New year, new… concept of completed?

I spent most of 2016 feeling that things were out of control. Primarily this was down to events in the wider world; the political shocks in the UK and the US, terrorism, war and the desperate situation of millions of refugees. None of these are things I have any real ability to influence so in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, I’ve been seeking the grace to accept with serenity these things that cannot be changed (while continuing to shout at the news and rant at my husband each and every time I read a newspaper). But in the same vein, I have been looking for the courage to change the things which should be changed. And for this, I have to address the  mess and chaos at home. 

Since their birth in 2010, I have used my twins as a convenient excuse to explain away the general untidiness of my home. I am too busy looking after them to tidy and children are mostly mess makers. This was very much true when they were babies, and mess and chaos of the toddler years nearly finished me off, but it’s not so much the case now. Even so,  the house remains a mess. Kinder visitors to my home have described it as “lived in”. Even as I type these words I am cringing in the knowledge I’ve generally spent at least an entire day clearing up before their visit, and that “lived in” is the best I can hope for even after pulling out all the stops.


The untidiness at home is not helped by my personality – I have long known that I am a serial starter of new things and not a completer finisher. It’s like a switch goes off in my head when I’ve 80% completed a project and suddenly it’s lying unfinished and forgotten, and I’m off onto the next thing. Sometimes this is circumstantial, like when I think I’ve got enough time to finish something before the start of the school holiday and a child gets ill and the school holidays start in a rush several days earlier than expected. But mostly I just do it to myself; by simply getting bored and starting something new or generally getting distracted. How often have I thought “ooh I’ll just cast on to see how the yarn works in the pattern” only to find myself several inches down the leg of the second sock, trying not to dwell on the wip I abandoned for this one, but also thinking “I wonder if that poncho pattern would work in that new yarn I bought last week”, before caving and casting on the poncho.

But I’ve been finding this behaviour increasingly frustrating. There have been plenty of occasions this year when I’ve wanted to get involved in a KAL but have taken a look at the wip pile and realised I just can’t justify it. Then when I see all the finished pieces others have produced, I feel sad because, now the KAL is finished there is virtual chance I’ll ever get to make the item.


Also, this behaviour means a lot of unfinished stuff lying around cluttering up the place. This never used to bother me, but earlier this year, tiring of the mess, I resolved to Konmari my house (this is a way of tidying that asks you to consider every item in your house and ask yourself whether it sparks joy). This started straightforwardly enough. I deposited car loads of clothes, shoes, ornaments, toys, baby equipment and books at our local charity shops and donated still more to the jumble. I dragged long forgotten boxes from cupboards and threw out endless phone charges and other electrical paraphernalia. I Ebayed chairs and tables and cupboards and decided that the country cottage look we had going on just wasn’t for me, and I was going to go where my heart lead towards the simplicity of scandi living with a mid century twist, irrespective of the fact we actually live in a country cottage. 

But none of this made any real difference to the levels of clutter in my home. In fact, and it seems ridiculous to say it, but all this tidying actually made things worse as I often neglected the day to day stuff (like filing the enormous amounts of paperwork we continuously accumulate). And so, I’ve been forced to confront the true reason for our perpetually messy home. And it’s me. Or more specifically my inability to finish anything. I can’t even finish the tidying!


So I’ve been analysing this aspect of my craziness and I’ve come to the conclusion that I usually think I’ve finished a task several steps before it is actually complete. The laundry is a good example of this. It should be obvious when the laundry is complete – when the dry clothes are folded and neatly put away in the drawer. However, sometimes my head will tick off this item on my mental to do list, when I’ve merely folded the clothes but not yet put them away, so they languish for ages, usually in a basket on the stairs or the spare room. Sometimes my head does this at the point where I drag the clothes out of the tumble dryer and put them in a basket. When this happens the basket usually ends up in the living room, and often, I’ll need the basket to gather more dirty laundry so I will empty the clean (still unfolded) laundry onto the couch where the children will spend a couple of days sitting on it, and using it as cushions and blankets, before it occurs to me I’ll need to fold it (and, by now, iron it or sometimes even wash it again) and get it upstairs into the drawers. If it were just the laundry, I could probably live with it. But it manifests itself in the way I’ll cast off and block a shawl but won’t ever get around to sewing the two ends of yarn in. Or that I’ll vacuum but not put the vacuum cleaner away afterwards. Or that I’ll load the dishwasher but take days to get around to the handwash items. And, in countless other ways.  I’m not proud of this behaviour. I’m just putting it out there, (partly in the hope that I’m not the only one. Please tell me I’m not the only one!?).

So for 2017, I’m resolving to fully finish tasks. All tasks. This might take a while as there are almost 46 years worth of unfinished tasks to get too. But, specifically, I’m going to finish all my yarny projects, and then I’m going to use up my stash. Yes, you heard me say it, I’m going to USE UP MY STASH. I may also be opening an Etsy shop to sell some of the yarn I’ve dyed myself but which I’ll never get around to using. The using up of my stash also means not adding to it, so I’m cancelling my yarn clubs (sob!) and will not be buying new yarn at yarn shops or shows (how? how?). In tandem, with this I’m going to do the same thing with my fabric stash. 


I’m also only going to work on one wip at a time, and am not going to start the next thing until I have finished the first, and that includes sewing in the ends. This will be quite a challenge for me as I do always flit from one thing to another. But earlier this month, I gave myself a test. I knitted a pair of mittens from start to finish without picking up another project. They were an easy knit, just stocking stitch, in DK yarn so they didn’t take forever, but I enjoyed the focus and felt huge satisfaction in completing a project, so hopefully more of that feeling will spur me on.

So, here’s to a tidy (tidier?) house and mind, in 2017.

Eep!

YARNDALE 2016

I wanted to tell you all about my trip to Yarndale last weekend. 

I’ve wanted to go to Yarndale ever since it started up in 2013 but it’s a big journey from where I live so would always involve over night stays and my children are still quite small so it was never really a possibility. But when Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns suggested I might like to join her there to launch my book of knitted hat patterns “Wool and Woods”, I jumped at the chance.

wool and woods
Well, it was everything I’d ever dreamed it would be and much more. I travelled up with my lovely friend Sara from Hailstone Heritage on Friday, arriving in good time to pop along to Cooper’s Cafe, above which sits the studio of Lucy from Attic 24. Attic 24 has a special place in my heart as when I first started to crochet I bought a Stylecraft Special blanket pack from Wool Warehouse and made Lucy’s Coast Ripple blanket, which still sits proudly on my son’s bed. As you will know, I’ve moved on a long way since then but, nevertheless, it was interesting to see Lucy’s studio and to see all the many things I’ve read about on her blog over the years, for myself.

Attic 24 Pegs
So, after a cup of tea and a scone, we struck out along the wonderful Yarn Walk through the park to the Auction Mart where Yarndale is held. When we arrived, everywhere was activity with exhibitors unloading their wares and setting up their stands, and the organisers busy setting out wooly sheep and hanging socks and bunting. We met up with Daisy and soon joined in the bustle, unloading her displays and yarn. And I also got the thrill of seeing my printed pattern book for the first time (you can buy it as part of a kit wth Daisy’s yarn here). Then 9pm came and the Mart went quiet as it closed until the morning. So, after a trip to the supermarket we drove to the sweet house Daisy had hired for the weekend, ate a quick supper and retired, eager for the next day.

Yarndale 1Yarndale 2Yarndale 3

Sara and I walked to the show again the next day (Daisy having left early to finish setting up her stand), this time along the canal and, again, along the Yarn Walk. We arrived at the show only about an hour after it had started, but were surprised to find it already very busy, and, to our further surprise, it remained so for the rest of the show, only really quietening down for the final hour or so of Sunday. 

Yarndale 4Yarndale 5
It was fabulous to have two days available to look over the show. It’s a big show but I had time to visit almost every stand, squished untold quantities of yarn, marvelled at the very large size of some of the socks on the Sock Line (some of you are incrediby dedicated sock knitters!), tried my hand at extreme knitting and crochet courtesy of Woolly Mahoosive, perused patterns, snuggled in garment samples, tried on shawls, had a lesson from XXX in the action required to turn a spinning wheel (it’s all in the ankle – not lifting your foot up is key), petted the sheep, alpacas and the most gorgeously soft angora bunny (like stroking a cloud), and generally got untold inspiration from all the kind and patient stall holders I chatted with. It was wonderful to be so immersed in yarn for so long.

Yarndale 6Yarndale 7Yarndale 8
I also purchased! Although I was very restrained for me; two pattern books by Marie Wallin full of beautiful designs that involve both knitting and crochet, two gorgeous grey skeins of  Gleam, a Merino Silk sock mix which Daisy dyed at my request, 8 mini skeins from The Knitting Goddess, who I had never met before but, I’m already sure she will become a favourite of mine, and a tea towel from Tilly Flop, because I have orange highlights in my kitchen and am always on the look out for orange tea towel, but this one is doubly special as it is knitting related.

Yarndale Haul
Why so restrained? Well it was nothing to do with all the glories at the show. In different circumstances, I would have bought masses.  I think something in me has shifted over the summer because I’ve been dyeing so much of my own yarn. I have an enormous stash now and so, rather than just buying with impunity like I’ve always done (I’m not really one for budgeting), I searched for the things that really spoke to me. 

Sadly, it will probably be some years before I attend Yarndale again. The journey times are just too great whilst my children are so young and I do miss them terribly when I’m away from them. When they are older I’ll go again, travelling up on the Friday, going to the show on Saturday, before driving home on Sunday. But for now, I’ll just have to be content with those two glorious days. Yarndale 2016, you were just amazing!

Bridport Yarn

We had such a great summer holiday this year. Two lovely long weeks of sun, fun on the beach, playing in the park, cousins, scooting, chips, ice cream, sea glass, ammonites and dinosaurs (well, actually icthosaurs and plesiosaurs but my children are a bit to young to know the difference) with the bonuses of a big dollop of knitting and a unexpected trip to Bridport Yarn.


I’m always on the look out for a yarn shop. I rarely go anywhere without checking out the surrounding area (and if it’s a long way, the route too) for yarn. We’ve been known to detour for miles, with the kids bleating “are we nearly there yet?” on a 10 second loop all the way interspersed with “I’m bored”, screaming in frustration and beating each other, in search of an elusive yarn shop. There is a direct correlation between the length of time since I was last in a yarn shop and the time and distance over which I am prepared to endure this torment (and the amount of £££ I spend but let’s not dwell on that). 

But in the chaos of term ending and packing for the holiday, I never quite got around to it. And it must have been the blissful feeling of finally being back in my beloved Lyme Regis that soothed by yarnoscope, because it took me a few days to come around to musing that the one tiny imperfection with the town was a lack of a yarn shop. And then I remembered in a light bulb type scrabbling for phone and wifi signal moment that I hadn’t done my research. So you can imagine how thrilled I was when I discovered that Bridport Yarn was just up the road. So a trip was hastily arranged. My sister in law came along for the ride. She not a yarnie – I think she came for amateur anthropological research reasons aka why is my brother’s wife so nuts about yarn?, that and the fact that it was a chance to get a quick coffee and a couple of hours off from the children, who went with my husband to the park.

So, Bridport Yarn! The website (here) looked encouraging. I like any shop that has ethical principles and their ethos of trying to offer yarn which is “British, local and fairly traded – sometimes all three!” speaks to my soul. And, the shop itself did not disappoint. It was nestled amongst a nice assortment of independent stops in the way you only find in places where you are far enough from big urban centres to make rents reasonable, or where the majority of the town is owned by some large landowning estate who doesn’t necessarily need to squeeze every penny from the property to pay interest on his over leveraged assets. Already soothed by the lack of thrusting chain stores (there are some on around the corner on the main road but only a scattering)  we gazed at the splendid window display and entered.


And, joy of joys, we had stumbled upon a knit and natter session. It was so nice to hear the relaxed conversation of the ladies while they knitted, had my sister in law not been with me (and had I not been conscious of the fact my husband was left entertaining 4 children aged under 6), I may have drawn up a chair and joined them. However, I settled for a quick chat with the lovely ladies and together we all cooed over their current projects including a very special first ever project of a hot water bottle cover, in a gorgeous pale blue yarn, which was particularly charming as the newbie knitter had make some mistakes but rather than frog several rows of hard fought stitches, she had merely deliberately repeated the mistake at intervals such that it looked like it was intentional. Genius! Here are the lovely ladies.

The shop stocked a nice mix of hand dyed and commercial yarns in a variety of fibres and an array of pretty colours, all prettily displayed, as well as the most gorgeous buttons (which I didn’t buy but I have been itching for them ever since). Alas the owner wasn’t there but the shop assistant was friendly and helpful. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I’ve included several of the shop and it’s goodies here.





I bought two balls of lovely Juniper Moon Farm lace weight yarn, even though lace is just not my thing at all, because, that colour! It just needed to be in my stash. I also bought a couple of long circular needles which were a totally legitimate necessary purchase as I needed them for the hat project – see more on this here

Bridport Yarn is situated on South Street in Bridport, Dorset, a few minutes drive from the A35. If you are passing on the A35 on your way further east or west or if you are holidaying near by, I would heartily recommend it as a great place to get a yarnie fix. I wish I lived closer. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

It’s been a while

Hello. I’m tentatively waving because I’m not sure if anyone is still out there. I’ve been a bit quiet of late because, well, truth be told, I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but life just kind of got in the way. 

Mainly, I’ve been working on a group of hat patterns that will be published in the autumn. It’s fair to say when I took three of my hats along on a retreat with Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns earlier this year, I was just looking for a bit of love and validation, so I was surprised when she asked if I would write some patterns for her yarn. I agreed pretty readily, not realising what an undertaking it was to become. It’s not that the hats themselves were difficult for me to create and the ideas came readily – so many ideas; I knitted so many samples before deciding they aren’t right for the yarn and ripping them back to try something else, finally settling on the six that will become the collection. But, I’ve never written a pattern before and it’s been a steep learning curve. It’s quite a journey from writing some jottings in a note book and knitting a quick sample, to writing a pattern that will work over six sizes of head from baby to large adult and have each size look like the same pattern. 


Pattern writing has also had to be fitted in around family life and you would think (or at least, I thought), given that my children are now at school, I would have oodles of time. Certainly in my big-career-pre-child life, I am now ashamed to admit, I did wonder what stay at home mum’s, with school age children, did all day; although in my defence, I was never judgemental, just mildly curious. But the school day is strangely short and by the time I’ve worked for a couple of hours in my job at the local florist Green Parlour , walked the dog and had some lunch, there are only a couple of hours left to run errands, prep dinner, batch cook for the freezer, Kon Mari the house, and do all the household chores (and, for me, the volume of chores expands exponentially in the summer due to my love for my garden – more of this in a future post), before its time to leave for pick up. By the time you add in the coffee mornings, watching PE and swimming lessons, assemblies and sports days, the time available shrinks further. 


And before you know it, it’s the summer holidays and you are trying to grab moments while the children are engrossed in some play. And pattern writing, at least for me, requires a level of concentration I just cannot muster when my children are not deeply engrossed in something. The inevitable cry of “Mummy?!” and you know you’ve been rumbled. So I’ve had to grab my opportunities when they come and here is the nub; it’s really hard to do something when you aren’t in the mood, when you are tired or when you just fancy reading a book in a deck chair. What ever the billing, being a pattern designer is a very different life to that of a hobby knitter or crocheter.


The patterns are currently with Daisy’s tech editor and are being tested knitted by a lovely group of Devon Sun Yarn fans, so my work, at least for now, is mostly done (although I might just squeeze in one more hat sample). Now there is the launch to look forward to. We are doing it this autumn at Yarndale, where I’ll also be Daisy’s stand helper. It will be an interesting experience to see a yarn show from the other side, and I’m so looking forward to meeting lots of other fellow yarnie enthusiasts.


So, I hope you can forgive my absence. I have some other pattern ideas percolating in the back of my mind and I’ll start work on those once my children have gone back to school, and I will keep you posted on these as they develop. I also have lots of projects to finish as I’ve been a serial starter of new projects over the spring and summer – I am not one of life’s complete finishers; more of this in later posts too. And I’ve tried some new crafts, done some dyeing and visited some yarn shops that I’m keen to tell you all about, so I promise to be more present from here on in.  


But for now, I’m off to enjoy the glorious summer weather with a long dog walk this morning whilst the children are at tennis tots, watching the Olympics (knitting in hand), with the children while we avoid the heat of the day this afternoon (although they’ll probably petition for some Octonauts or Peter Rabbit or Dragons:Riders of Berk). Then it’ll be about time for us all to dip our toes in the paddling pool before I get busy with their tea. 

With love

Ali x

Crafting on the move

I was caught out by a flat tyre late one evening last week, and to my horror I discovered I did not have any yarn craft with me. My crafting is usually fairly portable. It’s quick and easy to pop needles or hook and yarn in a bag and, with all my patterns stored on my iPad, I’m off! In fact I almost always have a small portable project in my bag just in case I find myself unexpectedly waiting somewhere. But not this evening. I had to endure a wait for rescue without the calming comfort of yarn and needles or hook. 

For the last year or so, my portable project has been my Cuddlebums Yarn shades blanket. Each month I would receive four balls of lovely colour from Jodi and would pop one ball at a time in my bag until I found odd scraps of time to crocheted it into squares, and then I replace the completed squares with the next ball and so the project continues. Because of this I’ve been quite relaxed about delays and inconvenience, as I know I can just whip out my crochet to pass the time. Making squares is a brilliant portable project because they take up so little space, and require very little concentration. You just have to remember to stop when you get to the requisite size of square (in the early days of this blanket, I frequently overshot and had to frog back but, the longer the project has gone on, the better I have got at paying attention just enough to stop at the right point). And because you are making the squares in time which would otherwise be wasted, you can, over some months, produce a blanket without it feeling like a huge and daunting undertaking.


In this case, I’m making two blankets, one for each of my children; they will be almost the same but will also be subtly different. A couple of weeks ago,  I finished crocheting the last of the balls of colour (a gorgeous purple), which is why I didnt have anything to do when I got the flat tyre. So now,  I will need to start on the blanket assembly. As you join the squares together, this naturally makes the project much less portable so it will become a stay at home project to be worked week on in my evenings. 


I’m sad to see the end of these squares and, for the sake of my sanity should I get another puncture, I will need to seriously think about what my next portable project will be as I don’t have one ready and waiting. Everything in my yarny pipeline is either too complex or too bulky to make an ideal portable project.


In the meantime, I’m turning my attention to sewing in all the ends on the crocheted squares (and wondering quietly to myself the entire time, why I didn’t sew them in as I went along. There are approximately 800, give or take). I also need to decide on a joining method and an edging and this will necessitate a trawl through Ravelry and my various books and pamphlets so it is a subject I will need to come back to another day. Right now my focus needs to be Project Portable!

Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair

I’m going slightly off topic this week. Still craft but not yarn craft. Instead I’m talking flowers. Those of you who have come to this blog via my Instagram feed will already know of my love of flowers in general. But this week, I’m getting specific with a love of  flower crowns.

Some of you will know I work for a couple of hours each morning in a fabulous florist near my home called Green Parlour, owned and run by the very lovely Emma. As well as making gorgeous hand tied bouquets and selling pretty plants to the residents of Pangbourne village, she runs all sorts of fab floral workshops (see here for details) and when I saw she was running a flower crown workshop I jumped at the chance to go.  

 Flower crowns aren’t something you see a lot of outside of weddings and festivals but, amongst younger women, they are growing in popularity (my children now call their teenage cousin The Flower Girl because she once, ages ago, wore a faux floral crown, and they haven’t forgotten it, such is their lasting impact) and I wanted to learn to make one, because, well, I like to learn new things.

The workshop was on a Saturday afternoon and it was lovely to escape the usual chaos of my weekend for a couple of hours to sit in the calm of the flower shop and play. There were three other ladies on the workshop, all of whom had floral experience or had been on several workshops before. One of the ladies was looking for ideas for her daughters wedding flowers which was very exciting.

  
 We started by learning to wire our flowers. Emma explained that wiring is a declining art because of the fashion for loose more naturalistic florals but they are still used in button holes and, in flower crowns. To wire a flower you need to remove most of the stem and attach a wire either by piercing the actual flower or by placing a wire next to the remainder of the stem and taping the two together. By this method you give each flower a faux wire stem. The advantage to this over keeping the natural stem is that the wire stem can be bent so this allows the flower to be positioned exactly where you would like it. 

  
You need quite a lot of flowers to make a flower crown and wiring them, especially when you aren’t used to it, takes quite a lot of time. Eventually we all thought we had enough flowers wired so it came to crown construction. This involves taking a length of flexible wire measured to fit your head and starting at one end, lie the flowers along the wire so the flower stem lies on top of the wire. Then tape the flower to the wire. Lay the next flower head on top of the bit you’ve just taped with the stem lying the same was as the first flower, tape and repeat until you’ve covered the whole length of your wire. Make a loop at either end of the wire , add a ribbon tie and viola! Flower crown!

 
  

If you are thinking of making your own flower crown, you need consider that the flowers aren’t in water, and so they do fade quite quickly. This means you would need to make your flower crown on the same day as you were wanting to wear it. If I were to do this again (and I almost certainly will because it was so pretty), I would probably use more orchid flowers as they’ve lasted for a few days, while everything else was looking quite floppy by the next morning. If you didn’t want to try a full flower crown, a few orchid flowers glued to a hair comb would be a very pretty accessory and this is one I’m definitely going to try just the next time my orchid produces some flowers.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this change of scene this week. Next week I’m sure we will be back to yarn craft as I’ve been busy doing some more dyeing that I’m keen to tell you all about. 

 

Dyeing: things I learned

In my last post I told you all about how I dyed yarn in my kitchen, and because so many of you have said you were inspired to do the same, I thought I should probably follow up with some “things I learned” from the experience. Now, I’m not a big one for lists and this will all be basic and obvious stuff to experienced dyers, but to a newbie like myself, I was in uncharted territory, so, here goes. Things I learned:

  • Like most things, preparation is important. You need to thoroughly soak your yarn and get set up before you start. 
  • It’s really quite stingy when you splash the citric acid soak in your eye, so you will probably want to avoid doing this by either being careful when you get your yarn out of the bucket or if, like me, you are prone to clumsiness, by wearing goggles (I have onion peeling goggles which would have been excellent for this, had I been forewarned).
  • A little bit of dye goes a loooonnnnng way. All over spoons, jars, tables, clothes, small children. You need to be prepared to make a mess, so take precautions. I wore old clothes and an apron, and I had plenty of kitchen towel on hand to mop up spills and wipe up between different colours. And if you are hand painting on super wash yarn, boy, does a lot of water go everywhere. I’m thinking old towels would have also be useful if I’d had some.
  • Wear gloves. And don’t get distracted by small children (“Mummy, I did a poo poo”), remove your gloves to attend to them, and then forget to put then back on again. Unless you want to walk around with multicoloured hands and nails for the next several days.
  • If you are at all worried about your yarn felting then cold dip dye or hand paint your yarn (this is what I did), rather than kettle dye. Having super wash in your yarn will help but remember you need heat AND agitation to felt yarn so, as long as you don’t fuss about with it too much when it’s hot (you won’t be able to touch it for ages anyway after it comes out of the microwave), you’ll be fine. 
  • It will seem like the skeins take a small eternity to dry. It rained both days I did my dyeing and waiting for skeins to dry indoors is just so dull, so, if you can, dye on a dry day and hang them outside on the line, they’ll dry in no time. 
  • Try not to have too many preconceived ideas about what you want the yarn to look like at the end. I just went with the flow with the tone of my first few skeins. It turns out that I’m pretty heavy handed with the dye so get strong colours, but, because I’m using them together, I wanted my skeins to tone which meant the same strength of colour throughout, so, I had to work harder with the last few to make sure I was getting that right. That’s ok because I mostly enjoy a challenge but if you aren’t so keen, go easy on yourself and don’t stress about it. Like any new craft it takes plenty of practice to learn how to produce the effect you want. Whatever you make, it will be fabulous. 
  • Your skein will probably appear to get in a hideous tangle but do NOT be tempted to untie the ties to sort it out. That way lies madness and many hours of (not so) patient untangling. Once it is dry, just go around each of the ties in turn and check that there are no threads lying over the tie. Once you are satisfied that’s the case, pop your hands in either end of the skein and give it some sharp tugs as if you were trying to stretch it out. Then you should be good to pop it on a swift or a handy pair of outstretched arms, cut your ties and ball away without tangles.  
  • Be prepared to dye more yarn than you actually need. You will love your creations so much it will be hard to ball them up and use them. You will want to keep them as yarn pets for ever, just for squishing.
  • It’s worth getting a note book and writing down what colours you mixed. You think you’ll remember because you had such a fun time but, in reality, busy lives crowd in and you won’t. I’m only a few days away from having finished dyeing the yarn for my blanket and I’m already starting to forget. Besides, its always good to have an excuse for a new note book.
  • As soon as you finish, you will want to dye more, and it will be a fidgety torture waiting for the postie to deliver more yarn. So get in more undyed yarn than you think you are going to use. I guarantee you will use it all.
  • It is great fun but don’t even think about trying it unless you are prepared to become totally addicted. And have your whole house smell of damp sheep (but there are worse smells, right?)

Happy dyeing xxxx

Dye Day

So, the long awaited dye has actually arrived, and I have been busy in my kitchen. 

Last year I went on a yarny retreat in Lyme Regis, run and hosted by the very lovely Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns (if you need reminding, I wrote about it here) and, over that weekend, I learnt to dye yarn. I’ve had a couple more tries since then on other retreats and workshops, all under Daisy’s supervision. But I hadn’t actually done any yarn dyeing on my own, so when the idea for a temperature blanket required justification, dyeing my own colours for it seemed the way to go.

Daisy supplies excellent yarn dyeing kits (with detailed instructions for those who haven’t had the benefit of her presence) with no nasty chemicals so they are safe to use in your kitchen. But, sensing I probably needed a bit more of a challenge, and because I wanted to dye a blanket’s worth of yarn, Daisy supplied the undyed yarn and pointed me towards procian dyes.

  

The process for dyeing with procian dyes is exactly the same as dyeing with the dyes in Daisy’s kits, but with procian you need separate pots, pans, spoons etc as they aren’t food safe so you can’t use the pans etc in your cooking afterwards.

This type of dyeing is known as acid dyeing, which, when I first heard the term, brought to my mind memories of lab coats, goggles and bubbling beakers of hydrochloride acid and those cupboards with the big extractors in the chemistry lab at school. But we aren’t talking about scary acidic, just a bit of an gentle acidic soak for the yarn before applying the dye. 

Because I was dyeing a animal fibre yarn, I made my acidic solution by adding citric acid to some water in a bucket. Luckily I had some citric acid in the cupboard, left over from some random long forgotten cooking experiment. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend you get some just for the comedy value of the faces your children will make after slyly eating some thinking it is sugar. Alas this isn’t something that is going to happen much longer as they are now learning to read and the jar has a big label so I don’t get confused (I have previously tried to make marzipan from cornflour rather than icing sugar so all my jars now have big labels). So, citric acid for animal fibre. If you wanted to dye plant fibre (like cotton), you’ll need soda ash in your soak.

I left my yarn to soak overnight but I’m suspecting that just a 30 minute soak would do it. You want to make sure the acid solution properly gets right into the fibre, so squeeze out the big air bubbles when you put your yarn into soak.

  
I’d already decided which colours I wanted (see the post here) so I got to mixing the dye. I decided to start with my orange, yellow and greens, because, well, you have to start somewhere. The dye comes in powder form and you just mix it with tap water adding more water or more dye, mixing until you achieve the colour you want. I made one colour at a time and put away the dye in between so as to avoid accidents (I am outrageously clumsy).

I wanted a fairly solid colour for my blanket and the obvious way to achieve this is kettle dyeing. But, despite scouring local charity shops I couldn’t get hold of an old saucepan (unless they are in mint condition, the charity shops just bin them). Ideally I’d use a maslin pan but didn’t want to use the perfectly good one I have in the cupboard as (because I am using procian) I wouldn’t be able to use it afterwards to make strawberry jam, and strawberry season will soon be upon us. 

  
So I went with hand painting. To protect my kitchen table oilcloth I put down one of those toddler dry nites sheet things you use to save the mattress from nighttime accidents, when potty training children. Then I put down a couple of sheets of cling film, wrung out and laid on the skein of yarn, spreading it out well. Then I added my colour. I used a paint brush (the sort you use on walls) to paint on the colour and a spoon to dribble it on. It was fascinating to see how the yarn sucked up the colour leaving just a little water behind. 

  

Then once I’d put on all the colour I wanted (and I deliberately left some parts lighter so it would look unmistakably hand dyed), I wrapped up the skein in the cling film, laid it in a glass dish and popped it in the microwave and fixed the dye by cooking it for 3 minutes, then resting for 3 minutes, then cooking again for 3 minutes. This was probably overkill but I didn’t want all my dye to run out, given it was my first time. 

Once the yarn had finally cooled down (and it does come out of the microwave at approximately the same temperature as lava) I gave it a quick rinse and hung it up to dry.

  
It really was as simple as that. And highly addictive. I dyed four skeins the first afternoon, and another four the following morning, and will definitely do more. Now, I have to decide on whether to knit or crochet the blanket and which stitch I’m going to use…

 

Stitch Solihull

I do like to visit independent yarn stores so while I was staying my in-laws recently I asked on a couple of Facebook groups if anyone knew of any good ones nearby and Stitch Solihull came up, so on a rather rainy Sunday, I paid a visit.

Stitch Solihull was opened just three years ago by Ana, who told me she had no previous experience running a yarn store, so what she has created is all the more impressive. It’s a gloriously colourful space with a fabulous welcoming sofa generously adorned with cushions and crochet blankets, and the biggest Heidi Bears’ Dinosaur if have ever seen (Ana made him in aran). Ana has also made a more normal size Heidi Bears’ Hippo. Isn’t he fabulous!

 

Now, I do like a yarn shop (well, any shop really) with a big comfy sofa and if I hadn’t been accompanied by my husband and children (who refused to play outside in the rain) I might have lingered there, knitting in hand. But there was an extensive range of yarn to be squished, including a favourite of mine, Fyberspates Scrumptious, a merino/silk 4 ply in gorgeous colours with a particularly lovely twist, and Noro, which I’d always thought was a bit rough and scratchy until a friend of mine filled me in on how soft it became after washing.

  

 

Ana also stocks a range of hand dyed yarns, as well as undyed yarns and can arrange to have yarn hand dyed to order.  It’s always interesting to see what the owner has on his or her needles and Ana did not disappoint. She had not long cast on a pretty shawl in a lovely yarn from Juniper Moon Farm.  

But it’s not just yarn. Ana stocks gorgeous fabrics, an extensive collection of buttons, needles, hooks, kits, thread and wool wash. And, Ana is the owner of the most impressive wool winder I have ever seen. Now, wool winders aren’t usually terribly attractive things, don’t take a good photograph, so consequently would not normally be a subject of my blog, but, just check out this big boy!

 
So, eventually, with my children getting restless, I signed up to the news letter, made my purchases and made a mental note to return. You can find Stitch Solihull in a ‘cabin’ in the outside plant section of Notcutts Garden Centre just off junction 4 of the M42 and if you are ever passing, and need an excuse to break your journey, it’s well worth popping in.

 

Heliotropic positive ease in yak

Erm. Yes, I know what you are thinking. You know those words are English but, what am I on about???

Well, after a couple of years knitting socks and shawls and hats and clothes for the kids, I’ve finally summoned the courage to knit a garment for myself. Courage was required because a garment is a big undertaking, it’s a lot of knitting, and it’s got to fit (unlike the kids clothes when you can just knit a size up knowing they’ll grow into it eventually). Getting a garment to fit requires two things. A tape measure and a tension square. 

The tape measure is for measuring oneself. Alas knitting patterns rarely come in standard sizes 8, 10, 12 etc. Rather, they give various measurements for each size and you have to pick the one that best meets your own measurements. But it was a surprise to me to learn I am not the size I imagined I was. In fact, I am several inches bigger than the size my bra would have me believe (and now I actually understand all those numbers and letters!).    

My measurements taken and duly noted,  I compared these with the pattern I had selected (the Heliotropic Pullover by Mercedes Tarasovich, chosen because I thought it would be versatile, with ot without another top underneath dependant on the seasons. And also, I only had 300g of the yarn I wanted to use so I was never going to be able to make something with sleeves). And here is where the confusion starts. The pattern says the smallest size of the finished garment is 45 1/2 inches bust measurement. Now my bust is nowhere near this, so I read on. It turns out that this is the finished size at the hem not the bust. Eh? The design of the pattern makes it a ‘functionally smaller garment at the bust’ so the smallest size is for a 37″ bust. I’m a bit bigger than this but nearer to the smaller size than the next size up, so I opted for the smaller size, because of positive ease.

So what is this positive ease I speak of? Positive ease is simply where the garment is designed to be a bit bigger than the wearers measurements (compare this with negative ease on socks where the sock is narrower than the foot so it doesn’t go all saggy and fall down with wear). The pattern in question talked of several inches of positive ease, so I went with the smaller size. 

  
 
Next up is the tension square. Many knitters I know have never made a tension square. And I don’t often, but given my dilemma over pattern sizing and the sheer amount of knitting involved in the finished garment, it seemed prudent. For the uninitiated, a tension square is just a small knitted square made on the suggested needles and with the yarn of your choice (in my case a really rather scrummy yak from the January Yarn Club by Daisy at Devon Sun Yarns. Gorgeous to knit with, cotton like in feel but warm like wool), to check your gauge against the designers. The theory goes, if your tension square is too small, you go up a needle size and knit another square to check again, repeating the process until you get the correct gauge. You go down a needle size if your square is too big. Well, the goldilocks effect reigned supreme because my tension was just right.

  

But. Even though I’d gone through all this preparation, all the way through the knitting, I still doubted it would actually fit (and I cannot tell you the dispair that filled my heart when I read the words, “Continue in stocking stitch for the next 14 1/2 inches”. It was a lot of knitting!). You see, I wasn’t really reassured by the potential positive ease because on the circular needle, it looked really quite small. And, even worse, everyone who saw it in progress, quietly thought the same thing (I could see it in their faces; they would only confirm their thoughts when I shared my own fears). So, it was with some nervousness that, after the final cast off, I tried it on and, hurrah! It fitted, if not exactly like a dream, certainly like a dream with some positive ease. And, as first knitted garments go, I’m pretty pleased with it.  

  

 

Happy crafting everyone xxx