Friday, 30 April 2010

#6 - Buttercup Revisited (a lesson about ease)

I'm skipping ahead to Day 6's topic today so you'll have to wait until tomorrow to see where I like to knit. Today I am going to revisit a past FO (or finished object). Since I have been knitting for less than 12 months it is more modern history than ancient, but I thought I could share an insight that I gained recently that would have come in very handy had I known it when I was knitting this last year. Read on if the terms positive ease and negative ease make you feel uneasy (hehe!) and if you don't have time to read it all please do yourself a favour and visit the 2 links at the bottom.

The project was Buttercup by Heidi Kirrmaier, started in September 2009, finished in November 2009, intended for me but given to my mum. The problem was that it turned out way to big for me. Although the pattern states that it is "designed to have some positive ease" I didn't really understand what that meant. I chose the size - medium - based on the "to fit bust" measurement and since my bust measures 36" and medium is to fit 36-39.5" I thought that was a safe bet. Big mistake. The pattern clearly states that the finished bust size is 40", had I simply held a tape measure at 40" around my bust I would have known it would be too big. Had I only taken into account the fact that all of the tops in my wardrobe fit closely around my bust (because this is what suits my figure)! Had I only tried it on a few times whilst I was knitting it (news flash Natalie: you can do this with a top-down knit!). Had I only realised that I could start knitting the smaller size to fit my modest bust and then do additional increases to fit my ample hips!

But I didn't. And after 2 months of grueling, repetitive knitting, and then after suffering the heartbreak of it not fitting, I gifted it to my mother and cast on the next project. I couldn't bear to revisit the pattern at the time to figure out where I went wrong.

So it was just a few weeks ago now as I was knitting a pair of mittens for the winner of my knitted gift giveaway (Sarah, if you are reading this they are on their way!) that I had a Eureka moment regarding ease. I had just knit 75% of the first mitten when I realised that it was too big. The pattern in question reads: Finished Measurements, approx 6 (7, 8) inches around hand (1 inch of negative ease for a snug fit). I had been making the 7" size to fit a 7" hand. WRONG! What I needed to do was minus the "1 inch of negative ease for a snug fit" from the hand measurement, i.e. knit the 6" size. This sounds so obvious to me now but at the time I felt like I was doing a cryptic crossword. I was tempted to push on anyway but I just couldn't. No one likes a sloppy mitten and I like to make things to the best of my ability, so I cast on again and what do you know, they turned out perfectly.

So that little breakthrough led me to realise that I needed to know more about ease and fit. I highly recommend reading these two articles on the TECHknitting blog:

Negative ease and positive ease

Gauge, ease and fashion--or "why doesn't my sweater fit?"

Maybe I will knit Buttercup for myself again one day, but for now I am avoiding large panels of stocking stitch worked in the round and am happy and proud whenever I see mum wearing hers.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

#4 - A New Skill - Continental Style Knitting

I often bemoan the fact that I am a painfully slow knitter and it takes me an eternity to finish each project. I have also lately been suffering from a bit of RSI that could possibly be in part due to my nightly knitting vigils. The solution to both these problems could well be to learn how to knit in the continental style. I have been considering this for a while and have recently been motivated to learn after my good friend Maja made the switch.

Maja used the video tutorials on the Drops Design website (knit and purl) but after spending an hour and a half on the train this afternoon watching all the videos on YouTube that come up when you search for "knitting continental", this is by far my favourite...

It is clearly explained visually and verbally and shows the knit and purl stitches as well as YO, K2tog, and SSK. I've heard that purling in continental style is difficult but this technique looks quite straight forward. Mind you, I haven't even picked up the needles and tried it yet so I will have to report back on this matter.

Once I learn the continental style and master 200 stitches in under 3 minutes it is only a matter of time before I will be able to give current speed knitting world record holder Miriam Tegels a run for her money. She can knit 118 stitches per minute - awesome!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

#3 - One Great Knitter (or two)

Today my job is to write about a knitter whose work (whether because of project choice, photography, styling, scale of projects, stash, etc) I enjoy. I can't start anywhere else but with my lovely and ├╝ber-crafty mother, Michelle.

Mum Knitting

Mum has been knitting since she was 8 years old, so that means she has been knitting for almost half a century! She also spins, weaves, sews, and paints, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Name a craft and she has most likely tried her hand at it.

Her craft room is an experience in itself. Walls lined to the ceiling with crates full of yarn, categorised by colour or weight or application. There are shelves full of spindles of weaving yarns and a loom or two, and bookcases crammed with craft books. I am so lucky to occasionally have access to this wonderland (closely supervised of course) and a stash that makes the mind boggle.

mums craft room

Mum is one of those knitters who can knit up a garment in just a few nights or a few hours if it is for one of the grand kids. She also seems to be able to just figure things out and makes things up as she goes. Basically she is the polar opposite of slow and steady me, who is always grabbing my trusty Needlecraft book or looking for video tutorials on the internet. Below is a picture of my little angel Nina wearing one of the garments her Granny knit her last Winter. I love this hoodie and will try and squeeze her into it a few more times before she grows out of it totally.

Knitter in the making, Nina, wearing her gorgeous yellow cabled hoodie.

When it comes to a knitter outside the family and outside of my actual circle of friends, then the other great knitter whose work supplies me with many hours of online browsing, reading and spending is Kelly of Tangled Yarns in Brisbane.

Tangled Yarn' s Snapdragon Tam by Ysolda Teague (photo © Tangled Yarns)

I feel like a bit of a knitting groupie but luckily I have already confessed to Kelly that I am writing about her. I first discovered Tangled Yarns when I was on the hunt for a Malabrigo supplier in Australia, and when I found the online store it was like someone had created the dream online knitting store just for me! I then subscribed to the newsletter, started following the blog and joined the Ravelry group, all of which are inspiring and informative.

Unlike most e-newsletters, which seem to just want to sell you something, the Tangled Yarns weekly newsletter is a great read and always welcome in my inbox (I have never said that about a weekly newsletter before!). I love how Kelly takes the time to point out interesting patterns in a new publication, or suggests and links to online patterns that can be made from her yarns. Such a great idea!

I love the projects that Kelly chooses to make. They incorporate gorgeous colours (and many shades of grey - my favourite!), and cover many styles from children's wear to toys, afghans to cardigans. And as you can see, all are beautifully photographed. She also makes me want to learn to crochet!!

Tangled Yarn's crochet projects: (L-R) Filigree Bowl by Linda Permann, Babette Blanket by Kathy Merrick, Ruby Hexagon Blanket by Nova Seals. (Photos © Tangled Yarns)

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

#2 - An Inspirational Pattern

So the brief for Day 2 of Knit and Crochet Blog Week is to write about a pattern or project that I aspire to. The first pattern that came to mind was Herringbone Mittens with Poms by Elliphantom Knits.

Photo © Elliphantom Knits

I can't recall how I came across this pattern but I stumbled across the Elliphantom blog shortly after I picked up the needles again last year and I fell in love with it instantly. I printed out the pattern, took it my mum and said "this is what I want to knit next". With some motherly reassurance she suggested that it might be better for me to start off with something a little more straight forward and monochromatic. In other words it was beyond me.

A year later and I still haven't had the confidence or inclination to tackle a colourwork project. I'm sure that I could get the hang of it and am definitely much better equipped now with a good foundation knitting knowledge.

My latest colourwork knitting fantasy is the Pixie Poncho by Rachel Russ for Spud & Chloe. I may skip the mittens altogether now and start with this project for my daughter Nina. So cute!

Photo © Blue Sky Alpacas

Monday, 26 April 2010

#1 - Starting Out (or a brief history of knitting and me)

Early Memories...
My early memories of knitting in my life are rather sketchy. This is due either to the fact that I have an appalling memory or maybe it's because knitting has always held such a steady place in my life it is impossible to say when I first became conscious of it. My mum has always knit. She is an amazing knitter and my inspiration to learn how to knit well and pass the skills on to the next generation.

My earliest of memories of knitting myself is a hazy recollection of learning how to knit one day in class at primary school. I must have been about 8 years old, and I remember that the class was held outside on the playground, but that is about all I can recall.

Starting out (the first time)...
The first FO I can remember knitting was a long multicoloured scarf that I used to call my "Doctor Who" scarf. The year was 1999 and I was on a break from university for the winter. I spent a few days at my sister Naomi's flat in Katoomba, and recall knitting in a rocking chair in her kitchen whist she cooked up a storm. That scarf was the beginning and the end of my first dalliance into knitting. For many years I wore and loved that scarf and it brightened up my drab winter wardrobe. A year or so ago it made its way to the charity bin. I managed to find this photo of me wearing it back in 2000.

Me and the "Doctor Who" scarf on the right and my friend Ingrid on the left, standing in front of the Arc De Triomphe in Paris.

Starting out (the second and third time)...
2002 - I knit myself an entire jumper. A seventies pattern with a giant cowl neck, in an electric blue mohair blend. The arms were too short and I only wore it once. Heart breaking. I'm not sure where this one went too and I don't have any photos but let me reassure you that it was very blue, very big (the collar that is) and very fuzzy.

2004 - I picked up 3 books for $3 from a charity shop. They were volumes 1-3 of the craft series "Make it Yourself" from 1973 (I am a sucker for vintage patterns!). I decided on a ribbed pullover, chose some wool from mum's stash (a green tweed wool), borrowed a circular needle and cast on. This was my first attempt at knitting in the round and I made the classic beginners mistake; my cast on stitches got twisted! And I had knit an inch or so in k4 p4 rib before I even noticed. I did get back on the horse again and managed to knit up to the armholes but then had to get my mum to take it from there. I really couldn't get the hang of knitting on 4 needles.

Finished in time for the following winter there were just a few problems with this one - (1) I don't look good in green, (2) I don't really look good in ribs, and (3) the yarn is itchy (not great for a turtle neck). I've still got this one in my wardrobe but it is more of an around the house jumper.

Starting out again (and sticking with it)
Fast forward to May 2009...I was feeling a little bit lost. I was not happy being a full time stay-at-home mum. Don't get me wrong, I love my baby girl, but I didn't have a job to return to and felt my confidence was at an all time low. As a designer I didn't have an outlet for my creativity, and trying to fit in hobbies, exercise or a social life is pretty hard when you are at home alone 5 out of 7 nights felt like it was impossible.

So this is the kind of funk I was in one day when we went to lunch at Young Alfred at Customs House in Sydney. It was there that I picked up a flyer for the ABC's Knit In, and on that day I decided that I wanted to use the opportunity of being at home and living close to my mum to learn how to knit. And properly!

On the 27th May I joined Ravelry and on the 29th May I posted the first entry on my blog. I think that Ravelry has definitely helped me to stick with it this time around. It is such an amazing source of information and inspiration and really does feel like an online community. I guess I am a much different person this time around too. Knitting helps to keep me company and sane on the many nights that my husband is at work, and it's something that I can pick up and put down as my daughter's needs demand during the day.

Since May I have started working part time as a graphic designer for Polli, so now I have a great balance between family, work, and craft. I look forward to my commute to and from work twice a week as I can indulge in uninterrupted knitting time. I think since May the the longest time I have gone without knitting is the 5 days of our honeymoon in January.

In under a year I have completed 16 projects, there are 2 on the needles, 9 on my queue and 100's in my favourites!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Blast from the Past

These 3 patchwork jumpers (that's Aussie for "sweaters") were made by my mum for my sisters and I back in the Eighties. Each one is jam packed full of crazy colours (Ken Done eat your heart out) and features appliqued characters, knitted crocheted, beaded, you name it. I'm so glad she has kept them and was happy to photograph them for her today.

At the time I adored mine. Mine was based on a circus theme with a trapeze artist, elephant, lion and clown. I can remember being stopped by total strangers in public who wanted to adore the jumper and found out where it was from. At the time, of course, I wanted to die of embarrassment. This is one of the many jumpers that my mum knit for me during my childhood, but one of the only ones that I have a vivid memory of. You can probably imagine why.

With the 80s continuing to make a revival in fashion, you have to wonder when we'll see something like this in the shops or on the catwalk!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Blog Plans and Meal Plans

Today I found out just in time that next with is Knit & Crochet Blog Week. The brainchild of Eskimimi Knits, Knit & Crochet Blog Week will bring knit and crochet bloggers together as they blog about a common topic each day for 7 days. For more info visit this post.

I love this concept! I have to admit that at times I am hard pressed to come up with things to blog about, or else I feel that I should dedicate my time to actually knitting rather than blogging. The fact that I am really quite a slow knitter is in many ways responsible for this. Anyway, having a week of predesignated topics is just what I need to get the blogging juices pumping and who know where it will lead me.

I have recently gotten into the idea of meal planning too. As the wife of a chef you would expect me to be full of ideas and inspiration when it comes to cooking but unfortunately the opposite is true. I don't know when exactly it happened but I lost my cooking mojo around the same time as I met my chef. It could have a lot to do with the fact that he has always either worked nights (and I would often settle for an egg on toast for dinner) or cooked for me on his nights off. Now that we have a toddler in the picture I can not get away with eggs on toast anymore - plus my husband would love it if I actually cooked something for him once in a while. Oh, and did I mention that the other thing I detest is grocery shopping? This one might have something to do with fluorescent lighting or the toddler tantrums...not sure!

So anyway, a few weeks back I came across the Mealopedia website, where you can browse and select menus for each night of the week or even choose them at random. Then you can print off a shopping list and list of recipes and voila! - you are set for the week. I have to warn you that the recipes are pretty basic, but I have been using them as a starting point and then adding spices and ingredients to enrich the flavour. Already I have found myself looking forward to preparing the evening meal and thinking about which meals I want to make in the weeks to come. Progress!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

An Autumn Day

Earlier this week I took a drive with my husband and daughter out to the Mount Tomah Botanic Garden. I wanted to make the most of our day off together and to enjoy the autumn colours of the upper Blue Mountains. Here in Sydney the cool autumn weather that we experienced over the Easter long weekend seems to have retreated again and the days are unseasonably warm and sunny in the mid to high twenties.

We made our way to Mount Tomah via the Hawkesbury towns of Kurrajong and Bilpin, stopping at a roadside fruit stand to buy freshly picked pink lady apples, homemade plum jam and a bottle of famous Bilpin apple juice. The narrow windy roads flanked by orchards and rolling green hills remind me of driving through New Zealand's North Island. I found it interesting how much the landscape changed once we left the Hawkesbury and re-entered the Blue Mountains, returning to the gum forest.

The grounds and views from the Botanic Gardens are beautiful and breath taking. As are the views along the Bells Line of Road between Mount Tomah and Bell. It was a fantastic day out (although next time I will have to get organised and pack a picnic to eat in the gardens) and a timely reminder of what an amazing place I live in.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Babushka Dolls

Over a year ago I was given a lovely gift by my talented and crafty friend Caroline; a handprinted craft fabric panel by Kristen Doran. Half of the fabric is printed with 8 adorable dolls and the other half with pretty coordinating fabric.

I finally got my act together and decided to sew these little treasures up as a birthday gift for Nina. Some of them are a little wobbly but she doesn't seem to mind. As is her way, she loves the tiniest dolls the best.

I love Kristen Doran's products and think they make lovely gifts for crafty ladies.

Fabric panel image courtesy of Kristen Doran Design

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Sophie and the Easter Bunny

You may remember that I decided to knit Ysolda's Sophie as an Easter gift for my daughter Nina. The pattern was challenging at times but I was very happy with the outcome. Unfortunately there were a couple of problems: firstly, between Mum and I we had knit 2 Sophies, but between my sister and I there are 3 children (that's right, one of had to knit another one). Secondly, when Nina saw the grey Sophie that I was making she said to me "I want a pink one!". The solution to both problems was obvious, I had to knit a second Sophie in pink. I hate knitting the same project twice, but the second one did knit up a bit easier (though not much quicker) than the first. Knitting to the last second, I finished Nina's Sophie the night before Easter.

Mr Easter Bunny - a gift for my nephew Xavier.

I added a tail to both bunnies (a bunny's gotta have a tail!). The first tail was added at a slightly lower point than the second - it looks a little too low but in this position it works well to keep the bunny upright when sitting (tripod effect).

Nina's pink Sophie enjoying the Autumn afternoon on the lawn.

Nina was thrilled to meet the Easter Bunny in person at the local supermarket.

Miffy Birthday Cake

The evolution of a Miffy birthday cake - apologies for the poor photos taken late at night

I was unable to find a recipe/template for a Miffy birthday cake for my daughter's 2nd birthday party so I decided to make my own. I borrowed a cake board from my sister and was limited to its size: 30cm x 45cm. I then scaled it down slightly to fit a 23cm round tin and a 23cm square tin, so that I could bake both in my oven at once. Feel free to use my templates to make your own Miffy birthday cake (Template 1) (Template 2).

18/4/11: Photobucket has removed my templates from their website due to copyright reasons (grr!). If you would like the templates emailed to you please leave a comment below including your email address, however I can not guarantee a speedy response as I now have newborn twins at home.

I used the same basic cake recipe that I had used for her 1st birthday cake (a simple number "1") but this time I used Bakels Whip 'n' Ice for the icing. A cake making friend recommended this to my mum and it was ideal; it is very white (essential for a white bunny) and quite easy to use. I think you have to purchase this from specialty cake decorating stores. Miffy would not be complete without her black outlines so these were done with licorice straps, licorice discs for eyes (2 year olds love licorice, right?!).

Although I couldn't bear to eat a piece at the party (having had my fill of cake cut-offs and icing the previous night) I would say it was a big success. The best part of the day for me was when Nina was asked what her favourite thing about her party was, and she replied "my Miffy cake". She is not even old enough to know how to suck up to her mother so I was thrilled and very touched.
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