In Praise of the Handmade Sweater

On the whole, I'm anti-resolution because to be honest, life is just too short to setting myself up for disappointment as an annual event. However, if you were thinking about taking up a new hobby, perhaps leaning towards a little crafting, may I make a strong case here for knitting yourself a sweater?

Read More

My Knit Squad

You know how people online have quite a thing about 'Finding Your Tribe'? Is it ok to have more than one? I mean, it's good to have a solid group that always, always have your back and that's great but there seems to be this idea that we just have one place. One group. One shot at being 'in' the crowd. It reminds me a little of the idea of meeting your soul mate. 

Read More

From Dorset With Love

Can we take a moment to celebrate the power of female friendship please?

Flowers and friendship.jpg

Excellent.

I spent last weekend running workshops with a group of women so creative and amazing, I felt like I moonwalked right out of the teaching space. I jumped in a cab and checked my phone. I saw the happiest of news: my good friend is totally having her moment and causing a big buzz around her new collection launch. It felt so good to see women just owning their ambitions and working with clarity and focus to achieve them. 

I had the pleasure of shooting this special collection a few months ago. It was my first full shoot with models and I was more than a little nervous about getting my friend, Clare Devine,  what she needed. When the samples arrived, I was instantly inspired and moved them around in my hands, examining seams, hems, details..... the feel and look of each piece. The colour choices reminded me so much of the nature tones that inspire me here everyday and I felt a new confidence. 

' Lulworth Cove ', available on Ravelry. 

'Lulworth Cove', available on Ravelry. 

I contacted friends to help and put together a day full of pictures, laughter and happiness. I really think you can tell how much fun we had. 

' Corfe Castle ', available on Ravelry

'Corfe Castle', available on Ravelry

The collection is called, 'From Dorset with Love' and includes Clare's first sweater design (and it's a goodie). Each piece is a wardrobe staple, thoughtfully designed to make it a pleasure to knit and sit *just* right when worn. Clare is releasing these over the coming week and I have a special code for you today if you wish to knit your new favourite project. 

To enjoy 20% off at checkout when shopping on Ravelry, you can use the code '"APD20"

'Swyres Head' available on Ravelry

'Swyres Head' available on Ravelry

I'd like to shout out a few lovelies who also helped make this shoot special:

Model extraordinaire- Sarah Knight

White Striped Dress- STALF 

Beautiful Bouquet- Beards and Daisies (my go to florist, every shoot)

And my dear friend Elaine who doesn't have an online presence for me to link to for you to go and high five her, sadly. She's quiet and gentle and finds the big wide world of the internet a bit intimidating. Let's not tell her we're all pouring over her photos and finding her cute as a button shall we?

Happy knitting! x

 

Prym Ergonomics

Anyone who knows the pain of RSI will share my obsession with trying to find more ergonomic options. Between a screen habit and a craft habit, my wrists take quite a bashing and wrist pain is something I have to actively work hard to avoid. Just as you need to test to find a well fitted trainer for your body's needs before you head off on a run, you need to road test and try out what needles work for your individual knitting style. 

Prym ergonomic knitting needles

A few weeks ago Prym launched a new type of knitting needle and contacted me to road test them. The word 'ergonomic' stood out enticingly from the email so last weekend I tucked up with the dpns and cast something on. Prym Ergonomics needles are made of a polished high-performance synthetic material that's especially light and flexible. Having always opted for metal as I prefer the smoother feel, I was intrigued by this option. The surface reminded me of the metal in that it's smooth and easy to move stitches along but unlike metal, the synthetic material warms slightly in your hand a little like you might expect if you usually knit with wooden needles. It was light yet satisfying to work with. 

Prym Ergonomic Needles

A big plus point for me was the light colour- no distractions from your knitting! I have a few needles that are so busy and bright I find my stitches get a little lost. To me, I want to enjoy every stitch and the neutral white helped. However, this is where my love affair with the new material ended as the minute I started knitting, I noticed a 'catch' in one of the needles that caused a slight drag which was infuriating. I suspect it's just something about the manufacture process and some needles are perfectly smooth.  

The other interesting feature is the shape of the needles themselves. Both the double pointed and straight needles feature a drop-shaped needle point:

Prym ergonomic needle tips

This means that you never split the yarn with an overly sharp needle or suffer puncture wounds in your wrists while working in the round. I would be interested to see how these would work for very fine stitches but I like the way the 4mm double points picked up the yarn and moved down the needle. It felt easy and I haven't seen anything similar before. 

Both the straight and the dpn needles are also a longer size than many. For those knitters using a more Portugese style, where they place the straight needle under their arm and pick at the work in progress, this would probably be a good option and I'd be interested to hear from someone who has tried this. Being longer, the weight of the knitting is spread out a lot further but I still suspect a circular needle is the most ergnomic option for most knitters who hold a needle in each hand as the weiht of the project then remains in your lap. 

Intrigued? Well there's a video with more information for you just here:

As a rough guideline, these needles retail in the UK for roughly between £7-£11, subject to needle size and different stockists. I think given the price point, these are a good ergonomic choice for knitters. You can find your nearest stockist by visiting Prym's stockist listings:

As for my project? Well that's another hat coming up right there. I seem to be in a hat run and nothing is going to get me out of it; not even the promise of Spring. If you want to keep up with my making right now, pop on over to Instagram to join me and my cohost @ceramicmagpie in our new #wipsandblooms_spring join in. I'll be sharing more of these needles and projects there. 

This blog post is sponsored by VIRAL LAB who also provided needles for the post. Opinions expressed here are my own.

Grown: Sophisticated Sweater Designs

10 sweater designs from a trusted knitwear designer? Yes. Let's get into THAT because it's cold and my knit fever is strong right now. 

Grown by Kate Oates

I've known knit designer Kate Oates of Tot Toppers for a few years now. I've read her blog and smiled at each new design as it released. I like her tendency to design things that don't need much finishing. Some would say that I'm a lazy knitter but I just like to say energy efficient and if it looks good, I'm ok with keeping it fuss free. In my mind Kate has always been a childrenswear designer but all that changed recently when she wrote an email, inviting me to be a part of the Grown blog tour. 

Grown is a collection of 10 raglan-style sweater designs with very little finishing and sewing. Each design was inspired by an original Tot Toppers pattern which means you could knit something for your entire family if you wished. The designs have been thoughtfully 'matured' so that they are flattering for adult figures and include options for customising. The collection is beautifully shot on a range of models so you get a different flavour with each design. I like this method actually as it means I don't get stuck on a collection only working for one particular person. It helps me to visualise how it might work for my knitting needs. 

My top pick from the collection is the Scholar Cardigan. I have a thing for these deeply collared, ribbed sweaters for men, children and women alike. This just ticks all the right boxes for me. I'm not going to lie, I want a slightly unisex version with elbow patches. Those elbow patches should be leather if you're wondering. 

Scholar Cardigan by Kate Oates of Tot Toppers
Scholar Cardigan by Kate Oates of Tot Toppers

Is it ok to say I'm completely in support of how preppy this pair are? I have a sudden urge to swap out my usual boxy style and get college cute all over again. If I wasn't in too big a rush to do that though, I'd probably play it safe with a sweater that I think was designed just for me, the Sidewalk Sweater. 

Sidewalk Sweater by Kate Oates

This is a great collection with plenty of options for different body types and if you're a hand dyed yarn fan, this will help you scratch that itch in terms of yarn suggestions. Here's all the important links if you want to check out more:

With thanks to Kate for kindly sending me an ecopy of her new collection for review purposes. Opinions and ideas expressed here are my own. 

Knit Love

I dedicated this year to improving my skills in making. I wanted 2016 to be The Maker's Year and so far I think I've done pretty well. I've improved a lot of my existing skills and grown more confident in trying out new things (have you seen my wreath obsession? It is out of control). However between you and me, my one true love will always be knitting. 

knitting flat lay

It's that time of year when I start to receive messages from others who don't normally knit but have dug out some yarn they meant use to make a sweater for their child. I see knitting appearing in my timeline with increasing regularity. I smile knowing why: the cold and need to nuzzle, clothe and protect ourselves and our little ones. For me though, knitting is a constant low rumble of need deep in my belly. I see a world where we can create things from beautiful natural resources and I wish I could knit faster. 

That's why this Autumn I have cast on my New Favourite Project. It started with an introduction to Ioana of Moeke Yarns, our sponsor for this month's #wipsandblooms join in on Instagram. As we spoke, we chatted about her passion for making and before long 4 skeins were whispering their magic to me and I knew what I wanted to knit. 

Moeke yarns

Each morning I wake hours before my slumbering tot. I creep downstairs in the dark, flip on the kettle and start the familiar whir of my laptop. It's time to work again. Sat at our farm table, a soothing brew by my side, I type as dawn breaks, pouring all the first energy of the day into writing. These early starts are increasingly cold and I long for a shawl to pull around me and perhaps become the companion I need in those dark hours of creative solitude. 

These four skeins have begun their journey to be just that project: The Comfort of Lines shawl designed by Melissa Schaschwary. It was a magical moment as I scooped the skeins out of the box Ioana kindly sent to me; I felt an instant connection to a story and a crafter far across a sea that understood the tactile joy that comes from a yarn with character. It would be easy to fall into cliches about rustic glory but there's a depth and crunch to this yarn that is utterly charming. The nature of its plies means that as a fabric, the stitches won't sit smooth and uniform but twist a little, give a little and tell a little of the sheep from which the wool came. 

Moeke Yarns on the needles

Moeke Yarns are produced from Romanian wool, with traditional methods and no harmful chemicals, spun in a traditional fiber mill and dyed using plants. My skeins are Elena, a 100% Romanian half-bred Tigaie wool and Heritage, a blend of the Tigaie and Romanian produced merino. Their undyed colour is partly why those skeins spoke so strongly to me that day. Emptied onto my marked and dented farm table, I smiled, feeling a connection to something I understood. Living life bestows marks, wrinkles, nubs and bumps. I was  utterly charmed and haven't been disappointed on the needles. This has become a project I linger over, smiling as my fingers find little specks of straw, a slightly thicker ply and watching the fabric shift and change with these little details. 

So while I work at my desk, shivering a little each morning, I smile too, thinking of the big shawl to come. I will clothe myself in a material that has already weathered winters out on Romanian pasture and I will know that it won't be just my cooling tea bringing me comfort soon, it will be wool. 

This sponsored blog post is brought to you in collaboration with Moeke Yarns. Skeins were recieved for review purposes. Views expressed here are my own

The Gift of Making

One of my favourite things about being a maker is the powerful resources that I have available to me to show people in my life or community that I care deeply about them. There's a real joy that comes from selecting just the right small gift that communicates to someone "I remembered you got cold hands when you cycled to work to teach my daughter last week" or "You Little One is your most precious thing, they deserve to be wrapped in the rich natural fibres that I sourced just for them". 

Thanks to the ability to make, I can craft unique gifts that layer meaning so that not only is it just right for a problem the recipient might have been trying to solve but also has a little detail like the motif of a much loved flower. Rough gardeners hands and cold feet find perfect solutions and allow me to gift something that fits into the everyday fabric of their lives. It makes me smile to think of them reaching for those cycle gloves on cold mornings and remembering my gratitude expressed in knitted warmth. I love it best when I create a useful gifts but one with no less beauty for all its practicability and careful consideration.

'Chai' hat by Clare Devine awaiting its pom pom, Little Sprout Bonnet by Melissa LeBarre on the needles

'Chai' hat by Clare Devine awaiting its pom pom, Little Sprout Bonnet by Melissa LeBarre on the needles

When I launched The Maker's Year, I pledged to consume less which meant that gift times have prompted me to look around my home for resources that are ready to become something special. Two little friends birthdays this month meant that my eye fell on some newly acquired balls of Classic Elite Big Liberty Wool. Chunky and machine washable, this did everything I needed on the fast and practical front so that I could whip up two quick gifts for these tiny bundles of joy that I've watched grow over the past few years. 

Big Liberty Wool, KT Robbins Ceramic Succulent Pot & 'Chai' hat by Clare Devine

Big Liberty Wool, KT Robbins Ceramic Succulent Pot & 'Chai' hat by Clare Devine

To me though, the gift of making goes further than producing beautiful hand mades. Appreciating other makers need to create means that the gift of new resources can be just as vital. When I visited someone's family recently, I remembered that The Grandma (yes capitals, she's awesome) was an avid knitter. It's rare to see this matriarchal figure without knitting in her hands as she holds court amongst the huge volume of friends and family members who visit her throughout the day. Showing my appreciation for her need to make felt right for my visit this weekend.  

So before I set off to join the crowd gathered in her front room, I picked out some wool that I knew to be soft and durable. I wanted her knitting to be a pleasure as she worked and a welcome break from the squeaky acrylic that she so often chooses for its convenience. Having worked with Milla Mia before, I reached for a selection of colours I knew would soon bedeck tiny baby feet and heads as this wonderful knitter whipped up gift after gift of her own to bestow on friends and family. 

Milla Mia gift

Gifting resources and hand mades is one of the easy ways I'm managing the tendency to acquire yarn that I want to knit with "soon". Too many skeins have disappeared into plastic tubs as I wait for this magical time when I will knit faster and have more time to choose just the right pattern. Crafting with intention is something I've been enjoying reflecting on thanks to Felicia's Stashless Challenge at The Craft Sessions. If you've not discovered Felicia yet, I thoroughly recommend you spend some time getting to know her philosophy on craft and using your stash to enhance your making not weight it down. She inspired this post and I'm extremely grateful. 

 

With thanks to Love Knitting for providing yarns that feature in this blog post for review purposes. Opinions here are my own. 

Toasty Volume 2

There's a certain sweet spot that some designers hit where they produce knitting patterns offering enough of a mix of soothing comfort and challenge that I'd (eventually) knit a whole book of their designs. When a copy of Toasty Volume 2 by Rachel Coopey arrived recently, I knew I'd found such a book. 

One of the biggest problems I have with my knitting is decision paralysis. I like so many yarns and designs that I get overwhelmed and in the face of having to choose, just end up getting a bit melty and plod along slowly on the same thing that I've been knitting for ages. This time though, this time, I cast on....

Handwound ball of Dovestone DK

Last Summer, I took a learning journey to discover some British wool producers and in doing so found a skein of Baa Ram Ewe's Dovestone yarn. Dovestone is a delicious mix of Masham, Bluefaced and Wensleydale wool. At the time I swatched and enjoyed the new to me sensation of Masham. It gives a slightly hairy texture on the fingers, not unlike mohair but instead of that dreaded ethereal floof mohair exudes, you get a bit more bite to the fabric that locks the fibres together in the twist of the yarn so no sneezing. I've revisited that swatch often, rolling it between my fingers to enjoy a sort of textured softness; robust but gentle. It's a truly fascinating blend both on the needles and in a fabric. The hand wound ball however, remained unused for months. The arrival of Toasty Volume 2 prompted me to rifle back through my knitting basket full of oddments waiting for me to decide what their fate might be. 

Toasty Volume 2 collage

Toasty Volume 2 is full of projects to sink your teeth into. Rachel offers nine accessory patterns with either undulating cable patterns or appealing colourwork that change colour when you're least expecting it. I'm currently on a colourwork kick so initially thought I would opt for a stranded design but then these mittens caught my eye. 

Padeside Mittens image courtesy of Jesse Wild

Padeside Mittens image courtesy of Jesse Wild

I think this is what I like about Rachel's design work so much: she offers choice. Most of Rachel's designs tend to involve lots of interesting details that travel around hats and socks beautifully but she doesn't forget the simple pleasure in a soothing knit project that just works. The Padside Mitts are a mixture of garter and stockinette and so casting them on offered a palate cleanser to the two colourwork projects I'm also dipping into whenever I have time. 

Progress is slow on this project, largely because I've had so little knitting time but also because I keep finding myself flipping back through the rest of the Toasty collection whenever I have it sat on my lap while I check directions for the mitts. I'm really drawn to the colourwork hats, especially those where the colour changes in a place that feels a little unexpected. It's really encouraging me to finish my current pile of works in progress and get to them. 

Toasty volume 2 (2).jpg

In the meantime though there's glorious Dovestone in a sumptuous blue named 'Eccup' and hours of pleasing garter ridge bumps. Magical. 

Useful links:

 

With thanks to Baa Ram Ewe for providing both the skein of Dovestone and copy of Toasty Volume 2 for review purposes. Opinions here are my own.