Knitting

New Yarn Review – Bambino Print

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At the weekend I was telling you about a lovely neckerchief/scarf I made. Well what I forgot to share was another newly finished item. A quick little Hitchiker Scarf which I have just cast off.

There are patterns that you wish you had invented – the Hitchhiker by Martina Behm is one of those. On the face of it so simple and yet so effective. I was in my local yarn store at the weekend and spotted a glorious version which used little seed beads.

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I made this scarf using the new Stylecraft Bambino Print in Skittles. This colourway has only just been released this week. I got a sneak preview last summer and my friends at Stylecraft forwarded this colourway to me as they knew it would appeal. The variegated printing of this yarn gives a soft fairisle look. I used just one ball of the Bambino Print and kept on knitting until I had finished. It is a much thicker gauge of yarn than used in the original pattern – so I used 4mm needles.

I have used Bellissima and Bambino yarn quite a bit in my design work and I genuinely like it. It is soft and has a great colour range. Now I have finished this scarf I am on to my second – this time I’m using ‘Rocking Horse’. I could see myself making quite a few of these scarves throughout the year. They always get admiring comments and are the perfect commute project for my needles.

As Stylecraft Blogstar, I get to see and preview new yarns by Stylecraft ahead of the season. I can road test the yarn and I am gifted samples to trial with my patterns. As a rule I only recommend the products on this blog that I like, enjoy using and will purchase in future.

Scarves – useful go-to patterns

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I don’t know about you, but I have favourite patterns. There are things you make that you just like; it might be the colour, the technique, the fact that it is ‘just the thing’ to make at the moment. But then in everyday life there are patterns we just find so useful.

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For me I have loved wearing the Arabian Nights pattern which I completed a couple of years ago. I admired this scarf on a very chic lady I met at a workshop. The story is here on the blog. I loved the look and cleverly she steered me to using a plain and pattern sock yarn in alternate rows.

The yellow and blue colour is so useful with my day-to-day wardrobe. The added bonus is the triangle shape of the scarf works best as a neckerchief. I am sure there is some logic behind it but the basic fact is that wearing this scarf provides me with warmth and at the same time no ends get in your way.

Last summer my folks visited the Isle of Skye and generously found me some exquisite hand-spun and hand-dyed yarn. It is a beautiful pinky/maroon hank from ‘On the Croft’. A beautifully soft blend of pure wool and silk.

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After a few months as staring at this glorious yarn I was inspired to make a second Arabian Nights scarf. This time it would have a pink hue. I found a ball of West Yorkshire Spinners 4ply in Sarsaparilla. If you look at the original pattern on Ravelry (which is published by Drops yarn) the scarf is much bigger. I chose to use a fairly fine needle to work the garter stitch and so the scarf was very slow growing. However it does make a lovely neck warmer.

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I wonder what your go-to pattern is? I don’t think this latest pink version will be my last. But in all honesty I might opt for a thicker yarn and a more chunky needle for my neck Arabian Knight adventure. Happy Weekend!

A Little Women Inspiration

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‘Have you seen Little Women?’ said one of my best friends. ‘You just have to! I watched it and just kept thinking of you. If you want to go Emma, I’ll see it again?’

With such a ringing endorsement and an invitation for a jolly trip out, the arrangements were made immediately. I wonder if you have had a chance to see the new Little Women Film. I think both audiences and critics have absolutely loved it.

Like many generations I have always loved the book. This film is a joyful and clever adaptation of the book. A cinematic treat. But for the yarn obsessed there is an added bonus. Throughout the film I would nudge my film and say – ‘Oh, look at that shawl….’, ‘Look at that hat…’, ‘What a gorgeous waistcoat’. As a knitter it was impossible not to be inspired.

As I drove away from the cinema I said to my friend; ‘You wait, those patterns will be on Ravelry very soon’. I was not wrong.

That night, as I drifted off to sleep my mind was dreaming of new projects.

Within a week I had discovered that the glorious shawl designs worn by Jo and Beth were designed and made by Norfolk knitter Jenn Monahan She has made up to seven garments for the film. Hundreds of hours of work. Jenn has released the shawl patterns via her website; Fibreworkshop and on Ravelry and even for a basic knitter this is a useful and achievable project which would end up being an heirloom project. Over Christmas I have finished two small gauge garter stitch shawls, so I wasn’t so keen to commit to another.

I did however feel inspired by Jo’s Grey Tam o’shanter. Co-incidentally this month’s Knitter magazine (issue 145) has published a fairisle beret. It is designed by Outi Kater and is called Firefly Beret. I quite like wearing a beret during the winter working week. Just to spice up the wardrobe I thought it might be fun to see how it would be to make a traditional tam o’shanter. Traditionally this type of hat tends to use the tweedy pure Shetland wool. I decided as I was looking at an experiment I would use some 4ply Merino I already have in my stash. I tend to wear brighter hues rather than softer heathery tones, so the colour I have used align better with my wardrobe. All in all it took me about 5 evenings to knit.

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Whilst Jo Marsh wears a plain grey wool tam it does have a pom-pom. The fairisle tam in the Knitter magazine has no flamboyant topper. I wanted to add something in between the two. I remembered a design that Kate Davies had done for her Richard the Roundhead Tam. She created a lovely covered button and generously put a tutorial on her website. This lovely detail just adds something special to the hat. The covered button is not difficult to create either. I’m sure I will use this detail again soon.

Thinking about it, I find so much knitting inspiration from historical films or costume drama. If I watch, a Marple, a Poirot, Maigret, Gentleman Jack, Cranford, Call the Midwife… my husband will get a nudge in the ribs…’Look at the knitwear!’ Historical drama in its most authentic form, mirrors the fact that until only recently the majority of clothes were handmade. This means that costumes are a fertile resource for hand-knitters and crocheters. We have a cinematic menu to inspire our crafty finger.s

I wonder what you favourite programmes or films are for knitwear envy? Any suggestions are gratefully received.

I know there are awards for costume design at the Oscars and Bafta, could we have a subgroup for services to yarn?

Mitered Square Blanket

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Sometimes you just have to finish a project…3 years sat in a basket…moved from room to room, is too long for a bunch of yarn to sit about in my house.

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I know that my Mitred Square Blanket has been hanging around for 3 years – firstly due to the photographic evidence on my phone and secondly I know that the beautiful Angie – Lemon De Sucrette started hers at the same time. She inspired me. You should really stop by her instagram account. I love seeing her colourful creations.

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The knitted mitred square is not a difficult make. Well there is simplicity in every stitch being a knitted stitch, but then the complexity is in the even decreasing to make the square and then the picking up stitches to start a new square.

There are plenty of tutorials online – if you are looking for a blog have a look here at the Knitted Squirrel or on Youtube why not look here.

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The beautiful thing about the mitred square blanket is that it gradually grows. It has a habit which is perhaps most aligned to a crochet blanket project. The more you work, the more you have a gorgeous snuggly project to cover your knees.

If you look at Angie’s project she created a striped mitred square which is really gorgeous. Her blanket has a chunkier finish and

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I went with a plain square and my intention was to use up yarn in my stash and create a different colour combination which complimented my crocheted Vintage Granny Square Blanket but didn’t replicate it.

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If you are interested to know what the yarn is – I am using the squiggy Stylecraft Special DK and have chosed, Duck Egg, Cream, Matador, Pistachio and Fondant. I used 4mm short circular needles and this seemed particularly helpful as you appear to knit round the corner. You can have a look at my previous blog post here.

When do you know to call it a day….? I am not sure but in November I decided that this Christmas I would finish. I looked at my son’s single bed and decided that it would work to have the blanket being 16 x 13 squares. That is a humongous 176 squares… oh my, oh my. No wonder I called a halt. Perhaps the strongest factor was that I had come to the end of most of the yarn. More squares would mean starting another 4 or 5 balls of yarn.

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You can worry and procrastinate over the choice of edging stitch. Don’t. A purist will knit an edge for a knitted blanket… because I can I crocheted the edge – a pretty linen stitch in red and white. Very Christmassy to suit the time of year. Let’s be honest, I’m faster at crochet and I had the end it sight.

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I’ve got to admit I am thrilled with the end result. So is another family member…. It was only about 5 minutes, seriously 5 minutes before his Lordship, Sir Stanley Cat christened this finished beauty. For the purposes of photographs I laid the blanket on the spare bed – he jumped on. He is always invested in woolly pursuits. A few weeks on, the blanker remains in situ.

How to Fail at Knitting

I knew I wanted to make the aran cardigan the minute I saw it. In January, following my fashion fast, we made a plan to have a bit of shopping fun in London. Visiting the ‘mothership’ of Liberty is a must. The shop is always in my heart. The mad, unique and eclectic collection of fashion, stationary, crockery… it goes on. To not visit would be disloyal to my childhood and identity.

On the top floor there is a discreet and rather rarefied haberdashery. Back in January they had a large and well displayed collection of Rowan yarns with a vast array of patterns. It was there that I spotted it. Gloriously laid out on a fine oak table. Heavy – detailed and luxurious. A creation worthy of heirloom status.

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I knew then I would make the Defuse Cardigan, designed by Kim Hargreaves – featured in her Pale Collection. Now this is not a design for the novice, the many cable stitches which repeat on different rows require concentration. It was not a mistake or a foolish ambition to add this design to my long ‘to-do’ list. But right then I made my first of two enormous mistakes. I should have chosen the yarn when I could see the shades in person. Instead I bought the pattern book and resolved to order the yarn online at a later stage.

It was weeks later that I chose the colour and made my purchase. It was quite an investment and the small shades samples online didn’t give me the correct impression of what I bought. Don’t get me wrong – the dusty mauve ‘Enchanted’, is very pretty. But the tone is way to muddy for my skin tone. I should have gone for a brighter tone.

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Ah well….silly girl. Undeterred I resolved to enjoy the start of knitting on our Lake District holiday in February. The gorgeous Alpaca is perfect for soft snugly knitting. Curled up, sat in a window seat with a hot cup of coffee by my side I began the fancy cable rib – stitching bliss.

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The whole project came and went over the next few months according to my commission commitments. It was only until I had finished the back, both sides and was mid-way through the second sleeve that I realised my catastrophic mistake. I had not read the pattern properly!!!!

Yes my friends…..even though I design patterns, even though I sometimes guide my followers to read the full pattern before you embark on the project…I didn’t heed my own advice.

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If you want to know how bad it was – basically I had done a rib on the sides of the garment instead of a moss stitch. What was I thinking! It made the whole garment far too narrow and failed to have all the pretty and traditional detail which moss stitch gives an aran design.

What would you have done? At this moment it is easy to give up. Pure frustration with your own stupidity can start to prick tears behind the eyes.

No…rip it back. The pattern was too pretty. The yarn too valuable. This won’t be, can’t be a discarded crumpled mess to be found by others in years to come. Plus, I enjoy the process, the physical stitching…if I can get past the private irritation of my own carelessness – why not enjoy the making process another time? So I pulled it right back. I finished the first sleeve. Went on to the second and then unraveled the back…..Oh the heartbreak. By the October half term I was on the home straight. The weather was getting cold again, which is a final consolation.

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This weekend I have finally completed this humongous task. The cable design is so so pretty, the yarn so soft….it is still not my colour. But I will wear it with pride (with a white blouse) a failed attempt, a rushed mistake, a lack to attention to detail, ripped back, re-set and redeemed. Its only a cardigan – but then knitting is never really about the finished item it always more than that – its what it teaches us – how to fail.

Things you should never do…

There are a few things that you should never attempt if you knit or crochet as they will end in tears. Combining both crafts in one blanket. Ok, I realise this is a ‘crafty problem’ not a ‘real world problem’ – but these are important thoughts when planning your next project.

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Due to the fact that I am ‘bi-stitchual’ or ‘ambi-texturous (sorry – I can knit and crochet), there is a looming temptation to combine both crafts in various projects.

A few years ago I had a notion that it would be brilliant to develop a ‘Crochet-knit-along’ which used both crafts. My dear friends at Black Sheep Wools were keen to support the project. I worked on the colour palette and had this brilliant idea that you could build a wide range of skills into each section. Basic granny square, mitred squares, cables, fairisle. Oh how I got carried away.

The final blanket was and still is quite pretty. I used glorious Debbie Bliss Cashmerino and some of my favourite patterns and motifs.

But…here is the thing. When we did the test knitting and crochet the tension was really difficult to nail down. My own knitting is quite regular and has an average tension. My crochet stitches tend to be on the tight side. However much we altered the squares it was so hard to faithfully replicate the pattern or customers who might have wanted to make pattern themselves. Essentially whatever your knitting tension might be – your crochet might be a totally different story. In the end after much hard work, we had to abandon the pattern. This lovely blanket remains one off – a unique creation.

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Since the New Year, my slow burn project has been a nursery blanket for a much anticipated baby. I saw the lovely knitted bunny pattern created by Jem Weston in her book – The Knitted Nursery Collection.

I started making a few of the squares and my original intention was to combine the knitted squares with some fabric squares, as per the pattern in the book. But as time sped on – I knew I would struggle to organise myself to create this patchwork. The best idea by far was to combine the knitted squares and with a basic crochet granny square – my fastest solution. All I needed to do was match the size of my granny square to the knitted motif.

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This is all well and good when it is a personal project. I can put up with the fiddling about and getting the sizing right, but it would never do as a published pattern.

The other downside to knitting a blanket or blanket square is that there is definitely a ‘wrong-side’. This is something I totally forget when I am in full crochet mode. Only the trained eye will spot the ‘wrong side’ of a crochet blanket and sometimes crochet is utterly reversible.

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Obviously it never really matters – but with my bunny blanket I decided to go one step further and attach a fleece lining to the back. With all the work involved – placing your knitted stitches in the claws of the sewing machine might appear insane. But whenever I have attempted it, I have found the the end result easier than anticipated. So now the blanket is finished, lined, ready and waiting for its owner to arrive.

It is possible to combine knitting and crochet in a blanket. Often people knit the body of blanket and then crochet the edge. If you want to mix and match squares just prepare to adjust your tension accordingly. My advice would be to complete your knitted squares first and then match your crochet to them. It is far simpler to add a quick round on to crochet square than to adjust your row stitch count for the knitted version.

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My other advice would be to work your blanket in one yarn type. I dipped into my stash and combined Stylecraft Special DK with Bellissima. I know these yarns well – and could easily change the hook I used to match the tension. But it is all too easy to see the size of your squares alter by a fraction which makes the sewing up really frustrating.

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At its best – most creative place – knitting and crochet are an adventure. When making as a hobby, I am not bound by rules or things you should do or not do, I can experiment. So by warned – don’t make a blanket combining knitted and crocheted squares – or if you do – enjoy it and have fun and the result will be unique. As my Dad would say – ‘Don’t do as I do – do as I a say…’


Nesting – the significant baby blanket

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Like so many people of my generation, I returned to knitting when the patter of little feet began to be heard. When my good friend was pregnant with her first child – my glorious godson – I became weirdly interested in the haberdashery department of our local John Lewis. That marks the beginning of everything yarny. Patterns and yarn began were bought – and a suspicious pile of half made projects grew in as basket at the side of the sofa.

I made this little bundle of joy a very cute jumper by Sirdar – navy blue with little white fish. The pattern is still very popular and available now. Thinking about it, the baby on the front cover of that pattern book must now be about 21 years old. How utterly bizarre.

When our son was on his way, I evolved and settled into the habits I have now. The minute my bottom hits the sofa at the end of the day, my feet curl up under me and I turn to pick up the needles.

I wish I had a full list of what I made, there were a few hats, a very small and sweet jumper in moss stitch and perhaps the most useful item; an aran cable knit jacket. From six months old, our baby wore this jacket most days over his baby grow.

But you know and I know that the real gift of love – the heirloom item – is the first blanket. We had no idea whether we were having a girl or a boy and so it occurred to me the best idea would be to make something totally unique. I knitted a cute heart blanket to keep him warm in his buggy. In fact, when I think about it, this might have been one of my first ‘developed’ designs. I used the basis of a blanket designed by Zoe Mellor, changed the colours and swapped the cloud motif for a heart motif. It is still a favourite. The yarn is Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, soft and luxurious. Just right for a much anticipated baby.

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It’s really not all that long ago. But looking back at the choices I made whilst ‘yarn-nesting’ for Little B, I realise how the yarn industry has changed and my own making has altered.

  1. The yarn choice is much wider and incredibly varied
  2. The pattern choice is so huge and very accessible, it would be rare for me to make a trip to a department store now for pattern inspiration – I would just go online.
  3. I would now tend to crochet blankets – not knit.

I am so much faster as a crocheter, that when I do knit a blanket, I almost give-up with frustration. Additionally, the heart blanket I made for Little B has intarsia motifs. This means it has a good side and very much a wrong side. The benefit of crochet has always been that it is pretty much reversible.

The first baby nursery blanket is a significant make, it is a labour of love and often this is a job for the expectant Mummy or Grandparent.

For very special people I still enjoy making the first blanket. I just finished my latest. I will get into the detail in my next blog post. But for me this is and never will be ‘just a commission – ‘just a gift’. It is more than that, it is a celebration in wool and and statement of hope.

Jumper Jeopardy

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Oh what to make…what to make? I know if you are like me, you will see something in a magazine or instagram and think, ‘I REALLY want to make that!’ do I have the yarn already….no….ok, I’ll order some now…actually could I pop into my yarn store and start it this evening?’ We can be an impulsive lot. Hey, when the mood takes us, we just have to cast on. Having something manageable and do-able is definitely an attraction. We don’t need guilt in our hobbies and are keen to actually finish what we start. The mounting numbers of ‘WIP’s’ (works in progress) drive us to distraction.

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The zeitgeist items for makers tend to be accessories or blankets. Smaller items or things you can make for the home. Don’t get me wrong, people are making garments, but they tend to be complex and heritage pieces and not made for necessity. I am perhaps part of the last generation who wore school uniform knitted by my grandma. Bottle green cardigans which swamped me in Autumn and looked tight and pilled by early summer.

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The heartbreak of starting a jumper or cardigan and it looking….’all wrong’ seems to loom large in our minds. In 2018 – due to promising not to buy any new clothes, I made many more clothes than I had done in years. The experience certainly taught me a few do’ and don’ts. There is nothing worse than devoting weeks and months on a project and then just hating it when you finally try it on.

1. Measure up

I say this knowing I sometimes shy away from it. But to ensure your garment is really going to fit you, it is worth measuring yourself. I’m going to be honest. I have made a few things that have either swamped me, hanging off my shoulders. Or more likely, I have been a bit optimistic in terms of my size and the end result is unflatteringly tight. Just being honest. The big danger area is obviously the chest. You can easily measure this yourself and honestly if you have an accurate idea of what that is then you can save hundreds of pounds of woolly mistakes. Worth saying though that to get the perfect garment you should have an idea of your body and arm length. I have slightly shorter arms and torso. This means for a jumper to really work I should take a couple of centimeters of the length and it saves me rolling up the sleeves. Lots of people don’t do this…but you know why wouldn’t you make the best you can make.

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2. Swatching is kinda worth it.

Seriously I know how you don’t want to make a sample square to test your tension. But for garment making it is worth it. I made a really beautiful tank top recently. It is a tad too small because my tension is a bit tighter than the pattern…silly girl. I didn’t swatch the fairisle pattern. Just a short cut too far and now I won’t wear that tank as much as I could have.

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3. Have a small practice.

When I first became attracted to fairisle knitting again, I knew I need to improve my stranding technique. I actually attended a workshop with taught by my friend Juliet Bernard. Those few hours were well spent. I made quite a few hats using this technique before I embarked on a cardigan or jumper. The process helped me iron out the problems and when I did get a bit stuck, the project wasn’t too big that I felt daunted.

fairisle-teacosy-blue-yellow-emma-varnam4. Make it interesting.

Rows and rows of stocking stitch 4ply knitting look utterly glorious, but they do require commitment. Who hasn’t made a rib hem just a few rows too short, because they couldn’t bear going on any further with knit 1, purl 1?

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It is no surprise that for garment knitting the complex patterns are becoming popular. Knitters need something to keep their interest. I know that even a stripe can help motivate you through the pattern. That is why fairisle can be so intoxicating. It wrings the changes to ensure that you interest is maintained. The ideal make has enough interest to keep you going, but is not so complex to incite a migraine – or indeed the urge the throw your work and needles across the room.

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5. Don’t give up

Finally don’t give up making, be brave, commit to knit or crochet. There is nothing more thrilling than making a gorgeous homemade garment and someone stopping you and saying. ‘where did you get that…I love it!’ You smile and say (beaming) I made it myself. What ever you do…stay strong, so strong….when they reply, ‘Will you make me one?’ – ALWAYS – BUT ALWAYS REPLY.s

‘No, but I will teach you how….’

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What have you planned to make this year?

Knitter of the Year 2019

Have some exciting news! I am a Knitter of the Year 2019! If you nominated me then – ‘Thank you!’. If you voted…thank you also. It is a wonderful treat and I am so so grateful. It has really given me a huge spring in my step. All the announcements are now on Knit Now magazine website – x

I’ll knit where I like

I have never been ashamed to craft. Back in my University days I would happily sit with a needlepoint tapestry on the long (and I mean long) train journey between home and my college town. Very rock and roll. In the last decade I have become a braver ‘alfresco’ knitter. A train journey is perhaps my favourite ‘out’ experience. I sense people staring at me. Gone are the days when I look ‘too young to knit’ but I think the speed of the hands is quite mesmeric for the onlooker. For fun I will quickly look up and stare my observer in the face. Embarrassed they will often look away, but mostly they smile and ask me what I’m making.

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When knitting and crochet becomes a vocation or a job, then crafting in public is not so much a performance or luxury, it is a deadline necessity. When I need to finish a project the urgency compels me to take my yarn wherever I go. I might arrive at a friends house and make my excuses while we sit and chat. Most of my close friends have enough experience of this oddity. They know I am fully engaged in the conversation. I might be quiet, but I am thinking. Quite often my knitting figure is compared to the guillotine spectator ‘Madame Defarge’. One could take offense, I choose not to. A historical and literary reference merely denotes how knitters have been multi-tasking for centuries: ‘Say something witty and entertaining and I’ll look up!’

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If you are in a group of ‘tricoteuse’ then you can feel very brave. In the Autumn I was very lucky to join some of my Stylecraft Blogstars on a trip to Breidagen yarn festival in the Netherlands. We had a wonderful time, talking and teaching with yarn enthusiasts from across Europe. Hilariously at dinner, either in the hotel or a restaurant our bottoms barely hit the seat before the project bags were open and our hands worked the yarn. There is definitely security in numbers, but in these circumstances it would almost seem rude not to. In these moments, chatting away we shared our love of the craft. We quickly passed on our hints and tips like a supers-speedy masterclass. (The photo below is some of the Stylecaft Blogstars at Spa Mill – the gorgeous Phil Saul of Twisted Yarn took the image).

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Anyone who attends a regular knit and knatter group will tell you how much they love to craft in community. The activity is as old as the hills and is so important for the future of our craft.

There are still places and instances where I don’t knit or crochet. A special birthday, a posh restaurant, a wedding or funeral. In these very busy days I very rarely knit at work. I don’t have time to take the needles out at lunchtime.

However, in the last year I have expanded my extreme knitting venues. Learning to knit socks has enabled me to knit in the cinema. This is particularly useful if the film is not quite my taste – a film my son would like me to enjoy with him, but wouldn’t normally be my first choice…basically Star Wars. Knitting in the cinemas is also helpful for really tense films. Over Christmas we went to see the climbing movie, Free Solo. Oh my word. As the action got more tense my stitching got faster and faster.

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You might wonder in the dark, how is this possible? With a small circular needle and a basic stitch my fingers know exactly where to go. I can feel where the next stitch is and instinctively I even know if I have gone wrong. How bizarre. But this is just knitting. Even though I am ambi-tectrous (can knit and crochet) I still need to be able to see where I put the hook in for crochet. When I crochet, I am a much faster and proficient, but a little less instinctive.

I love the fact that I see more and more people sewing, knitting and crocheting in public spaces. Perhaps it is due to the growing numbers of people taking up a craft. In fact as I try to stay off my phone, knitting or crochet seem more appealing. I just must remember to look up more. – Then tell Wind and Fire where to stop, but don’t tell me.

Where will you knit or crochet – where will you not?

 

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