on top on the wrong side, and stands out quite a bit more.

I'm not sure whether to rip back and reverse the two?  I do like the obviousness of the cream columns, but I'm also thinking the subtlety of the variegated is nice too?  The next section is slipped stitches in the Waikiwi and Jitterbug , so there will be some dominant cream there - maybe it would be too much to have both?

Oh, I don't know!!  I can't make up my mind to save myself on this one.  What do you think? I tend to over-analyse these things, so any input is welcome!

Finally, I'm on holidays now until after Easter.  My girl and I are heading off to camp by the ocean for the next few days, and I can't tell you how much we need it.  

I'm looking forward to falling asleep to the sound of the waves, and smelling the salt air as I wake up each morning.  I'm also looking forward to just taking time out together.  We'll be switching off for the time away (the teenager thinks it's a travestity being inflicted upon her by a cruel and unloving mother, most definitely but there's nothing new!) so I will see you all when we get back - hopefully renewed and full of energy.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farmer McGregor’s socks

Isn't that just the perfect name for these socks?  Don't they look like "working" socks? 

(working socks in need of a block, but I'm grabbing the chance to blog while I've got it)

In the absence of pigs to feed and chooks to tend, these socks are destined to be my stomping through puddles in boots socks, the socks of Autumn, and warm-toes-cold-noses, and hiking through mountains soaking in the air. Or something like that.

These beautiful twisted stitches are rugged and sturdy looking, especially when paired with this yarn, this colour.  These were definitely not a "quick" knit, which was fine.  There are a few discussions going on at the moment about "slow" or "mindful" knitting, a concept which is reverberating strongly with me and where I want to be right now.   I think having such a  frenzy of knitting to start the year has sated that instant gratification part of my brain which has meant I've been quite happy to simply plod away at these socks and enjoy the process.

socktopus socks knitting yarn

My second knit from Socktopus, and using some WYS Signature 4ply (75%wool – inc 35%BFL – with 25% nylon) that I ordered from the UK last year.

It’s been a while since I’ve been this impressed with a book of knitting patterns, I admit.  The last one was Journey by Shannon Cook and Jane Richmond (I really love that book!).  As mentioned last post, I borrowed Socktopus from our local library but I’ve decided that I like it enough to purchase my own copy to have on hand and work my way through at my own pace.

sock yarn wool british heritage
photo credit: WYS
The West Yorkshire Spinners yarn was one I had been wanting to try, having not knowingly used BFL in socks previously.  I say knowingly, because I feel like until very recently there was a true lack of fibre content displayed on ball bands other than “Merino” which is often used as a broad and non-specific term covering a broad range of fibre.

BFL is known for its strong fibres, making it a good candidate for socks.  In the ball, it felt squishy and soft to the touch but that belied the handle once knitted up at sock gauge.  This is a sturdy yarn.  I haven’t blocked these yet, but I am quiet confident this is going to be a good wearing fabric.

The colours available are a good mix of brights and earthy neutrals in the colour range for this yarn, as well as a complimentary range of prints.  It’s well pricepointed too, even with the exchange rate, although shipping is always the kicker.  I bought small this order, but I would probably consider stocking up next order to maximise the shipping costs.

Looking at the colours and style of these socks, I’d say my thoughts are probably with Autumn wouldn’t you?!  How are you all going as we transition from Summer down here in the Southern Hemisphere?  I have to say I think Autumn is just about my favourite season in Melbourne, so as far as I'm concerned let's bring it on!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Growing up in my house, you could often hear my mother declaring with a defiant pride that any recipe requiring her to “cream the butter and sugar” would be thrown out.  If you couldn’t melt ‘n’ mix it, it was deemed “too much pfaffing about”!  We’d often laugh about it, and it became a bit of a running premise of our home.  Looking after a family as well as working, Mum wasn’t much one for anything that required her to pfaff.

In some ways, I’ve recently realised that I’ve taken a part of this on board in perhaps not such a good way for me via my knitting of late.  I’ve noticed I’ve been slowly rejecting more and more patterns if they call for something such as an unfamiliar cast-on, or a technique I’m not proficient at.  Becoming set in my ways it seems, as the effort required to attempt something new becomes seen no longer as a challenge but an uncomfortable inconvenience. And all of a sudden, this struck me as rather silly.  I had always supposed myself as an adventurous person, willing to tackle new things in the aim of keeping the mind active and the creative brain stimulated but in fact I now recognise that I actually don’t seek being in situations where I’m short of accomplished!

In an effort to rectify this, I decided to actively seek new skills and embrace the discomfort as part of the process.   As luck happened, whilst collecting another book I had on hold from our local library I glanced quickly at the knitting section, not expecting much I hadn’t seen before but to my delight I found Socktopus – a collection of beautiful sock patterns by Alice Yu all using different and interesting stitch patterns and construction methods.

Socks are a great way to try out a new technique, I reckon.  They’re also great projects to work on while doing the daily work-commute.  Being small, there is the obvious advantage that they are very portable (especially when I’m magic-looping - I switched from my beloved dpns to magic after dropping one tiny dpn in a crowded peak hour carriage one day and having to scramble awkwardly to retrieve it, amidst legs and bags and looks of annoyance from those around me) but they also are great sources of different techniques.

My first choice of project from this book was OmShanti.  Having been a devout yoga fan for over 15 years, the name immediately drew my attention. I’ve just recently returned to a daily practise (which has made me feel so good I question my thinking of why I ever gave it up?) and these little ankle booties will be perfect for Savasana, when the body can chill very quickly as it succumbs to mindful peace.  

The added bonus was the stitch pattern looked just perfect to show off some speckled handpaint yarn I’d been squirrelling, and the construction was one I’d never attempted before.  Tick, tick, TICK! all the boxes.  

The pattern provided the opportunity to try quite a few new-to-me techniques so it was perfect. I learnt:  toe-up sock using a provisional cast on (love it!); short row toes and heels in garter stitch (love them!), and Latvian braid and stranded rib (liked the end result, but perhaps not enough to warrant the fiddly process!)

 The yarn itself is so beautiful.  It’s the something sock base from Republic of Wool in the colourway “Thrasher” and the way it knits up in both garter stitch and the slip stitch pattern nearly makes me weep I love it so much.  I’ve had it on hold in the wings for some time now, just waiting for a good showcase project.  This, my friends, is the project!  I really do think this is my favourite pairing of yarn/pattern ever.

This project has also been an excellent summation of a number of aspects of my life at present; a period of growth on numerous levels; a beautiful, mindful link to my yoga practise, which has given me so much solace during a recent stressful and emotional times; and a rediscovery of how good accomplishment feels even with the accompanying discomfort!   We are often reminded in yoga practise that the very asanas your find yourself resisting are most likely the exact ones you need.  If that isn’t the perfect analogy on this subject, I don’t know what is.  Discomfort (as distinguished from pain) is not a bad thing every now and then.

Using a special skein of yarn that seemed almost too perfect to see any pattern and the pure bliss of sitting with a special yarn, and reflecting on a knitting project as a piece but also a mindful practise, has been a truly lovely experience. 

Every time I look at my feet in these socks, I smile and feel content.  They snug my tootsies in such a delicious way, and the specks of colour against the mint and dove-grey base provide many moments of glee as I discover different little harmonies of colourplay.

How much happiness can be wrapped up in two little booties I don’t know, but there it is.  Pure delight.  

Om Shanti, friends.   May your knitting be delightful and your world contains some peace and contentment this week.