Tuesday, 31 August 2010


As much as I keep saying that I would like to show more in-progress shots of what I am working on, I am aware that I just keep pulling finished items out of nowhere. Like this:

The Vital Statistics
Yummy Scrummy Cupcake, available free!
the regular size; there's also a pattern for mini cupcakes.
Tahki Cotton Classic in shades 'white' and 'cotton candy' and just two rows of Grignasco Bambi in shade 416.
Start to finish:
28 August to 30 August 2010; this is part of the reason that it is only now making an appearance in its finished state - it all happened so quickly.
Stash/recycle content:
all from stash - hooray.
Comments: Hmm, looks a bit more like an iced dumpling than a cupcake. I should have knit on much smaller needles in order to tighten the gauge and achieve a firmer finished object. The top is decorated with three of the sparkly buttons that I have also previously used on the red vintage baby booties. Stuffing comes from a cushion from the thrift store that didn't survive the wash very well.
Could have been better but still cute, and for a wonderful cause. This cupcake is destined to be part of the Knit for Life fundraising display in the window of The Yellowleaf Cupcake Co. in the Belltown neighbourhood of Seattle - "Working with one of Seattle's most inspirational knitting groups, we will donate $1.00 of every regular price "PINK SNOWBALL" cupcake to Knit For Life. Helping to make every hospital visit a "stitch" easier! One Cupcake, One Stitch, One Smile...Knit For Life!" Sweet.

So, in an attempt to remedy all this - my other current knitting as I continue to recover from Daybreak (which I think should be renamed 'Crack at Dawn') has been a very pleasant, meditative stocking stitch number - 'A Little Ruffle'. I am not yet up to the ruffle. The yarn is recycled from a 92 per cent wool 8 percent cashmere zip-front sweater that I bought at Goodwill, that Tim wore for a while and then left sitting around for too long so I unravelled it. That's the way things go here.

And my current addiction - sewing knit fabrics, particularly working on projects from Alabama Studio Style. This may become an obsession. The cotton knits are so nice to work with and I'm fascinated by all of the possibilities that the book allows. I have sewn up the tank dress using fabric from a very simple (boring) black t-shirt dress that I bought at Goodwill and some black t-shirts because I needed more fabric to complete the length of the skirt - photos of that later - and am pondering how to go about the embellishment. A word first though about showing projects underway - it's scary. What if it doesn't work out? What if I don't finish it (ha ha, that wouldn't be a first)? What if I can't achieve the thing that I have in mind and that gets revealed to the world? All the usual angst about making things really and perhaps a good way to confront them.

It's also a lack of confidence about my creative abilities. I have, ahem, rather high standards and expectations and a lot of what I do along the way I don't deem to be very good or at least good enough. Like drawings and sketches and so forth. So, without any further ado, here is what I have in mind:

I have the black dress done - good start. Now I'm thinking about how to do the spiral appliques. What I have in mind is three tiers of spirals - from hem upwards in black, purple and blue - in diminishing size and with diminishing coverage in silver. Not sure how to do the silver yet - I have tried some silver fabric spray paint but wasn't happy with the effect. I have also tried just drawing onto the fabric with a metallic Sharpie. And I did a test run spiral:

The silver Sharpie, unfortunately, looks very flat in this photo (whereas the spray paint that I tried had too much 'glimmer') but this little project showed me something - the circle distorts once it is cut into a spiral shape as does the gradation of the silver shading. So I think that the silver, if any, has to go on after the spirals have been applied to the dress. Good - off to cut out spirals.

Sunday, 29 August 2010


No, we haven't been travelling, except down to Tenino (rhymes with, umm, wino) just outside Olympia, where we have Shetlands in our own back yard. Shetland sheep that is, and it's the sheep herder's side paddock and ...

Point is, we own a sheep (ok, technically two-thirds of a sheep as part of a mini fibre co-operative organised by a very resourceful knitting friend - thank you Aimee). There are four sheep altogether, the one in the middle is nominally 'ours':

We've all bought into the co-op and will share in the costs and proceeds (proceeds being raw fleece). No idea what I'm going to do with it when the time comes but getting it will be really exciting - we will not be shearing the sheep but instead rooing them! Australians must be good at that.

Below are some up-close photos of the sheep on the left's fleece (he was the only one that we could get hold of and pet). Aimee and I held on to one horn each and I had an awful irrational fear that they would just break off as though made of chalk. Although small, sheep are quite strong when they want to get away from you!

Oh it's going to be so much fun picking all that vegetable matter out of the fleece. I'm serious, that's just my sort of micro-mindless task. As long as it is just vegetable matter ....

Friday, 27 August 2010

stretch target

Ahh, corporate speak - stretch targets, personal and professional development plans, key performance indicators. Anyway, on 1 January this year I stated that stretch was one of my goals for 2010, that is, sewing knit fabrics, and promptly forgot about it until I started working on my Alabama projects. I have decided to leave that blue/green tank unfinished and consider it a toile and ditto for the pink (which is from Alabama Stitch Book - I wanted to try it out for comparison, fit- and length-wise).

I used my overlocker to sew both of these and wouldn't actually recommend it (although I also wouldn't recommend hand stitching as who could bear to rip out those seams as you work on getting the fit right?) Next time I am just going to use the sewing machine with a very shallow, long zigzag stitch and a little less pressure on the foot than usual.

So what, I wonder, would the key performance indicators for motherhood be? Sometimes we catch up with people whom we haven't seen for a few weeks and they ask what I've been doing. Well, I want to say, both the children are still alive and in one piece and we're all wearing clean undies. I mean, that really is meeting my targets (the first one about keeping the children alive being non-negotiable).

And speaking of clean undies - that is my other recent stretch project.

I haven't been happy with any of the girls' underpants on the market here so, having seen Omi Creates' endeavours, I decided to make some. Modern yet modest is how this underpants pattern from that*darn*kat is described and I think that is spot on. And such a fabulous way to use up scraps, old t-shirts, favourite baby clothes - fantastic. You can still see the (admittedly upside-down) Esprit lable on this pair from a top that I bought at an op shop many moons ago. The blue was from a t-shirt of mine that was in decent condition but had a stain right down the front, the red for the bands was some yardage that I had bought previously for something else but decided not to use.

These were mostly sewn on the machine, with the overlocker to neaten up some hems but I question whether that is really necessary. The overlocker is great for knits but the thing is, knits don't really unravel so raw edges are not going to be such a big deal. I actually like to use the overlocker on woven fabrics to keep them from coming apart.

Anyway, I've met my stretch target. Now I just need to go about getting a raise ...

Friday, 20 August 2010

dryclean only

Who knew? Sometimes it's true.

Yes, this is my sadly misshapen Margaret O'Leary (via the thrift store) cardigan. The fibre content is 55 per cent linen 45 per cent flax so I really didn't think that going through the wash would wound it too badly - but it did. The part that has shrunk is the solid grey section; the striped portions are fine. Unfortunately, this distortion makes it a bit difficult to work out exactly how the garment lay previously.

(And actually, upon double checking, the tag just says 'dry cleaning recommended' - maybe I could take it back if I had just kept that Goodwill receipt ...)

While I am aware that I won't be able to reproduce the cardigan by hand, I do want to try and recreate some of the design features. I particularly like the way that the back of the garment wraps around to the front under the arm so that the 'side' seam is not actually at the underarm but rather level with the shoulder seam.

I have had a go at reconstructing the sleeve but got the calculations wrong. What you see here on the right is the sleeve cap of a partial of sleeve. I cast on seven stitches less than called for and proceeded to knit the sleeve with everything above that seven stitches missing. To abbreviate a long story - the gap between the green and orange stitch markers is roughly equivalent to the gap in my calculations.

The solution? To knit a few underarms (like this one at the left) and a few sleeve caps (just the initial decreases) to work out at just what point they match up. Laborious perhaps but I think that it will be worth it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

donegal kidsilk tweed

A new yarn idea for Rowan perhaps?

I recycled this Donegal Tweed yarn from an L.L. Bean cardigan made in the Republic of Ireland. It is a natural coloured yarn with neps in blue, rust, pink and maroon. I've picked out the pink here by knitting it together with a strand of Rowan's Kidsilk Haze in shade Blushes (which is pink). Partly I wanted to soften up the knitted fabric and partly I wanted to enhance the pink tones.

I'm not convinced though. From the bottom is stocking stitch with the KSH, stocking stitch without; garter stitch with, garter stitch without. I'm certainly tending toward the stocking stitch but am not sure about ... about what? If you have any ideas, please do let me know.

Friday, 13 August 2010


I've already waxed lyrical about Stephen West's Daybreak pattern. He also offers a number of other patterns under the Westknits lable so when I saw on his blog that he was doing a spot of destashing before moving to Amsterdam and offering a free pattern into the deal, I jumped at the chance to explore some yummy yarns. I bought from him (top to bottom):
- Madelinetosh merino, worsted weight, in colours graphite, sequoia and baltic.
- Sundara Yarns worsted weight in shade 'Watching the night emerge'.

I'm thinking that I might be able to stripe the graphite and sequoia to produce a slightly larger item.

And thank you to Ann, Wendy and Leonie for their interest in the Daybreak pattern giveaway. I will contact you individually to organise transmission.

And my free pattern? I received Flamboyan, "...an elegant triangular shawl composed of garter and stockinette stitch along with a ribbed edge. Basic intarsia techniques are utilized to achieve a block of color in the center of the shawl. Choose your favorite color combination and luxuriate in this special piece of knitwear!"

eta - oops, except I can't find contact details for Wendy; could you please send me an email?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

ask and ...

... sometimes you receive an answer! I emailed the Alabama Chanin company last night with my querulous sleeve query and got a prompt response from Natalie Chanin herself - there will be sleeves in their next book which is due out Spring 2012. Hooray!

But my shoulders might get cold during the winters between then and now so I have taken matters into my own sewing hands. This morning I cut out and sewed the basic tank top from Alabama Studio Style. I used some cotton knit yardage that I bought a while ago - these garments take up a lot of fabric and there wasn't enough in the purple top that I had hoped to 'upcycle'. I cut the pieces out using a rotary cutter - so easy! Using the cutter you don't have to handle the fabric so there's no slipping around under the pattern pieces. I did use my overlocker for the sewing which I think was a good choice for the first effort because I was able to alter the seams very subtly to get a good fit.

Then I went to my old t-shirt stash and cut a sleeves off a few of them. I'm going to pin the sleeves into the tank top and see if any of them fit well. If one does then I hope to be able to use the sleeve as a template. Think and sometimes you can receive inspiration!


It's a couple of years now since Natalie Chanin's Alabama Stitch Book was released and although I loved the ethos of recycling t-shirts for the cotton jersey, the emphasis on hand stitching and the lovely techniques that it describes, most of the projects left me cold and I wasn't inspired really to try any of them. So the techniques remained inspiring but I didn't really feel that I had anywhere to use them.

Then along came Alabama Studio Style and - hooray!! - there is so much in it to love and want to make and bead and embroider and .... Given the intricacy of the decorative work on these projects, I really do feel like they are something that I could quite easily occupy myself with for the rest of my life. There is the one basic camisole dress with a number of variations, including a tank top neckline and skirt option.

So last night, rather than try and work out what I want to be knitting, I grabbed some paper and cut out the pattern pieces to make the tank top. I am absolutely taken with this image from the book and would also like to try making a dress at some point. Thing is, as much as it impresses me, I don't think that I could stay true to the hand-stitching ethos. I might just machine sew the garment seams and then do any finishing by hand. I am hoping to go eco though and construct the tank top out of some existing t-shirts. I just have to see whether I'll have enough yardage.

My only regret about these garments is the sleeves - there are no sleeves. I really like sleeves and am constantly left wondering why they are not included on so many projects. Is it because they are too hard to draft? I hope not, because then what hope would I have of improvising some? Do designers think that their audience is not interested in/scared of fitting and sewing sleeves? I guess that I am but only because their lack of inclusion makes me think that there is something scary about them. Sleeves please!!

Monday, 9 August 2010

gone fishing

I'm casting around for something to knit. I have of course a few things on the needles which I really need to face up to - Baudelaire socks perhaps? - but more on that some other time. I have cast on for a few things, looking for 'what to knit now'.

I'm still grieving a bit about my completed Daybreak shawl and am looking for that same hit, that feeling that this is exactly what I want to be knitting right now. (And thank you to Lynn in Tucson who so accurately described Von Trier's Breaking the Waves as "the best film I never want to see again".)

This is the possible beginning of another shawl - Shaelyn by Leila Raabe. The yarn is 92 per cent merino, 8 per cent cashmere, recycled from one of Tim's sweaters that was starting to look a bit tired (and was from Goodwill originally). I'm a bit undecided whether to knit with a single strand or double strand, one seems too lightweight, the other too heavyweight ... so I have to decide what sort of shawl I want and what size needle to use.

And this one, well - am I nuts? I have never done stranded knitting but necessity and invention and so forth. I have, however, long wanted to knit this project - a tea cup, blue and white of course - but in size 5 crochet cotton? on 2mm needles? hmm ...

And last but not least, the beginnings of a sleeve with a provisional cast-on. At this point probably the most straightforward of my possible projects but not for long. A few weeks ago, I ruined a great cardigan that I bought at Goodwill - strangely enough it was a hemp/cotton mix which I didn't think would shrink. I've rarely had any trouble putting woollens through the wash. Anyway, there are aspects of this poor old cardi that I really liked - non-standard construction, clever use of stripes, asymmetrical front opening - and after having had so much fun knitting with the Noro Kureyon sock yarn, I have decided to try and reproduce it as a handknit. Something else that I have never done before. The dark blue shown here is Dale Baby Ull, a superwash 100 per cent merino 4ply/fingering weight yarn. It is lovely and soft, even if a bit splitty and this really is my favourite weight of yarn to work in. I love the weight of the fabric that it produces.

The logical solution to all this? Spend the evening sewing.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

breaking the waves

Breaking the Waves is an awful, deeply disturbing film by Lars von Trier. It is the only film that has had me crying hysterically for the final half hour and I still can't lay eyes on Emily Watson without feeling uncomfortable. That said, it (obviously) made an indelible impression on me and this shawl does remind me of moonlight on deep water and I think that sometimes it's good to reclaim things.

The Vital Statistics
Daybreak by Stephen West (also available to purchase through Ravelry). I had noticed this pattern getting a bit of attention online but it didn't grab me until my lovely friend Lyn was knitting it. She explained to me about the striping and bells immediately went off in my head about yarns that I had in the cupboard that I could use for this shawl. In keeping with my desire to use what I have I was moved to cast on for it. I would now have trouble expressing how much I love this pattern, what a wonderful pattern it is, how much room there is to experiment with it. Basically it is a solid triangle of colour A, commence striping with colour B, then knit this border in solid colour B. But oh, it is so much more than that! Even following this basic formula, you can get fantastic results by using self-striping and variegated yarns. Add in some more yarns, some texture, some eyelets or even lace ... add to that, I really like the shape and construction - I feel as though I could knit this pattern forever.

Size: Large - span 170cm x depth 60cm.
Rather than use two yarns and follow the A, A/B, B scenario, I actually used five different yarns - Noro Kureyon Sock, Misti Alpaca Hand Paint Sock Yarn, Heirloom Baby Wool 4ply, Naturally haven 4ply and Patonyle sock yarn.

Noro Kureyon Sock, 70 per cent wool, 30 per cent nylon, shade S233, 0.5 skeins - I think I was supposed to knit my mother a pair of socks from this, oops. I had heard that this yarn was difficult to knit with, that the stitches didn't pull through easily and I think that is what put me off. It may be more difficult to knit at a sock-worthy gauge but I loved knitting on it for this shawl. Loved the texture, loved the colour changes, even loved the odd too thick or too thin section. I have already bought another skein with a project in mind.

Misti Alpaca Hand Paint Sock Yarn, 50 per cent alpaca, 30 per cent merino, 10 per cent nylon, 10 per cent silk, shade 01 'Blues in the Night', 0.7 skeins - I received this in a stash swap and was attracted to the depth that the colours created. I love the soft fuzziness of this yarn. Unlike the Noro it is an absolutely consistent weight. It is not very highly spun.

Heirloom Baby Wool 4ply, 100 per cent wool, shade 407, 0.6 skeins - yarn hauled across the Pacific, tightly plied, very smooth. Needed to be used.

Naturally Haven 4ply, 100 per cent merino, shade 455, one skein - ditto.

Patonyle, 80 per cent merino, 20 per cent nylon, shade 1009 - the classic Australian sock yarn, a gift last year when we were there from my friend Jane. Also tightly plied and very smooth.

Needles: 3.55mm Addi circular.
Stash/recycle content: it all came out of stash - hooray!
Start to finish: Well, you can tell that this was a special knit by the fact that it took me only 11 days - 18 July to 29 July 2010 - and I knit on it solidly for that time, nothing else, which is entirely out of character.

Having read other people's comments about the pattern, I did make some technical modifications: worked an eyelet on the border instead of a M1 increase (it is still important though to keep those first and last two stitches really loose) and used a stretchy cast off method. I also worked the slip stitch column one row further (that is, into the first row of the border). I can also imagine doing an eyelet for all of the increases to create an airier version.

Then in addition to this, I had my own vision of how to do the colours and stripes. I worked the initial solid section and the border in the Misti Alpaca. The stripes are the rustic, softly plied, self-striping Noro Kureyon Sock contrasted initially with the smooth, shiny Naturally Haven 4ply in a navy blue until that ran out and then with the Heirloom Baby Wool 4ply in a dark blue. In between the change from one blue to the next is the red Patonyle stripe. When I looked at other people's finished shawls the ones that I liked most were those where the changes in the yarn colour appeared to segment the shawl laterally (or at least, along the length of the stripes) so that was what I was aiming for.

The Noro worked wonderfully with its long and felicitous colour changes - the intrigue of which shade would come next and when was certainly one of the things that kept me knitting. I also had to grit my teeth at a couple of points and stay loyal to the Noro colour vision, that is, not cheat and muck around with any of the colour changes or progressions. That was until I came to a blasted knot joining some dark green with lavender. Then I did join it in with the dark green that came just before the light green.

And the red, that just came out of nowhere but I felt that it was necessary to help define the architecture of the shawl. From the very beginning the yarns that I chose had reminded me of the sea and deep water. I blocked the edge irregularly, it reminds me of seaweed.

Confidence in my creative choices is something that has been building for me slowly over a very long while. I would always be so irked when some designer talked about 'playing with colour' - how could they be 'playing' if it turned out so well? My only memories of playing with colour were mixing paints at kindergarten, hoping that something amazing would appear and ending up with brown. Anyway, I do feel as though I took a chance and played with colour and texture in this shawl and it worked.

Verdict: This shawl was such a joy to knit. It starts out deceptively with only a dozen or so stitches and by the time you're doing the stripes they are so fascinating that you don't notice the stitch count adding up to the hundreds. Add to that the pleasure of tracking the colour progressions in the yarn and suddenly, when the stitch count is almost unbearable, you're at the border. Which made it the hardest bit for me because you do keep knitting and increasing but in a solid block of colour. I was tempted to put in a row of eyelets to remind me of bubbles but didn't want to overdo it. I can see though why some people have switched to a lace stitch on the border - you do almost need it to get you through!

I really felt quite bereft though the night this was blocking because I could no longer knit it. In fact, I love this pattern so much and want to encourage both the designer and potential knitters thereof that I'm doing a giveaway. Please leave a comment by midnight Sunday my time (which is currently PDT) and I will randomly select three readers and purchase the pattern for them (not send them a copy of my pattern but purchase the pattern anew three times over).

Sunday, 1 August 2010

july reading

Nanny Returns
by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus - this was a boring book about stupid people. I was disappointed because I remember enjoying The Nanny Diaries (although I also really disliked Citizen Girl). Don't waste your time.

The House of Hope and Fear: life in a big city hospital by Audrey Young - having worked for the equivalent of the health department back in Australia and having done just that one Health Economics subject, everything that has been happening with health care reform, particularly health insurance, here in the US these past two years has been fascinating to me. This book combines stories of both doctors and patients at Seattle's Harborview Medical Center along with some commentary about the bigger picture - rising health care costs, lack of health insurance, pharmaceutical costs, undersupply of primary health care. Although this is not the strongest aspect of the book they are really interesting topics and I'm planning to read some more about them. Worth reading.