News from the coalface

Pensieve Shawl before blocking

Oh Lord, what a week! It is so much easier to think up designs and knit them than to write them down understandably- I am frazzled! Only doing a round or two inbetween times on the Pensieve Shawl kept me sane, I’m sure of it (above, whee!).

It started last Sunday evening, when I finally sent a draft pattern out into the world to be judged, having screwed my courage to the sticking point after months of – let’s face it- being plain scared. I really thought I’d made a fair fist of it, that it was at least intelligible, but unfortunately, in my desperation to finally just get something Out There, my first draft was a disaster area. I knew what I meant, but nobody else did. Monday was a deluge of messages on the testing thread on Ravelry, as private messages on Ravelry, and even emails! All – appropriately- filled with news of problems, errata, confusion and so on. Throw in back pain, a sick DS and very limited access to the Internet, and honest to goodness I was ready to run – or hobble- away from home and change my name.

(Just out of interest, completely out of context, anybody out there open to the concept of couch surfing?)

Where was I? Oh yes, feeling sorry for myself. Well, years of training as a Mammy stood me in good stead, and I’m still here, struggling up my latest steep learning curve – no Alzheimer’s for this woman, if we can believe popular science.

Of course, part of the problem is that I started with one of my more complex designs- Strawberry Beds is not easy, even without the shoulder shaping (and with it , it takes no prisoners). But it’s the one I knit with Alex’s Coolree Lace, and I want him to have a pattern to illustrate his lovely yarn “in action” at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London next month, as most potential customers like to see an example. So there I was with a deadline and a dilemma, until my Inner Adventurer surfaced, roared “Carpe Diem!” and jumped into the deep end. And I’ve been doggy-paddling around ever since….

Centre of Pensieve Shawl

Meet the sanity-saving project: believe it or not, this central spiral of the Pensieve Shawl was very easy and soothing to knit. I love patterns that appear so much more difficult than they are!

Edge of Pensieve Shawl

The border requires more attention, and has to be worked from a chart, but is quite straightforward. I used approx. 85g of Yeoman Cigno (70% mohair, 30% acrylic, 933m/100g) for the border; I knit the centre using 3 balls of pure mohair (total: 75g/675m) until I ran out- it’s a very stash-friendly pattern, or will be when I write it!

Yes, I did not go through this pretty horrible week just to withdraw back into my shell- I’m out now, and if I start chickening out again and not publishing, I hereby by give you permission to nag me.

I mean gently remind me.

Soft encouragement should do it actually, for the moment……

But the next pattern is going to be a much easier one! The Mockingjay will have to wait ’til I’ve completely bounced back.

Pensieve Shawl wide Border

This border represents the carved edge of the Pensieve basin. I had great fun checking out runes on the Internet, because the books refer to runic carvings, but in the end I decided not to over-complicate the design (not to mention run the risk of employing a rude word or two! – have you ever wondered about the random Asian symbols scattered over some T-shirts, what they might actually mean as opposed to just looking cool? I mean, it would be hard to resist adding the occasional cheeky message. Hard for me, anyway… It’d be like telling tourists that “pog mo thoin” means ” gimme a kiss” in Irish, which in a way it does, but neglecting to mention where the kiss is to be planted… )

I’m rambling again, the stress is showing.

2 Cushendale Cushions with Fabeel sockyarn

GF fed me lunch in Winnie’s Craft Cafe on Friday (yummy, as usual), because I couldn’t eat for a few days and he decided that I needed Care in the Community. For dessert, to cheer me up, I received a copy of Knit Red, the knitting book that is part of the American campaign to raise awareness of heart disease in women, and its prevention. Lots of lovely patterns that I don’t have to proofread- bliss! He’s a clever man, our GF. One funny thing I noticed: there are 13 patterns in the book with chest measurements (cardi and suchlike) but only 6 of them are sized/designed for people with size X or larger. Now, no offense, but aren’t those the very sizes that just might be in need of the useful diet advice in the book? Or are they meant to knit skinny things in advance as a form of motivation? I must say, I prefer my YarnDiet – have I mentioned that as of last Tuesday I am only 3kg away from my healthy weight? Yippee, and after this week I’m probably down another kg without even trying!

Marina had also ordered in all sorts of goodies, including the sockyarn above (and below) from Drops. Thinking of my promise of a really straightforward beginners shawl, I got 3 balls (50g/1.76 oz; 205m/224yds each). Thank you for the excuse!

Cushendale Cushion with Fabel sock yarn

Those are Cushendale cushions in the background by the way, aren’t the colours great?

Now before anybody panics at the sight of the skinny yarn (I’m looking at you, Ms S, with the Mammy Eye at the back of my head!),  the pattern will be designed in such a way that you can use whatever weight of yarn you want, even super-double bulky if you want to knit with broomsticks. Yes, some people do that, and enjoy it- my wrists ache just thinking of it, but if it makes them happy….

Mini bottom-up Shawl

This is your absolutely basic bottom-up triangular shawl pattern:

Cast on 1 st, knit into the front and back of it to make 2 sts.

Next row: Yo, k2.

Starting with a yo may seem strange at first, but it’s no different to a yo in the middle of the row- just keep it nice and loose. This is what gives the loopy finish along the sides).

Next row: Yo, k3 (the third k is knit into the yo of the previous row)

Next row: Yo, k4

Next and all following rows: Yo, k to end.

Continue until you reach the desired size, until you run out of yarn, or get bored.

Cast off/bind off loosely (using a larger size needle for this helps keep the looser new sts nice and even).

This basic pattern can be decorated with lace or colour motifs, wherever your imagination takes you…

Girlie Bunting free knit pattern

I made the little shawl model while I was doodling some bunting- this week wasn’t all bad. My library knitting group has been asked to do another yarnstorming to decorate the library, because the Sabina Higgins, the wife of Michael D. Higgins, our President, is coming on a visit in a couple of weeks to give a poetry reading. She’s very well-known in her own right as an important and effective promoter and protector of the Arts in Ireland, and for major contributions to the educational system. I suppose in the States she’d be known as the First Lady, and their children as First Daughter and First, Second and Third Sons, but here in Ireland it would be considered in bad taste to invade their privacy by drawing any sort of attention to them, unless they perform a public function, as Ms Higgins has done throughout her career. Anyway they have twins- would that make them Joint-First Son and Other Joint-First Son?

Be that as it may, the lady has great charm and presence, and we’re all thrilled, hence the girlie bunting and whatever else occurs to me in the next 2 weeks- a welcome counterpoint to my poor little beleageured pattern. I’ll chip away at the coalface for another week, and knit another little flag whenever I need a quick pick-me-up. Or sneak another look at my new book- it’s even more fun now that I fit comfortably into the medium size category once more!


Celebration in the Rain!

Today, in honour of my first four months of blogging, and all the good guys I’ve met on this page (take a bow!), here’s a rare photo of some October sunshine in Dublin. Savour it while you can, we won’t see its like for a while. I’m also going to present my first free knitting pattern, later on.

The sun is shining on Dublin Bay, with Howth head in the background on the far (NE) side and the tidal inlet that is a major sanctuary for migratory birds in the foreground. In between the two is the railway line, so we can’t get to the shore here, but I’ll take you for a paddle on the beach another time, promise.

Directly behind us and 5 minutes walk away, in the heart of suburbia, we will find another yarn shop I love- Winnie’s.

This is Winnie, in her comfortable Dublin suburb, recharging her batteries (she’s the environmentally friendly type).

These are some of her suppliers! They travel to fairs, dispensing woolly goodies as they go.

This is Marina, Winnie’s human, whose great idea it was to combine a craft shop with a cafe, and do both equally well. It is hard to leave this place…

See what I mean? Park the non-knitters happily with ice cream, or a three course meal, while the craft fan browses. This works, trust me!

Jewellry makers are catered for, too, and of course there are lessons…

So that was part II of my ” where to go in Dublin if you’re a knitter” review, featuring Winnie’s Craft Cafe, Woodbine Park, Booterstown. Part I featured This Is Knit, in the Powerscourt Townhouse Centre, I hope you enjoyed the contrast! There will be a Part III, when the Muse moves me…

Now for my Celebration Scarf freebie- it’s the first time I’ve attempted to publish a pattern, so feel free to offer suggestions for improvements, ok? It’s a straightforward lacy scarf which can easily be turned into a cowl (wraps comfortably up to 3 times around the neck). It uses 50g ( c. 400-440m) of mohair-blend laceweight yarn (I used one ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe, colour Twilight 00200), although you fellas might feel more comfortable in a Donegal Soft tweed version- also a good option for anyone with sensitive, itch-prone skin. A budget option would be to use up various oddments of single-colour lace mohair yarn (doesn’t have to include silk), if like me you hoard every last scrap of expensive stuff. I treated myself to the Rowan extravaganza as a reward for surviving my taste of jury duty in Dublin Criminal Courts- now that was unexpectedly harrowing, wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…

Anyway, have a look at the photos first, before I get down to the technical details, which are a lot easier than it looks- really! A brave beginner with a bit of patience can do this, I know 10-year-olds who are well capable of it. I hope this pattern will give you an idea of how to work out simple patterns of your own.

I believe it is very important to think about how the finished project is going to be finished off and used, before getting stuck into the actual knitting, so here are some options:

As a scarf it’s long enough (c. 210cm/7ft, width c. 25cm/10in.) to drape decoratively, and both sides look attractive;

…as an infinity scarf/cowl it reaches to the waist,

…. or it will go three times around the neck, and head if you want it. As it was raining during these photos (Darragh standing on the doorstep to keep the lens dry, me standing outside getting soggy), I was glad of the head-covering option! Honestly, the things I do for art… Alright, to be honest, this was nothing compared to the climbing, caving and struggling with barbed wire I used to do as a geologist, but allow me a little exaggeration once in a while…

It is designed to be knit lengthways, so it can be knit flat, preferably on a circular needle because of the large number of stitches, or it can be knit as a loop, if you just want a cowl.

The ruler is c. 60cm/2ft long.

The edge is pulled into scallops by the stitch pattern- you just knit straight, and the curves appear after you’ve completed a repeat or two of the pattern, because the rows, and therefore the stripes, start to curve like waves, or fans. The cast on is a simple knit-on , which is very stretchy and airy, therefore perfect for lace.

To finish, I used the Russian cast off (American: bind off), because it’s easy, stretchy and fits the stitch pattern. In case you’re wondering, the colour changed during the  very long cast off row, that’s why either end of the scarf is slightly different.

If you want to able to convert your scarf into a cowl, or vice versa, you could sew little buttons which fit through either the stitches or the eyelets of the opposite end in order to form a loop. In this photo, the 5 buttons above are functional; the 4 on the opposite edge are simply there to give a balanced look when it’s being worn as a scarf, and are offset so that they will be perfectly spaced between the 5 working buttons when the loop is closed. So they’re completely optional, and you could vary the number of functional buttons, depending on what you have handy, though I don’t think less than 4 would work. And of course, the buttons could be a lot more discreet (I got these in an everything-must-go sale and just had to show them off!).

You will need:

  • 5mm (US: size 8) circular needle (60 or 80cm(24/32in)) long is comfortable, but a longer one will do fine. Long straight 5mm needles will also work, but could get uncomfortably crowded: I wouldn’t.
  • 1 50g (1.76 oz.) ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze Stripe (421m/460yds), or two balls (25g each) of Rowan Kidsilk Haze (you can sometimes get great bargains in this when they’re phasing out old colours), or 50g 0f a less expensive mohair blend laceweight yarn (200-230m/25g or approx 460yds in total).  For a more rugged version, try original Donegal Tweed:I suggest “Donegal”, brand name Lang, but it’s made by Donegal Yarns (100% merino, soft and non-scratchy) – you’ll need at least 2 50g balls (189m/207yds each), and to do a swatch on 4 or 4.5mm (US 6 or 7) needles.
  • yarn needle for darning in ends
  • Stitch markers to be placed between repeats, to stop you getting lost. You can make your own by using leftover or horribly coloured cotton yarn (firmly twisted, colour fast, smooth dk/worsted weight is best). Cut c. 12cm/5in. lengths, double each one over and tie a knot, leaving a loop that will fit loosely onto the needle (have a look at e.g. my Ravellenics post). Just slip (slide) them from left hand to right hand needles as you encounter them.
  • Optional: small buttons, sewing needle and thread to match. Don’t buy these until you have finished, or can bring the project along with you to try out the “buttonholes”- you may laugh, but I had a summer job in a wool shop once, and you would be amazed at the number of people who come in to get stuff like this without the actual garment. Try remembering a particular size or colour when surrounded by hundreds of slightly different examples; it’s a very rare talent!

The stitch pattern used is often called ” Feather and Fan”, although as it is very old it has also been given other names, such as “Old Shale”. It comes from the Shetland Islands.

The pattern repeat is 18 stitches wide and 4 rows high. This basic building block is used 18 times lengthways in this scarf (18 times 18 stitches is a coincidence- this just happens to be the best result I calculated to prevent the scarf from being short and fat or long and stringy, as well as using every last bit of that very expensive yarn). I knit a swatch (=trial piece) first, measured and weighed it, then did the sums. If you want to change anything, as you will need to do if you use the tweed, for example, then do a swatch, measure how wide your repeat of 18 stitches is and figure out how many of them fit in to the length you want (in the tweed, you probably won’t need the same number). From here on, I’m just going to give instructions for my version of the scarf in stripey mohair. If you come across a technique you don’t know or have forgotten, try Youtube or for video tutorials or advice.

Scarf: cast on 328 sts using a knit/lace cast on. This number of sts. comes from 18 pattern repeats, each containing 18 sts, plus 2 extra sts at either end, which will be knit on every row and give a neat edge.

Abbreviations: Knit = K; Purl = P; yo= Yarnover= lay the yarn over and around the needle from the base at the front over the top and back to the rear of needle- from there you use it to make the next st, whether knit or purl. A yo makes one of those little lacy holes, and you knit or purl into it on the next row as if it were an ordinary stitch. It won’t unravel. Try a little swatch first, if you feel nervous- you’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Row 1 (right side): Knit.

Row 2: Purl

Row 3: K2, place a stitch marker on the right hand needle, * (K2 together) 3 times, (yo, K1 ) 6 times, (K2 together) 3 times, place a stitch marker on the right hand needle, repeat from * 17 more times to last 2 sts, K2.

In other words, for those of you who are bravely trying lace for the first time, in between the first stitch marker and the next you do the following:

K2 together (tog, from now on), K2 tog, K2 tog, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, yo, K1, K2 tog, K2 tog, K2 tog.

This uses 18 sts, and you have 18 sts afterwards too (if at any stage you have more or less than 18 sts between two stitch markers, you can pin down the glitch quickly).

Row 4: Knit.

Repeat these four rows until you have reached a height you like or have almost run out of yarn, whichever comes first. You will need to have yarn c. 4 times the length of the scarf left, at the end of a row, to be sure of having enough for the cast/bind off. I managed to squeeze 16 4-row repeats out of my ball, but it was a nerve-tingling finish.

Russian cast/bind off: it doesn’t really matter which side you do this on, as it looks grand either way, but keep it loose. Don’t forget to remove the st markers as you go!

* Purl 2 together, place resulting st back on left hand needle, repeat from * to last 2 sts, P2 tog, cut yarn (not less than 10cm/4 in.) and pull through the st to fasten it off.

Darn in ends (more than two, if you’ve been using up scraps), and try it on . Congratulations! I think this scarf looks better without blocking, so that’s it (you can think about buttons tomorrow….).

Cowl: for the cowl, cast on 324 sts and join into a circle, making sure the cast on stitches aren’t twisted. You may find this easier to do  after working the first row (stretchier and easier to see). You can use the yarn tail later to make a tiny stitch, sewing the cast on ends together. Because this is tube knitting, with the same side always facing, the st pattern is written slightly differently:

Row 1: Knit.

Row 2: Knit.

Row 3: *Place  a stitch marker on the right hand needle, (K2 tog) 3 times, (yo, K1) 6 times, (K2 tog) 3 times, repeat from *17 more times.

Row 4: Purl.

Now carry on just as for the scarf above. Throw it over your head and take it for a walk!

I’d love to see a photo of your finished project. Why not post it on Ravelry , or get in touch – my username is paulineOS. I’ll try to get this pattern up there too, with a chart, when I figure out how to do it, because it’s easy to download from there. Watch me clamber up that steep learning curve!

But not right now- time to put the feet up and watch Sherlock Holmes again…..and again…..

Sorry, I was drooling on the keypad, the combination of Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr. shorts out out my circuits and is responsible for more dropped stitches than I could possibly admit. So my lips are sealed. Bye!