Monday, 26 December 2016

Sabbatical Part 2: The booking, packing and patterns

And so, to the most selfish part of my sabbatical. A whole week dedicated to myself and something I really wanted to do. When I first started thinking about what this might be I had Shetland in mind as I have longed to go to the Shetland Wool Week festival for the last few years. However, the timing of my sabbatical didn't work out with the festival dates and Shetland in November seemed like a pretty wet and windy option. I decided that going on an organised knitting tour would be best for me, mostly so that I didn't have to think too hard about what to do each day, but also so that I could meet other likeminded people. I really am a social person and don't much like spending long periods of time on my own - especially in a foreign country. After a bit of searching the most perfect trip came up: The Icelandic Knitter's Knitting on Ice. I took the plunge and booked it.

Planning for the trip was stressful for me. I'd never been anywhere like Iceland before and couldn't quite get my head around what I was supposed to wear each day to keep the weather out. The advice that 'there is no bad weather, only bad clothing' kept springing to mind. I didn't own any hiking clothing or equipment, but thankfully friends let me borrow key things like a super-warm coat and hiking boots, and then Sports Direct had everything else I needed to buy like a sleeping bag, waterproof trousers, base layers, hiking socks, etc., at a pretty reasonable price. Packing was then another nightmare with so many bulky warm items to fit into one bag. So I ended up borrowing a proper traveller's rucksack from my brother. Lugging that thing through London I felt like I was going on a real adventure.

For the trip I had knitted two jumpers and a hat. The first jumper was the Swirled Pentagon Pullover by Norah Gaughan. I found this in a book I bought for my Mum years ago. She has knit lots of projects from it but I always thought they weren't for me. But this one looked like just the kind of warm and cosy knit I needed in Iceland, especially with its thick roll neck. My first attempt at knitting it was a true disaster. The thing came out HUGE and looked a really strange shape. With a bit of help from my knit gurus I settled on knitting the small size, going down a needle size for the main part of the jumper and down another needle size for the pentagons. Once I had sewn it up I realised that I much preferred it without the roll neck and that I would probably wear it more after the trip, so omitted it. I really like the pentagon neckline construction and the colour of the yarn has received many compliments. If I were to knit it again I would add a lot more waist shaping and try to adapt it to be made in the round for ease of knitting.

The second jumper was a total panic knit. When the Swirled Pentagon Pullover was going so terribly wrong I completely lost my nerve and bought the pattern for Owls by Kate Davis and some New Lanark Chunky yarn to knit it with. My theory here was that if the first jumper wasn't ready in time this thick-and-quick knit would be. And I was right, it only took a few weeks to finish and both the yarn and pattern are absolute superstars. It fits me like a dream, it is warm in that temperature regulating way that wool is and it still looks great after many, many wears. This is unlike the previously mentioned Swirled Pentagon Pullover that was knit in Mondial Bio Lana which, although is much softer than the New Lanark, has pilled terribly and the jumper is looking very worn after only a month or two of wear.

The hat I made was a very last minute knit but has been the item that I have been most complimented on whilst wearing. The pattern is Cable Hat by Dora Stephensen which is a free pattern on Ravelry. The yarn is Third Vault Yarns Gytha Worsted in the colour way Bulbasaur. This was a gift from my friend Wendy at Yarnsub who saw the colour and thought of me. I seriously love the deep green shininess of it. To top it off I chose a Rico Faux Fur Pom Pom in a coral colour to really stand out. I also thought that this colour would be nice and visible should I fall down a crevasse on a mountain or glacier.

As you can see from my photos above I had THE BEST TIME. More on that in Part 3.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sabbatical Part 1: The Magic

I am so fortunate to work for a company that values its employees and this year after five years of service I was able to take a month long sabbatical. This was such a great opportunity that I wanted to do it right. The majority of the people I work with don't have kids and so all of them instantly suggested I go traveling for a month to South America! Japan! Thailand! But I knew that I wouldn't feel right leaving the Mr. and Flo for a full month and so I planned as best I could to make the most of it, incorporating spending time with my family and myself.

As there is so much to tell you about during the whole month of adventures I had, I thought I'd break it down into its different parts so that it doesn't become a monster to read. Here's a very magical part one.

I began my sabbatical during the UK October school half term and decided to do the trip that I had always wanted to do with Flo; Disneyland Paris. I had visited the park once before when the Mr. had taken me for my 18th Birthday. Yes, we have been together that long. And so this was also a slightly romantic walk down memory lane to return, but this time with our excited six year old in tow.

The best part was that we didn't tell Flo that we were going. So in the dead of night we woke her up and told her to get dressed as we were "going on an adventure". I was expecting her to kick up a fuss and demand to know where we were headed, but surprisingly she went along with it without any bother. When we arrived at the Eurotunnel she asked if we were going to France, as we'd driven there earlier this year. We confirmed that we were, she seemed happy with this as the destination and asked no further questions. It wasn't until we got past Paris and began to see the signs for the Park that the Mr. and I decided to let her know what was going on. I pointed out the sign and asked her to read it. I asked her if she'd like to go to Disneyland and she replied yes. When I told her that this was where we were indeed going and that we'd be staying there for a few days she screamed with joy! Check out my Instagram for the video.

Knitting-wise I cast on a new project in the dark on the drive to the Eurotunnel. I was surprised by how well this actually worked out. I was working on a Secret Santa gift so I won't give away the pattern just yet. All you need to know was that it was worked in SweetGeorgia Yarns Tough Love Sock on 2.5mm needles. I thought this would make good car knitting and I got a large chunk of the project done on the drive to and from Paris. Once in the park I only managed to knit a few rows before bed and a few times in the queues for the character met and greets (man, they were long). But I was glad of having something productive to do rather than just standing there.

Needless to say we had a magical few days in the park and were truly exhausted at the end. The health app on my phone informed me that we did on average 18,000 steps each day. We met princesses, did all the rides, got character autographs, screamed, laughed, cried on occasion with either the overwhelming magic or the overwhelming tiredness and I loved every minute of it.  This was the perfect way to kick off the month; together with my family, doing something of pure childish pleasure and fun. The next instalment as you will see was a lot more personally indulgent!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Philomena's Elephant

Trips to the library used to be fraught when Flo was tiny. Books went flying off the shelves, screams and shouts would be had and I would sheepishly leave with her under my arm without taking out a single book. Now that Flo is much more able to go into a public place without causing mass destruction the library has become a much more fun and interesting place to be. We’re slowly getting to the point where I can actually look at some books myself! 

A few weeks back I managed to get away from the kids section for 2 minutes and grabbed the book Edward's Menagerie off the display shelf. I have a friend's baby to make something for and the projects looked like a nice challenge as well as a lovely gifts to give. The book is full of the cutest soft toy crochet patterns which are pretty easy to follow if you have a basic grasp of crochet, which I just about do. There are about 40 different animals to choose from, but I went with the Elephant as I had some left over John Arbon Knit By Numbers in a lovely grey colour and who doesn't love an elephant?

My basic crochet meant that this project demanded my full concentration and so I had to basically do it with my head down, no talking or watching TV for the whole project. Thankfully as crochet is pretty quick it only took a few silent sessions to complete the pieces with a further session to sew up and embellish with a tail and eyes. 

My friends baby was born and named Philomena shortly after I completed the little elephant. I can't say Philomena seemed pleased with the elephant as she could hardly focus on her own mother at the time of me giving it to her. But I'm sure in years to come it will be flung across her bedroom during a flight test, snuggled whilst watching films and be ridden on by Barbies. 

There was one small snag with this project, which was that I was having such a good time making the elephant I forgot that it was a library book and was fined £2 for a late return. Perhaps I should stick to letting Flo choose the books. I'd be more likely to renew them on time!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Emerald City

A finished object!!!

I won a competition last year with Pom Pom Mag and was sent the most gorgeous yarn; Kismet Fiber Works Refuge Fingering. I got to choose the colourway and couldn't resist the aptly named T-Rex.
Green is really my thing, especially being a ginger.

I decided to make the Hitofude cardigan by Hiroko Fukatsu and over the last few months it's been a pleasure to knit. The yarn is a mix of baby camel and silk which is so slinky-soft! Plus I could get lost in the deep emerald green for days. The repetitive lace pattern was easy to get on with and as it's knit all in one piece it was completely satisfying to watch grow, try on as I knit and have no sewing up to do!

I'm really happy with the finished article although the hot weather is prohibiting me from wearing it at the moment.
I managed to get Flo to take some photos of me wearing it in the garden the other day. This photo shoot was a lot of fun and she directed me about like a tiny, shouty David Bailey. She even demanded that I use her dog balloon as a prop. I of course obeyed. Look what magic occurred. Turner Prize here we come.


Friday, 22 July 2016

A New York Min-knit

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to visit New York for my annual company training session. It's a busy few days of formal training with a few evenings of dinners and drinks together with the fun and intelligent people I have the pleasure of working with. On the last day I was lucky enough to have some time before my flight home to head to Brooklyn and track down the Brooklyn General Store. And, oh, how glad I was to have made it there.

The store was massive by UK standards with one side of the shop dedicated to yarn and the other to sewing. It was a peaceful space and despite the time pressure of a flight to think of I felt at ease browsing the packed shelves. However,  as the time pressure was in the back of my mind I didn't follow my usual tactic of considering my purchases carefully, checking Ravelry, looking for patterns to match the yarn or pondering over which skein I want more than another. This time I simply picked up a basket and starting piling up the yarns I really liked the look of. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't clearing the shelves directly into my basket; I was gauging which skein was talking to me, which ones I was really excited about and trying to find things that perhaps I'd never seen or heard of before.

I only had time for one pass down the yarn side of the shop and so once I got to the end I tipped out the basket onto the counter and took a quick stock check. To give you further context Brexit had just happened the night before which had saddened me to my very core. This yarn was very much being used to a plug a large hole in my national pride at that moment. It was my equivalent of eating a huge bar of chocolate after a break up. I emptied out my remaining dollars from my purse and bought the lot. In all honesty I don't feel a bit guilty about it. Seven types of yarn and a project bag acquired I headed back to the UK filled with yarny joy.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Northern Yarn

In the last few years the provenance of yarn has become so much more important to the knitting community. Where our yarn has been sourced, processed and dyed is as much a part of some people's yarn shopping as it is for their food shopping. I'm so proud to say that my friend Kate has just launched Northern Yarn which promotes no air miles, no plastic, just good honest wool from the Lancashire region.

I met Kate in 2010 when she moved into my Brother's old flat which was across the road from where I lived at the time in South Woodford. She was pregnant and I knew the move had been stressful so I went over to say hello and welcome her to the area. I also let her know that we had a local mum's knitting group and advised her to join in order to meet people. Before long we had Kate knitting away. She became a yarn lover and good friend to us all.

Fast forward to a few years later when Kate and her family decided to move back to their homeland of Lancashire. We were of course sad to see her go, but it marked a new chapter in Kate's life and this chapter had sheep roaming outside her window instead of the A406 road works buzzing in the background. These sheep that she saw daily inspired her to find local yarns to knit with. Surely there would be tons of local yarn with all this fluff walking about? But she found it hard to get her hards on what she was looking for and so started out on a mission to create a place where people could buy local wool and support farmers from Lancashire.

My favourites from her collection have to be the Teeswater wool which comes in mouthwatering colours. Kate knows the shepherds Freda & Darrell which shows just how local this wool is to her! Also the Lancashire Farm Wool in it's undyed creaminess is just gorgeous.

Take a look and if you're in the Lancashire area it's worth while tracking Kate down at the various markets she sets up stall at.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Knit-Monogamy is Overrated

Up until this year I was pretty much a monogamous knitter. I would only have one project on the go at a time and thought that it was the best way to get projects finished and do them right. I noticed that so many of my fellow knitters did not share my monogamy yet seemed to be churning out more projects than I could manage. I always put this down to them having more time or being faster knitters than me, but earlier this year I decided to give polygamous knitting a go and it was a revelation. Having multiple projects on the go at a time meant that when I got bored or stuck on one thing I'd simply move onto another until I had the interest or strength to go back to the first project.

At the time of my experiment I had cast on the Rock Hopper Shawl from Penguin by Anna Maltz, the Hap Blanket by Ysolda Teague for a wedding present to a friend, a blanket of squares from sock yarn remnants I’d been hoarding for about ten years, and I joined a one skein scarf KAL to complete my adultery.  It was liberating to skip between projects and keep the momentum going on each of them. Every day i would be able to choose which to take on my commute and then later at home I could flit between projects on the couch.

Although I began all of these at the start of the year I still haven't finished all of them. The scarf KAL and Hap Blanket were finished in good time. I need to take some better photos of the blanket but you can see that I tried to match the border to the colours on the wedding invite.

Both the Rock Hopper shawl and the blanket squares are still ongoing projects. I messed up the Rock Hopper and am frankly a little scared of trying to fix it or fudge it, hence why there is no photo of its half-finished state. The blanket is going to be ongoing for the next 20 years I'm estimating. Unless it turns into a baby blanket.

The best thing that being a polygamous knitter has taught me is that it's ok to have UFOs in your knitting pile. It's chilled me out a bit and taken the deadline stress out of finishing one thing before you can cast on the next. I don't think I'll ever go back now. I'm off to cast on something new!

PS: If you're on Instagram you can find me at purlprincess81.

Friday, 3 June 2016

East London Yarn Triangle

Have you heard about the East London Yarn Triangle yet? 

Knit in Public day is coming up on Saturday 18th June and to celebrate it Fabrications, Wild and Woolly and Knit With Attitude have teamed up to bring you an East London yarn crawl, which just happens to be triangular. 

The idea is this; you assemble a group, preferably giving it a name like the Knitting Ninjas or Woolly Wanderers. Then show up together at any of the shops, grab a map which details walking and bus routes as well as some key Hackney knitting spots. Then knit as you travel between shops taking knitting in public selfies of you and your team on the way. Upload at least 3 snaps to Instagram with the hashtag #eastlondonyarntriangle and you get 10% off everything in any of the shops! What a perfect way of both spending and celebrating Knit in Public day.

When I was Knit With Attitude the other day they packaged up my purchases in one of their printed tote bags. When I got it home I realised I now had the full set of tote bags for the East London Yarn triangle - weird huh! Perhaps it's a sign that I need to assemble a team and get yarn crawling. Who's with me?

PS: Velma says "Hi".

Monday, 30 May 2016

Knitting Magazine's - July 2016 Men's issue

I've been writing as Purl About Town since 2008 and have seen the magazine change over time. This year we got a new Editor Christine Boggis and it's been great to see how she's put her own stamp on the magazine. The month it's the Men's issue which I think its a particularly good one.

It's refreshing to see a man on the cover for a change. I wonder if it makes it stand out on the shelves more? 

Inside there are some great articles on male designers including Easyknits and Steven West, both of whom I'm a big fan of.

My favourite feature this month is that several of the male knitting patterns are show on both men and women. 

I think this works really well as we all like to climb into a boyfriend, dad, or male friend's big cosy jumper from time to time. I'm sure there are lots of jumpers that have migrated from one part of the wardrobe to another over time.  I think the designs they have chosen work equally well on both sexes and I just thought the idea was really fresh for the magazine.

Why not check out this month's Knitting Magazine and let me know what you think?

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Red or Blue - who will win?

Today I took a trip to Knit with Attitude in Stoke Newington with the sole purpose of buying some terribly unseasonal aran weight yarn for a new project I am keen to cast on. I'd done my research on suitable yarn options available in the store, I'd figured out my yardage and how many balls I'd need for my project. At this point I was a smug so-and-so.

The shop was lovely as ever; bight and airy with a lovely selection of yarn, books and tools. I grabbed the yarn I really wanted, but all of my planning didn't prepare me for the fact that they did not have the quantity I needed to complete my project. So, less smug, I went to my second choice and was informed that only two of the available colours had the number of balls I required in stock. Thankfully both colours would work fabulously. And so began the deliberating between the red and the blue.
"Blue really suits you" I said
"But red is super festive and you'll be wearing this in winter" was my reply.
"You have blue knits, remember that blue period you had? Go for Red it's different" but this was batted down with "You know you will definitely wear the blue, don't knit something in a colour you won't wear." 
But I was feeling bold and I decided that red was definitely the way to go.

Continuing in my smug vein I wanted to be sure that this yarn was going to work out with my gauge, so I bought one ball sat down in the shop and proceeded to start a gauge swatch. I was suddenly aware of the people working in the shop rummaging through yarn, pulling packs off of the stock room shelves and generally looking for something. As I measured my swatch and decided that yes, this yarn was just right for my project, they informed me that there was a mistake in their system there in fact was not enough of the red. Only the blue had enough balls for my project. So that sneaky blue won! Now I have sixteen balls of blue for my project and one random ball of red. So I guess that will be a baby hat then?

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Colouring in

It was my birthday last week and I was given this colouring book from Mason Dixon Knitting by a family member. It's filled with knitting and yarn based line drawings ready for you to give them some creative flair. My favourite images are those with individual stitches to colour. You could do anything from a variegated yarn to a Fair Isle pattern!

I love the idea of meditative colouring. It has a property similar to knitting where your mind is allowed to wander as you work. It's been scientifically proven now that it's good for you and your brain to spend this sort of quiet time, with your hands busy allowing your head to process things. My problem is giving myself that time. I always convince myself that there's something else more important to be doing and so meditative moments get pushed back, overlooked and replaced by other things. I'm hoping that I can take this colouring book and actually spend some time with it.

If you're interested in checking out some colouring books which combine your yarn love with pencils and paper then there's also Franklin Habit's I Dream of Yarn, which looks really cute! 

Now, I'm off to to sneak some of Flo's colouring pencils away from her!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Broken needles

I knit on the London underground to and from work every day during the week. I like to take something easy and portable so that it can quickly be stuffed in and out of my bag while I battle with the other commuters. I've taken to working on a blanket project which I've named The Leftovers as I'm using up sock yarn remnants to create squares. These will eventually be sewn together, probably in about 10 years time, as I'm going to need a lot of them to make a substantial enough blanket.

Last week I took this particular square out of my project bag on the Central line and discovered that one of my needles had snapped. I'm not sure how they got broken. Did I sit on them? Did I shove something in my bag with too much force? Whatever it was I could not knit for the rest of my commute and therefore was not a happy traveller.

It was a Lantern Moon set of rosewood sox sticks that I bought back in maybe 2007-2008? So I guess it was their time, even though in my mind I expected them to last forever.

Fair-well faithful needles. May your journey to the needle graveyard in the sky be smooth and without snags.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Purple Juvel

This Easter the Mr, Flo and I went for a long weekend to Mersea Island in Essex. I needed a satisfying project to work on during the car journey and in the cosy evenings in the little cottage we had booked. I have had 6 balls of Noro Cash Iroha in my stash since 2007 when I snapped it up at a John Lewis haberdashery sale. Please keep in mind that his was a pre child purchase. The colour wasn't really me, the weight was all wrong for a garment and I never found the perfect project for it, so it lay in my stash un touched for nearly 10 years. Suddenly with this trip on the horizon I saw my chance to make it work.

Flo had been asking for me to knit her something for some time. I had managed a quick Father Christmas hat and chunky snood for her in recent months, but she was looking for something of jumper or cardigan grade. I did a bit of Ravelry hunting and found the Juvel free pattern by Yarn-Madness. The pattern is primarily for hand spun yarns, but as the Cash Iroha is a single with quite a bit of texture so I thought it would be a good substitute.

I had seriously considered this patten before casting on and I had surmised that it was the perfect spring throw-on cardi for a child that says she's never cold, but feels freezing to the touch. The purple seemed like an easy win for Flo who professes to loving girly colours, despite being a bit of a tom-boy. So I cast on and made quick progress with the Aran weight yarn. The next day I revealed the in progress pattern and yarn to Flo who promptly told me she didn't like it and wanted a pink cardigan instead. Stupidly this actually managed to wind me up as I really thought she would have been pleased about the project. But who was I kidding? She's 6! She doesn't realise how cutting her comments were to me. So after a quick lesson with Flo on how to be grateful I continued knitting.

Lots of knitting was done on the trip and the cardigan didn't take long to finish. It only took 3 balls in the end so the remaining yarn is back to lingering in my stash. As soon as it was done Flo was more than pleased to wear it and has since repeatedly asked to wear it, which just goes to show that kids will say anything to get a rise out of you. I think you can tell from the photo evidence that the Juvel is indeed a hit and will hopefully keep her warm this Spring, if she bothers to keep it on.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Yarn Shop Day 2016 - Wild and Woolly

Today was Yarn Shop Day, which is a chance to celebrate and support your local bricks and mortar yarn shops. I really believe that this is a truly worthy cause. Who wants to buy all of their yarn online without a chance to squish, sniff and gaze at it lovingly before deciding to take it home?
So, I made my way to Wild and Woolly in Lower Clapton to join in with their Purly Queens Pop up, which was basically a whole host of fabulous designers and dyers show casing their wares.  In attendance was Anna Maltz, Jane Lithgow and East London Knits Renee Callahan who all had samples of their designs to try on, which my Mum took full advantage of, as well as patterns to buy, kits, project pages and more. TravelKnitter and The Wool Kitchen were also both there with their gorgeous yarns for sale.

The shop was packed when we arrived, which isn't hard as it is a small space but it was lovely to see that so many people had turned out to browse, buy and simply sit and knit. As usual the knitting community welcomed everyone in and there was a lovely atmosphere in the shop, in fact people even began spilling out onto the pavement it was so busy.

Mum trying on the Seceles sample
After a while there was a quieter spell and Mum and I were able to sit down with a cuppa and a home made biscuit to review our possible purchases. In the end I came away with a skein of The Wool Kitchen 4ply in the Ground Control colourway.  This was from the David Bowie collection that Hannah had dyed up before Bowie had sadly passed away. Perhaps she had the inside knowledge on that one ;-) I also bought the pattern for Jane Lithgow's Broadlands Mitts which I just loved when I tried them on. Mum bought East London Knit's Klee Collection, the Seceles pattern and the yarn to knit it. Score all round.

It was a really fun afternoon filled with chatter and lots of squishing, sniffing and gazing at beautiful yarn and patterns.  I hope you had the chance to join in and visit your local yarn shop and if not, make sure you keep making those purchases in person rather than always online. Lets keep our yarn shops in business!

Friday, 29 April 2016

Where have I been?

I've been right here! 

I've still been doing my article in Knitting Magazine but found it increasingly harder to keep up with the blog while doing a full time office job, wrangling a now six-year old child and of course enjoying knitting. Excuses, excuses, right? 

I guess that the knitting blogger landscape also became incredible competitive and overwhelming. At times it has felt like I couldn't keep up, so why bother? But I realised that I shouldn't really need to compete with anyone. I love to write and I love to knit. Writing is such a wonderful gift that I shouldn't limit it. I also feel that I should exercise it to keep my writing in good shape. So here I am, where I've always been, but ready to blog again. Let's go.