Vintage Knitting, Retro Dressmaking, Make do and Mend, Original and Vintage Inspired Knitting Patterns, Vintage Inspired books

Thursday, March 05, 2015

What a difference a year makes

A whole year has passed since we made our move to our hill farm in the North Lancashire countryside and what a year it has been. We have experienced tremendous highs - shearing our own sheep, growing our own food, seeing chicks hatch from eggs, incredibly busy periods for the business - and also unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, some lows - foxes taking our lovely young ducks, my studio blowing down in gale force winds, stock (as in wool) being damaged, incredibly busy periods for the business (Bizarrely both a high and a low as those busy periods have proved hard to deal with to be honest).

Sometimes it has felt like taking one step forward then two steps back but there hasn't been a single moment when I haven't been glad we took the plunge and made the move. When I view our initial two year plan I almost laugh out loud at our optimism and naivety and we are only now at the beginning of our second year really beginning to address the plan at all. But when I wake up of a morning and look out of my window at the fields, at the weather, at the wildlife, at our home, I cannot help but be happy. Yes the amount of work we have to do is frankly, insurmountable, and we have next to no free time and I can't remember the last time I wore nail varnish, and the books I am reading are all about sheep illnesses or the correct grass seed to use but I have never been more content in my life.

When people visit the farm or even just drop off a parcel, they stop half way down the drive and stare into the distance. Without exception they are filled with awe and tell us they could remain in the same spot all day just absorbing the scene. And after a year this is still how it makes me feel. It often overwhelms me completely and I feel moved to tears. I have butterflies in my stomach as I let nature seep through my skin and into my being. I am still struggling to channel these feelings and use them creatively but that will come.

A good friend pointed out how much my colour choices in my work had been affected by our location. She is right and yet I hadn't even noticed. Maybe this is how it will happen. I won't see the changes in me, I won't know the impact but others will. And that's fine.



So for now,
Susan xx

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Finish A Long

Over on my ravelry group we have decided to run a Finish a long. Like a Knit a long but with the emphasis on completing projects that have been languishing at the bottom of your knitting bag or hiding behind the sofa. Often the project is almost complete. All the pieces knitted but just not sewn together or the button band or neck band hasn't been picked up and knitted or the final blocking and dressing simply hasn't been done. Many of us fail to to take the final steps to finishing a project because we don't like the process and this is usually because we don't feel confident enough about the techniques we need to use or about the results we're going to get.

To assist both my ravelry group members and anyone else staring at that ever growing pile of unfinished objects (or UFOs as Rachel Matthews astutely refers to them) I thought I would share some projects of my own that have been awaiting completion for one reason or another.

Today I'm going to introduce you to two jumpers I am going to finish over the next few days. Both are knitted in four pieces - front, back and two sleeves - one from A Stitch in Time volume 1 and the other from A Stitch in Time volume 2. Whilst they have a lot of similarities, they each have a number of complications which could and often do, put knitters off embarking on the finishing.

The first garment is "It Cannot Fail to Please" from A Stitch in Time volume 1. This jumper has been knitted for display purposes and uses Excelana 4 ply in Damson Wine.

It is knitted in an all over lace stitch which causes the knitting to draw together and also to curl inwards at the sides. The pieces will require pressing to open out and reveal the pattern but also to make sewing up easier.

The jumper also has armholes and sleeve heads which don't really look like they belong together. We need to find a way to make the sleeve fit into the armhole neatly and correctly.

To further complicate matters you can see from the image above that once pressed the pattern creates wavy edges at the side seams, up the armhole edges and on the sleeves so we need to decide how best to deal with this and what methods will provide the most appropriate seams.

This can all seem a little daunting but it really isn't as difficult as it may sound and hopefully the techniques I use for this jumper will help you with any similar projects you may be working on.

The second project I need to finish over the next few days is "The Warm Jumper" from A Stitch in Time volume 2. I knitted this jumper for myself using Excelana 4 ply in Land Army Green and it should have been for me to wear this winter but time constraints have meant the pieces have sat on the finishing shelf for several months waiting to be sewn together.

This jumper has an all over cable and rib pattern which I have adapted slightly from the version in the book as I wanted a denser knit for added warmth and so created a different looking pattern but otherwise it is knitted exactly as the original. It is again knitted in four separate pieces, front back and two sleeves. Again you can see from the photo of the finished jumper above how much more open the fabric needs to be to reveal the pattern properly. The side and sleeve seams are smooth on this jumper but on this occasion it has stepped shoulder shaping on the front and back pieces which need to be sewn together neatly and the pattern matched.

In addition stitches need to be picked up around the somewhat wiggly V neck shaping to create a ribbed neck band. I know from many years of teaching Finishing Techniques around the country that many people really dislike picking up stitches because the finished effect is untidy but I can assure you that this certainly shouldn't be the case.

The other main concern is again fitting the sleeve neatly into the armhole. With the clear vertical lines of the pattern its really important to ensure that the sleeve is lined up correctly otherwise the pattern will be visibly skewed.

The finishing of these two garments will cover many of the issues that arise when projects are being sewn up but if there is anything else you would like me to cover over the period of the Finish A Long just leave a comment here on the blog and I'll do my best to answer it in a future post.

I'll be beginning with the basic tools I use for finishing garments then we will start with the Warm Jumper and will be looking first of all at sewing up stepped shoulder seams and some tips to avoid them and picking up stitches around the neckline.

If you would like extra encouragement or would like the opportunity to win a prize for the best finishing tip or the best finishing why not join us on the ravelry group here where you'll find all the details of the FAL. If you're not already, simply join the group and then you can take part in the Finish A Long.

for now,
Susan xx

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Knitting in the Dordogne

A few months ago I received a very exciting email from the wonderful Jean Moss asking me if I would consider teaching on one of her knitting holidays in 2015.

In the Dordogne, France no less. I hesitated for approximately a mili-second and then, of course, said yes.

The holiday is based in the incredible 17th century Chateau Forge du Roy and takes place from the 19th to the 29th September 2015.

Isn't it beautiful? Residents of the holiday have exclusive use of the chateau and all its grounds and facilities - including swimming pool, sauna and more.

The ten day programme is packed full of trips, knitting and food. You can read the full itinerary on Jean's website here. I will be joining the group for three or four days and will be running two workshops. The first taking participants through the steps of knitting a pair of traditional Scandinavian stranded mittens and some of the history behind the motifs used.

The second workshop is an introduction to Shetland Lace Knitting and the participants get to knit a mini traditional Shetland lace shawl. The maths behind the shawl are clearly explained so that the knitters can then embark on a full size shawl like this one.

In addition to the two workshops I will also be giving a talk all about the Vintage Shetland Project which will be close to publication by this point and I will be able to share some pre-publication images and samples from the book.

Sadly I don't get to spend the entire 10 days with everyone else but I do get to visit the Augerge de Layotte for dinner with all the other guests. This restaurant is set deep in the nearby chestnut woods.  The following day we get to visit Perigueux and the Chateau Bourdeilles as well as historic Brantome where there are some unique cave paintings.

And this is just over a couple of days. There is so much to do and see over the 10 days as well as attend two workshops and a talk all from Jean.

And the really good news is that there are a few places left available - not many - but if you are wanting a special knitting holiday with a difference, with culture and sunshine and with me (you never know, someone might!) this might be the vacation for you. You can find all the details on Jean's website and maybe I'll see some of you there.

Susan xx

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Holiday Knitting

I very rarely get the time or the opportunity to knit from other designer or brand patterns or to knit using yarn from other companies, so over the Christmas period each year I allow myself the luxury of choosing a pattern created by someone else and yarn from another label. The old excitement of deciding what to knit never fades and I spend a lot of time throughout the year planning my Christmas knit. On this occasion I had chosen both the pattern and obtained the yarn nearly a year ago and had patiently waited for Christmas week when I was allowed to cast on.

I have become very interested in Faroese patterns, wool and knitting history over the last couple of years so I decided that this year I would knit a Faroese design using Faroese wool. I am particularly fortunate that my wonderful friend Fiona is the co-owner of Island Wool who import Faroese wool to the UK. Fiona kindly allowed me to choose the yarn for any pattern I wanted to knit. Fiona also speaks Faroese and translates the patterns of Faroese yarn company, Navia, into English for them.

And so I chose Model 6 - Woman's jumper in Orange from Navia pattern book 17. This gorgeous pattern features an all-over traditional pattern on the lower body followed by a fabulous floral yoke. The body is knitted in the round from the bottom up, the sleeves are then also knitted in the round then all joined together so that the yoke can then also finally be knitted in the round.

The pattern uses Navia Duo, a pure wool blend of Faroese wool, Shetland wool and Australian lambswool. Navia is a family run business based in Toftir which is located on the island of Eysturoy. Navia use Faroese designers to create their supporting pattern range. The yarn is crisp yet soft, very warm and a pleasure to knit with. The Duo has a recommended tension of 22 sts to 10cm but is approximately a thick 4 ply weight. My pattern uses 4.5mm needles to obtain this gauge creating a reasonably loose tension ensuring your stranded knitting doesn't pull too tightly and gives the wool room to bloom when it is washed. Many Faroese designs are created in this way, deliberately creating a loosely knit fabric which will fill up when washed. Traditionally much Faroese knitwear was felted to provide a warmer, more hard wearing fabric which requires an open knit in the first instance.

I decided to stay true to the colour palette picked by designer, Malan Steinholm,  as it is the contemporary colour scheme that particularly appealed to me. The very strong orange did have me a bit nervous but I was prepared to give it a go.

Unfortunately the pattern only comes in three sizes with the largest size having a finished chest measurement of 37.5 inches (95cm). Even allowing for some negative ease this was too small for me. So a little bit of simple maths was needed to increase the circumference of the body to 42 inches (106.5cm) to accommodate my boobs. I then made the body the same length as the largest size. You can probably see I created a more fitted shape than on the model in the pattern book. This was deliberate as I really don't suit jumpers that cut across the top of my thighs. Likewise a neater fit seems to flatter me more than a loose one.

Above my boobs my upper body is quite small so on the very first row of the yoke I reduced the stitch count back to that of the pattern's largest size and was able to follow the pattern as written from there. I also reduced the length of the sleeves significantly as I have particularly short arms. I could actually have made them another 2 inches shorter in fact as I still need to turn the cuffs back!  Even though I had made the body wider, by virtue of shortening the arms I still only used 5 balls of Orange and 2 each of Navy Blue and Light Grey.

Moving onto the yoke itself there are only two rounds where 3 colours are used and these are very straight forward. Can you spot them?

The only change I made on the yoke was to cast off using a very stretchy cast off as the neck is quite tight otherwise.

 I am delighted with the finished results. The jumper fits me perfectly and the colour choice actually works. I know grey and navy both work on me, but the strong orange really was a bit of a shot in the dark. However I think it looks great. I don't think it would have worked next to my face but that is the skill of the designer, who has used the grey as the main colour on the yoke, keeping a distance between such a bold colour and the complexion. In my case red hair and usually rosy cheeks are probably not the ideal combination for orange but yes I think I've got away with it.

The pattern is translated excellently by Fiona but it is briefer than the patterns some of us have become used to and a little prior knowledge of knitting a yoked jumper in the round would probably be best if you would like to knit this jumper. I would think you would only need to have knitted one circular yoked jumper before to be able to cope comfortably but I think it would be advisable. Other than that it is a very easy pattern to follow, fits beautifully and is exactly what I hoped for. I will be wearing it an awful lot! I can't wait for next Christmas when I can knit another Faroese pattern.

for now,
Susan xx

Images taken by Gavin Crawford at Monkley Ghyll. Copyright Susan Crawford ©2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

From Chanel to Westwood - knitwear exhibition

I recently visited the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey, London to view the Chanel to Westwood knitwear exhibition. I had been desperate to see the exhibition and finally managed it just a few days before it closed.

I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition yet was surprised by how small it actually was and was slightly disappointed at the layout meaning some of the garments were displayed above head height with no way of getting a close look at them. The exhibition was also heavily 'biased' towards the 1970s and 1980s - naturally enough, as there is far more knitwear available from these eras than the earlier part of the 20th century, but not a period I'm personally that interested in. The exhibition was in fact, one person's personal collection of knitwear and knowing that helped the disparity in objects make more sense.

Despite all this, there were some pieces that made the trip and the entrance fee worthwhile all on their own and one in particular which hasn't left my mind for a single day since the visit.

Photography, even without flash, was not allowed so the photos that follow are not the best as they were taken rather hurridly and secretively so as not to get into too much trouble! 

The first knitted piece that took my interest was this wonderful machine knit swimsuit from the 1930s featuring a fabulous geometric pattern that could easily have been created by Kaffe Fasset or Sasha Kagan. I also loved the colour scheme of the swimsuit and am keen to extract the pattern and colourway to use on a jumper or cardigan.

Talking about Mr Fasset, brings me to this jumper from the 1940s. As part of the Make Do and Mend section of the exhibition it used a lot of different colours in small amounts allowing the knitter to use up odds and ends of wool rather than needing full balls. I'm not 100% sure about the real age of this piece but it is listed as a 1940s piece in the exhibition.

In the display next to this jumper were some extremely striking pieces from the 1930s. This beautiful striped zig zag jumper is as wearable and modern today as it was in the 30s.

A fabulous addition is a vibrantly coloured zip on the left shoulder creating a real design feature.  Another super modern feature of this jumper is that it is knitted in rayon - or artificial silk as it was known. Alongside this jumper was a stunning machine made dress also featuring a full length feature zip down the centre front of the piece.

 Zips were new and exciting in the 1930s and I love the way these designs have used them in such striking ways without over-powering the garments or spoiling the line of the knitting. Considering these two pieces are 80 years old they have both held their shape incredibly well.

The third piece from this display reminded me of the sort of jumpers Miss Lemon would wear in Poirot. It contains all the archetypal traits that we expect from the business jumpers of that era. I could just see her wearing it whilst trying to sort out Poirot's invoices or answering the telephone.

The next piece I saw that really interested me is this twinset, which may be familiar to you, as it is featured in A Stitch in Time volume 2.

  It was wonderful to see a 1950s version of the twinset knitted and on display - although I did want to straighten it up on the display pole! We did manage to get a rather poor shot of the book image alongside the 50s original though which made me very happy.

And now the piece I can't forget. Moving back to the Make Do and Mend case I saw this sublime cardigan.

Hand knitted in the 1940s using 16 colours of 3 ply wool. The pattern on the front and back is actually different to the pattern on the sleeves. But most fascinating of all are the ribbing and stocking stitch panels that have been added on each side of the body then continued down each sleeve.

The cardigan has been cut at each side from armhole right down to the cast on edge - including the ribbing then the plain strip has been sewn to the two raw edges. The strip continues in one piece across to the sleeve where it is attached in the same manner. Without the stocking stitch strips the cardigan is incredibly small and the strips were presumably added to make it fit. Such a beautiful intricate cardigan will have taken many, many hours to knit and the knitter was probably loath to take out their work and start again when it didn't fit. The information board about the cardigan suggests that the strips were added at a later point when the wearer outgrew the cardigan and needed to make it bigger.

From the wear on the cuffs and the closely matched colour of the strips, I think they were added very soon after the original cardigan was completed and was found to be too small. My friend suggested that the sleeves and body pieces may have come from different garments and then put together to make the cardigan but I'm not sure. I think it was knitted, was found to be too small and was altered to make it fit. I will of course, never really know and its that uncertainty I think, that fascinates me most about vintage knits. We can only ever make educated assumptions at best.

The pattern of the cardigan and even the inclusion of the strips has obsessed me ever since though. It is knitted using 16 colours - there are 16 base colours in Fenella - in 3 ply wool - Fenella is a 3 ply weight wool. It seems to be telling me to recreate it, to find a way to make the construction including the strips become a fluid, workable pattern. So at the earliest opportunity that is exactly what I am going to do.

So thank you the Fashion and Textile museum for your very personal knitwear exhibition.  You have inspired me to embark on a creation that may well become an obsession but I'm not complaining!

for now,
Susan xx 

Images copyright Susan Crawford ©2015