Sunday 20 December 2009

It's Chriiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaas!

Hello festive knitty people! Once you've forgiven me for song-virusing you with the tones of Noddy Holder, I hope you will also forgive me for being such an errant blogger.

The thing is I've not been feeling very knitty recently... not sure why. My "gorgeous-if-only-it-could-be-finished" grey tweedy Ishbel has been festering on the needles for so long that I'm afraid I may have forgotten where I was in the pattern... and heaven help the other 200 UFOs.

But never mind. This weekend I went into christmas overload and finally decorated the house. Among other things, christmas has inspired me to knit, so this is just me popping in to show you my mini xmas stockings...

These are from a free pattern (see rav link below). It's a lovely quick knit, and very enjoyable. The socks are made on straight needles and sewn up at the end. It's also a great way to try your hand at some fair isle patterns on a microscopic project.

Anyway that's all from me. I wish happy holidays to you all... may the gluh wein flow freely!

Sunday 4 October 2009

Pre-washing colourmart cashmere

A few years ago I went on a mad spree at Colourmart and purchased various cones of cashmere in different weights. For anyone not in the know, this cashmere is sold as remainders from industrial production batches, which means that it comes on cones and is slightly oiled for
machine knitting. It also means you get cashmere at a bargain price!

My resulting stash looked a bit like this...

There have been various discussions on the Colourmart Yahoo forum about whether it is better to wash the yarn before using it for hand knitting. The answer is that it is really a matter of personal preference.

You can certainly use it 'as is' for handknitting. Some knitters prefer to because it means that their finished stitches meld
together more tightly after blooming, making for a stronger fabric. It doesn't feel quite as nice as cashmere bought on the ball would, and it often has a slight smell of machine oil. But when you wash the finished item, it blooms like a butterfly and becomes a thing of gorgeous, plush softness. It also tends to shrink a little in length (and sometimes grows in width) which has to be factored in by the knitter. The golden rule when doing this is to wash a swatch before starting.

Other knitters (and I have decided that I am one of these) prefer to pre-wash the yarn before knitting. This way you get to knit with the unoiled version of the yarn, which feels lovely and soft while knitting. Also you get a more predictable result, with less shrinkage and blooming in the finished product.

So... having hidden the above stash in a cupboard for eons, I decided it was high time to do a big batch of pre-washing. This post is simply to share my method and results with any Colourmart fans out there who have not yet given it a go.

So here goes...

1. Step 1 - Wind the yarn into skeins

I used my swift to do this, because (as the name implies) I find it much quicker than using a niddy noddy. Once they were wound, I tied them in at least 4 places to keep the threads nice and straight.

2. Step 2 - pre-soak the skeins

Here is where you might gasp in horror... I like to pre-soak the yarn in none other than Fairy liquid, diluted in lukewarm water.
Whatever you may think about cashmere, it is actually quite a hardy fibre and copes with this very well. Fairy liquid does a
lovely job of removing the machine oil in a first pass and leaves the skeins remarkably soft. I soaked the skeins for 5 mins
before wringing out gently.

Step 3 - mashine wash the skeins

My washing machine has a wool cycle, which is an ideal way to wash the skeins and get out any remaining traces of machine oil. First of all, I placed the skeins inside some zip-up washing bags (the sort used to wash delicate underwear). Then I added a good amount of wool-friendly washing detergent and a dose of fabric conditioner. (My cycle washes at 40 degrees C, takes 50 mins and has a spin speed of 800).

When the skeins came out, they were extremely plumped up and soft. A couple of them came out a little puckered, like the one shown below, but a good stretch was all it took to revert them to a taut, flat state.

Step 4 - dry the skeins

The skeins seem to dry pretty quickly over a radiator or even a well aired banister. I like to turn them every couple of hours to help them dry evenly. I also removed the ties to avoid getting kinks in the fibre.

Step 5 - admire!
The finished skeins are lovely and soft and considerably plumper than the oiled thread that I had when I started. They can now
be wound into balls, and will be a pleasure to knit with. I just need to decide what to use them for...
Here are a few pics of the dried skeins

Saturday 3 October 2009

Vintage buttons, fab needle gauge and other random tat

Last weekend I visited a little town in Devon called Topsham, which happens to be home to a 3-story antiques warehouse.... (or more accurately, 3 floors of random vintage household tat of the sort that makes my eyes light up!)

About 20 seconds after entry, I zoned in on a little corner with boxes of old buttons and vintage knitting needles... hoorah! (My weary companions made a resigned exit at this point and decided to leave me to it.)

So after a good rummage, I came out with the following little stash enhancers...

Buttons of various sizes...

Knitting Needles (several sets of long DPNs plus two straights)...

Next up are some ceramic buttons that I bought at the V&A last week while out browsing with notknottylottie. Not sure yet what I will do with them...

And finally, I want to pass on a great tip that I read on this blog... ( Last week, I read a fab little article that recommended a visit to your local DIY store to find a nifty and hard-wearing needle gauge....

Behold - the drill gauge!

I bought mine from someone called 'handyman' on ebay, and it arrived the next day. Result!

Sunday 13 September 2009

Back from iKnit Weekender...

On Friday I spent the day at the iKnit weekender along with two of my fellow knutters, Mel and Lottie (of

The quick version is to say quite simply that I was in yarn HEAVEN! (Aisles upon aisles of yarn... and buttons... and knitting-related nick-nacks. Mmmmm.) As a day out shopping, it was supreme.

Just look at these silks that were on sale...

(if only the man running the stall had not been such a horrific pushy salesman, we would all have bought some. Seriously... the guy chased away pretty much every customer who came near!)

But in addition to the stalls, there was a curriculum of classes and presentations where you could learn all manner of advanced and off-the-wall techniques. So here is a little run down of my day...

First of all, I attended a talk by Debbie New. (Little Lixie has actually blogged this talk very well, so I will point you to her blog for more details... ) But suffice to say Debbie New is a fiendish genius who blew my mind. She does crazy inventive things with knitting, especially with the construction of garments I confess some of it went over my head, but it was very interesting.

Next, I shopped for yarn. Given that my stash is already obscene, I didn't go overboard, but a few little goodies did sneak in... so here's a quick show and tell:

2 balls of Rennie 4 ply shetland tweed.
This stuff is gorgeous and destined to become an Ishbel (I am shamelessly copying Lottie who made a beautiful one in exactly the same same yarn, but purple.)

8 balls of 2 ply lace weight lambswool.
The colour of this is so beautiful, somewhere between red, purple and magenta. I'm not sure my camera has quite capured it. Again, this is destined to be a tweedy winter shawl... (maybe another Ishbel, unless I get taken with something else.)

4 balls of Norwegian 4 ply baby alpaca with silk.
Ye gods! this yarn is soft. Soft like nothing on earth. Unlike the tweedy yarns above, this one is meant to have your face buried in it... I am not sure yet what it is going to become. Suggestions welcome. The colour is a deep ruby, with perhaps a very slight hint of brownish maroon sneaking in.

Loads of buttons!

Next I was back with Debbie New for a 3-hour practical class called Cellular Automata. This was fantastic and really gave me food for thought.

Essentially Debbie shows you that you can knit and design amazing stitch patterns without needing a chart or pattern, simply by deciding on a set of rules that you will apply to each stitch and following them religiously. Furthermore, if you choose your rule wisely, you stand a good chance of knitting a fractal pattern which is self-replicating and beautiful. It works really well with stranded colour work like fair isle. But rather than try to explain the idea in two lines here, I will blog more about this later on, giving more detail and an example or two.

After my class, I went and bought a copy of Whimsical Little Knits and had it signed by Ysolda Teague...

I also took a photo of Ysolda with Lottie, who was wearing her purple Ishbel. (I have sent the pic to Lottie so that she can blog it herself if she wishes.)

At this point I suddenly discovered that there was a whole nother aisle that I had missed earlier, hiding behind the iKnit stand.
So I made a beeline for that and became immediately overexcited upon finding a vintage stall! Vintage craft supplies may just be my favourite thing ever. I had an enjoyable chat with the lady running the stall, who turned out to be an enthusiastic collector, just starting out in sharing some of her stock. And I purchased the following bits...
A seriously cool thing: a sock knitting set in a slimline metal case...

And a few pairs of vintage Sears knitting needles in shiny metallic colours...

The day ended with a fashion show presented by Amy Lamé...

...and then finally there was wine and partying to do. The three of us did not stay long for the party because we were pooped. But all in all we'd had a fantastic day. (Tomorrow I look forward to hearing all about Modular Knitting and Oruborus from Mel and Lottie.)
I will defintely go again next year.

Saturday 12 September 2009

Dr Horrible Sing-a-long Wristers

Just a quickie to post my latest FO... a pair of luxurious cashmere wrist warmers. These are based on a free pattern on ravelry, which was itself inspired by the pair that Penny wears in Dr Horrible's sing-a-long blog. (Incidentally, if you haven't already watched this and are a fan of Joss Whedon... may I urge you to do so immediately?)

My ravelry link is here....

I used RYC cashmere tweed in aran weight and some vintage bakelite buttons that I *adore*. The gloves were knit flat on straight needles and come together via the buttonholes. (You could easily knit them in the round if preferred and make the buttons purely decorative.)

Anyway I love them. Now I just need it to get cold...

Monday 31 August 2009

Blocking my Raspberry Beret

Just popping in to share some pics of my latest beret and - more specifically - to mention the blocking technique that I used for this.

The beret and flower were made from one skein of Sublime Kid Mohair, using a free pattern by Susan Power called Baroness Beret (Ravelry link:

I will definitely use this pattern again. As for the yarn, I find it soft and light and almost barely there when wearing the hat. I'm totally in love with the colour. It's such a luscious shade of red... bright like raspberry coulis and a little pinker than pillarbox. The flower was not part of the pattern, but I think it works well, edged with a fine chain of kidsilk haze in black.

My ravelry page for this project is here:

Anyway, onto blocking techniques...

Having made a whole load of lace berets recently, I've got into the habit of blocking them over a dinner plate, which works very nicely for giving that proper beret shape, and really opens out the lace. However I think that this beret has the best blocking result of all - and I think that it is due to having taken an extra bit of care over the ribbing. I've posted a few explanatory pics below...
  • The first pic shows the beret before blocking.
  • The second pic shows the beret stretched over a dinner plate
  • The third pic shows something new - this time I basted the ribbing to pull it into shape over the plate. This made a difference and resulted in a snug, unstretched ribbing
  • The final pic shows how I like to leave the beret to dry overnight.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Angora + Lace = Pretty

Just a little update to share my latest FO... a lighter than air lace 'scarflette' made from a divinely soft angora/merino blend.

This is a planned christmas present and a fun knit using a pattern from 'Little Luxury Knits' by Louisa Harding. (The pattern is also available for free on Ravelry via the link below.)

The scarflette only uses one skein of DK yarn, including the flower and takes a fairly vigorous blocking to get the length required and to open up the lace. If you wanted a full length scarf, you could easily do it with two skeins. I amended the flower pattern slightly as I wanted more petals (and also crocheted round the edges with kidsilk haze).

For interest, here are my 'before and after' blocking pics...

More details and a link to the free pattern can be found on Ravelry here:

Saturday 15 August 2009

Kool and the Gang... Part 2

In my last post I showed the results of my first Kool Aid experiments (using five skeins of superwash sock yarn). I promised to elaborate on a couple of things, so here we go...

Firstly, I want to show the before and after pics for the overdying that I did on the deeper red...

You may recall that this skein was initially dyed using 1 part Grape to 2 parts Cherry. The result was a pretty shade, but patchy coverage, with several undyed sections that did not look good.

So I overdyed it the following day using a madcap mixture of cherry, black cherry tropical punch and grape.

As it turns out, that was far more dye than I needed, and the skein did not soak it all up - but I did get a lovely rich red at the end of it - and all of the bare patches soaked up the red beautifully...

So moving on from sock yarn, I'd like to show what happened when I progressed to two beautiful 100g skeins of lace weight merino/silk (80% merino / 20% silk). Each skein has about 1200 yards - easily enough for a shawl, so I was looking for shawl-friendly colours.... or something less psychedelic than my sock yarns anyway.

When these raw skeins arrived through the post, I was so taken with the beautful, silky texture of their undyed state that I was tempted not to risk dyeing them at all. But then.... you only live once, right?

So having become comfortable with Knitty's recommended microwave technique, I decided to go straight ahead with the first batch of laceweight. So I mixed up one part each of Black Cherry and Tropical Punch - with a little Grape thrown in also and bunged it in the microwave for 2 mins.

When I took it back out, I started to feel a little nervous. It occurred to me that the water and glass bowl felt far hotter than the max wash temperature would be for this yarn. So to minimise damage, I took the yarn straight out of the water and left it in the sink to cool, then rinsed it and hung it up to dry. At this point I was already noticing that the texture of the yarn had changed... it no longer seemed silky - more like "felty" (argh!) and the strands were sticking together somewhat.

As it dried it started to look like this... still a little on the felty side for my liking.

After several days, it was fully dry and the colour was a sort of matte, pinkish red. I'm not sure how exactly to describe this colour - but it calls to mind the sort of dusky hue that you would find in a heritage range of wall paint, aimed at traditional dining rooms. It's really very pretty.

The really good news is that when I came to wind the ball, it was not felted after all - hoorah! It had simply changed texture slightly - effectively it had 'bloomed' and is still very soft.

For the second skein, I wanted a pale apple green, and managed to get exactly what I was after by using just one sachet of Lemon & Lime Kool Aid for the whole batch. This time I only gave the yarn one minute in the microwave, and I think it has retained more of the silky sheen than the other skein did. It has a slightly variegated finish, which is subtle enough to be very pleasing to me :-)

Right now it is being wound via my swift and trusty nostepinne.

So, finally.... I thought I would finish up with gratuitous yarn shots.