Ain’t Nuthin’ Like A Dame…

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© Practical Publishing

I grew up in a house with no TV. Shocking, yes? We also had no phone. GASP. There were lots of other things we didn’t have – mains water and central heating, for example, but it’s the TV I’m concentrating on here. I only got to watch the goggle box in other people’s houses, and that rarely: people in those days still switched the TV off when visitors came, to facilitate conversation. Those without TVs switched off the ‘wireless’ – as radios were known – and those without wireless put their books/knitting/embroidery down, or removed their wellies/aprons, depending on the time of day.

However, when I was about 9, we got our first TV, a black and white model in a beautiful, possibly fake wood surround, with a big dial for tuning into the channels. There were four channels, none providing more than 8 hours of programming a day. Actually, there were only four channels because we lived near enough to the border with Northern Ireland to get their 3 channels (BBC1 & 2 and UTV). We were lots more swanky than our compatriots further south, who only got RTE. Not RTE1, 2, etc. – it was the only channel then.

I became almost instantly obsessed. I absorbed TV into my bones, memorising cast lists, story lines, directors, production companies – I was a walking IMDB. But my most favouritest thing ever was the Saturday matinee. Every Saturday, one of the channels put on an afternoon movie, usually a black and white classic. There was also usually a Sunday matinee, but they weren’t quite so good: too many musicals, and from different eras. They were great family watching, but oh, the Saturday matinee knocked them all into a cocked hat. On Saturdays, square-jawed men in hats traded cigarettes and incomprehensible quips with sultry, sassy women in suits or negligee, in train stations and piano bars. Cynics and losers sacrificed themselves for love and honour, heroes and heroines self-destructed from their darker passions, life was lived against a backdrop of swelling piano and strings, and the Dame ruled them all.

The Dame wasn’t always a beauty, or a brain. She wasn’t innocent, or evil. What she was, was confident. She knew herself, and was happy with it. She put on no airs, put up no pretences, suffered no fools. Tough and tender by parts, she went after her goals, and even if she failed, you knew she’d be okay. There were many takes on the Dame – Katharine Hepburn’s tomboy athleticism, Bette Davis’ brittle sharpness, Barbara Stanwyck’s hardness, Ava Gardner’s voluptuousness – but the epitome was the wonderful Lauren Bacall. Perhaps because Betty, as she was known to her friends, seems to have sashayed the walk in real life too, her performances have a multi-layered authenticity that other dames simply don’t match. They’re too sweet, too venal, too remote. Even as a teen in To Have and Have Not, Bacall exudes the BTDTBTTS attitude of a woman who knows she can handle whatever comes her way.

Image result for Bacall knitterImage result for Bacall knitter

Image result for Bacall knitter

 

 

Bacall was an inveterate knitter herself, often photographed with a WIP on movie sets and in private life.

And so, to knitting. Normally I like to outline where my inspiration comes from, but in this instance, it’s all a bit … nebulous. I like Bacall, but I can’t say she was the direct inspiration. I’m a big fan of monochrome, tessellation, and fitted clothing, but again, these didn’t call to me. Knit Now put out a call with a theme of budget knitting. That didn’t call to me either! Sheesh, I do nothing BUT budget knitting! Somehow, though, the various elements fermented away at the back of my brain until a couple of days before the call was due, and then it was all, “how do I want to look when I’m strapped for cash? FABulous, that’s how. How can I look fabulous? Try for classy rather than runway. Who’s classy? Lauren Bacall. What’s she worn that’s particularly classy? well, that houndstooth suit in The Big Sleep is kind of iconic…” and so on. Lots of Google image searches for the structure of the kind of sexy-but-not-sexy clothes Bacall wore, trying to pin down an appropriate shape.

The Dame Pullover grew, rather than sprang fully formed into my mind. I think it’s a style that’ll grow on people too. It’s smart enough for the office, elegant enough for cocktails, and, yes, classy enough for everything from a church jumble sale to the Aspen ski slopes. I love it more than is seemly for its creator – I should be more modest about these things, and I usually am, I think – but this is perhaps my favourite pattern of those I’ve produced to date, and I design only what impassions me. The nipped waist, the Vikkel braid borders, the pointless wee buttons on the polo neck make my toes curl with joy.

The fact that it’s also the first and, so far, only pattern of mine that’s gone through tech editing with no issues is just the whistle to my pucker…

© TMD.
© TMD.

And here’s the sub. Spot the statutory misspelling that escaped me! And the novel design element that I forgot to take notes on, and then couldn’t reproduce for the sample… I’m making a lot of use of my Kindle Fire, a slim Targus stylus, and an app called SketchBookX Express to produce my sketches these days. Find an image, import it, put a layer on top and ‘trace over’ the image, then delete the image and save the tracing. It’s pretty much what the cool kids have always done with Photoshop, but for me, the touchscreen beats the mouse any day. This technique should work as well on any touch-enabled screen, though I can’t recommend software for individual platforms.

Till next time!

Hattata Flatatta

New finished project!
Well, new-ish. The Offspring year-end class project was on WWII, specifically the evacuation of children. The final day of the project involved them living as children being evacuated, beginning with them being delivered to the “evacuation centre” in the morning, in period costume, and being issued with their ration cards and gas mask (previously created in lessons).
The Offspring decided he needed me to knit him a proper flat cap, sooo…. He already has one, from Cheryl Andres’ Inishmore Cap pattern, but could we find it? So I made another, in some Aranweight natural Herdwick I have lying around. No biggie. He also wanted an authentic vest -preferrably Fair Isle, the picky varmint – but I said nay. I’m not making a Fair Isle vest in under a week. Instead I put him in his old Bam-bam vest (a modified Sherwood by Angela Hahn), banking on Aran-ish patterns being sufficiently common by the 1940s. I made this for him when he was about 4, but with added length in hopes it would last a while. He’s now 10 1/2, so it worked – although the collar is a bit on the tight side. It does look a bit skimpy, but we were going for the impoverished inner-city rapscallion look anyway. Ahem.
At the end of the day, parents were asked to collect their children (their own children, mind) in period costume as their evacuation foster parents. Now my wardrobe is severely lacking in utility frocks, but I looked up how to do Victory rolls in my hair. Sadly, I do not have 1940s hairspray either, so this was a bit of a flop. They just about stayed in at the front, so I wore a headscarf a al Rosie the Rivetter to cover the rest. My frilliest blouse, baggiest workman denims and wellies, and I was a Land Army gel! I thoroughly mortified the poor child by marching in as “Captain Bagshot”, checking teeth and muscles on the ‘malnourished city boys and gels’, and demanding to know what each of them knew about ploughing and calving before making my choice.
Asante sana Squash banana, as they say, or: My work as a mother is done…

Two Shades Of Green

At the beginning of May, I achieved a long-held ambition. ‘Twas a fairly minor thing, compared to world peace, or even convincing the cat to use her litter tray instead of a laundry basket, but an ambition nonetheless.

I published a Selbuvotter-style pattern.

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Doonican Mittens publicity shot, (c) Practical Publishing

Selbuvotter are traditional mittens (votter) from the Selbu region of Norway. Typically, they are worked in fine yarn in black and white, although red is sometimes used as well, and feature very intricate patterns on a distinctive pointed mitten. The simplicity of the materials belies the stunning range of ornamentation possible even if one sticks rigidly to the traditional techniques, but there is immense fun (may be NSFWODS¹) to be had by breaking the rules too. The overall effect reminds me of Gothic stained-glass windows – particularly with a variegated or hand-painted yarn as background – but this is just my opinion. Selbustrikke (Selbu knitting style) is unusually well-documented for a knitting tradition ~cough~Aran~cough~, and so I shall just leave you to read this synopsis (link to pdf from Selbu Bygdemuseum) for yourselves rather than risk introducing any mythology to the tale…

Ever since I happened upon Selbustrikke, I’ve had a longing to create something as intricate as these lovely patterns, but inspiration failed to strikke strike. I didn’t want to simply stick a pin in a stitch dictionary, I wanted something that had its own story. Last year, I learned of the death of Val Doonican, a singer who was the first in a long line of genial Irish chat-show hosts beloved of the British viewing public. Val was famed for his huge collection of knitted sweaters, or jumpers as they are known here unless you’re a blow-in from foreign parts, and allegedly never wore the same one twice. While noodling through his obituaries and listening to his back catalogue on Youtube, I came across a photo of him in a navy-on-white jumper with some complex colourwork (see photo in the submission outline below), and, as is my way these days, I opened up a Stitchmastery chart and attempted to recreate as much of the pattern as I could make out. Then I just saved it and forgot it.

Fast forward a few months, and Kate Heppell at Knit Now magazine put out a Designer Challenge call. These are short turnaround calls for patterns for specific yarns, typically with only a few days or a weekend to submit a proposal, so there’s usually not enough time to put together a full submission with sketches, swatches, photography, etc. I’ve nailed a few of these calls myself and find the pressure wonderfully concentrates the mind. The ideal pattern for these calls is short and straightforward, so grading for 15 sizes, fully charted lace, and complex shaping are out. It helps to have a design already kicking about in your catalogue, and a plug-in shape REALLY helps. For this, the Selbu style is perfect: I already had the colourwork design as a Stichmastery chart, all I had to do was fit it into the votter shape…

And here is what I sent off:

RAVPIC
Submission outline for Doonican Mittens. I’ve messed up the chart deliberately, as it isn’t the same as the published version: if you tried to follow it, you’d wind up with a not very ergonomic phone sock…

Note the phrase “usual format” – that’s the plug-in. Many Selbu patterns are single-size, as the colourwork is often non-repeating: the charts depict the whole mitten. Extra sizes mean separate charts for each size!

Newbie designers should take heart that the submission itself is not lovely, and I missed a misspelling, for which I have no excuse. The self-flagellation continues. It’s not terribly detailed either – no need to write an essay. Being prepared to compromise on changes is good too: Knit Now went with two shades of green instead of the white and aubergine I suggested. I’m rarely wedded to the colours in a submission – I expect people to choose their own anyway – but the greens worked beautifully, and  fit nicely with the Irish inspiration.

Knit Picks Palette is a fab choice for this kind of detailed colourwork, too: 150 (150!!) colours, a very pleasing price point and UK availability. It’s not unlike JC Rennie’s Unique Shetland, which I used to make my Shadow Pets Hat and Mitts. I’d also recommend Palette for colourwork baby garments generally: you’d get the same level of detail in a baby jumper as in an adult version.

I have another pattern out next month, and a further four in various stages of the pipeline – including one which is an object lesson in not being wedded to colour schemes – or pretty much anything else either! And that this is far from being a disastrous sell-out of one’s oeuvre…

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1: Not Safe For Work Or Delicate Sensibilities

 

Well.

Now I’ve calmed down a bit – 

I’ve just spent a lovely long weekend in Belfast. The Mighty Offspring saw the dinosaur exhibition at the Ulster Museum and the movie ‘Brave’ and was generally spoilt rotten. Due to his habit of “remembering” (i.e., making up) what suits him, I missed the exhibition, got hilariously lost, and was barely able to move by the time I found my way back to Ma-in-Law’s, having walked about 8 miles. Strangely, it seems to have helped. Okay, I stiffen up if I stop moving for more than 5 mins, there are twinges and owies and an alarming crunching noise from my right ankle, but I am standing straighter and taller than for a long time. 

On Saturday morning, I went to St George’s Market in search of Lighthouse Yarns, and was disappointed. No sign of them. Of course, they may only be there Sundays, though I thought – oh well. I got a book on vintage knits and a gorgeous hand-tooled leather notebook, which I’ll be using for designs. There were a few yarn stalls, but nothing spectacular. Some interesting clothes stalls, too, vintage, handmade, etc. Sunday I sidetracked from a school shopping trip to Primark to check out The Wicker Man. They have a small but worthy range of Cushendale Woollen Mills and Donegal Yarns wool, and seem to stock Knit Picks/KnitPro needles, and will be running knitting classes from September. They also have some Aran knits, sporting a tag about how Willie John “Paddy” MacBallix was the first man in Ballyarsebackwards to wear an Aran jumper, to the official reception held by Finn MacCool (sicto welcome St Patrick to the oul sod, blah, blah, blah. 

Back home to some not-fun stuff occasioned by the fact that my family doesn’t listen to me and was unaware that we’d gone to Belfast, despite my several attempts to tell them. At least, I’m pretty sure that telling them that the Mighty Offspring was going to see the dinosaur exhibition and I’d be doing a bit of shopping (and that I’d have to fill the car with petrol before I left) is enough of a hint that those activities might be done together and/or in proximity to each other. Sheesh.

But! The big fun news! I got free yarn! Donegal Yarns Aran Tweed, #4803. It is better than I hoped. A deep, peaty, almost purply brown, with orange nepps. Loads of other nepps, but it’s the orange that stands out. I swatched up a bit overnight, and even with less than ideal blocking at Ma-in-Law’s, it is all froofy and soft. Delivered to the end of the road by the boss, how is that for service? Didn’t even have to blag my way to an invitation to the mill, it was offered up front. Possibilities of collaboration, etc., etc.

I’m not too sure how much more to say about this. I don’t want to be giving away trade secrets. It’s kind of like blogging, now that I’m mainly doing designing rather than knitting or adapting patterns by other people. In my older, funnier blog, I could document the trials and tribulations of the Serious Knitter. The uncooperative yarn. The bewildering instructions. The ill-advised modifications, the attendant injuries, the misread deadlines, the ungrateful recipients, and the photo-shoot foul-ups. I could hold forth on the insanity of the pattern designer, the process, and the finishing. Now, I have to stay quiet, especially about anything that is being published elsewhere. Which is most of them at the moment! How can I be funny with no material?!?!?!

I had a Chicken Tarka Masala once. It’s like a Chicken Tikka Masala but just a little ‘otter…

Yikes!

Now I know what people mean when they say they’re sick with excitement!

So many things happening. The Mystery Project kickstarter is being edited. I’m getting free yarn. I’m trying to put a portfolio together, and learn Arts-speak. Also, off to Belfast !! St George’s Market Lighthouse Yarns stall, here I come!

And just for a gas, willya listen to Michael D makin’ poundies of the Yanks. That man can chunder better than me Ma! Truly worthy of  this appropriate little knit

Dive In!

Well, let’s pile through this, starting with …socks!

Top left is a self-striping yarn from LIDL, Zettl Sockenwolle Cortina. Just after I finished them, the word on Rav was that Cortina was being pulled and buyers refunded because the stuff felted! These are about a year old, getting tight, and have felted slightly through wear, not washing – so I’m happy enough. Another pair, recently finished, will appear soon. Well, soon for me…

The blue pair is in Katia Merino Baby, a wonderfully soft yarn I picked up in Christine’s of Bournville (a wee treasure house – go there if you can). I did a slipstitch pattern on them, but the wool is so soft and fuzzy that the definition has all but vanished. I also picked up Katia Merino DK for socks for myself – haven’t got round to trying it though. The remaining socks are with the good old Teddy sock yarn from the Bull Ring. The one with the cabled ankles (Ankle of Green Cables, ho ho ho!) has never been on the offspring – the cables draw in too much to fit over his chunky wee limbs – nonetheless, they make a fetching phone sock. The others are my usual negative stripe and Fibonacci in what I poshly call my Crab Apple colours.

Heading north, to Hats!

The pink cloche, Big Belle, is a last-minute, no-pattern knit for Pink Day at school – a fundraiser for breast cancer. I don’t have much pink, apart from a too-small PVC jacket, so I cast on top-down in my one remaining ball of Sirdar Bigga, increasing and trying on as I went. The last few rows were done ‘flat’ in reverse stocking stitch, with a couple of stitches cast on to make the tab that the button is sewn to. It’s a tight fit and maybe a bit too pointy, but looks okay.

The jester’s hat (Borg Queen) is Fool’s Gold, but in gold Hjertegarn Natur Uld that I picked up on hols in Gothenburg, and some leftover Sirdar Big Softie from Begotha. There were some mods for using superbulky. Also, I didn’t bother knitting the 5-stitch hat band. Instead, I picked up stitches afterwards, 2×2 rib for 5 rows, and then did a knitted Picot edging, which l think looks better… I then crocheted chains and sewed them in place on the opposing colours of the crown (no pun intended). I love this hat, though it really only sits on my head. I may have to make another, maybe with more tentacley peaks.

The Spiderman balaclava (Peter Parker Picked a Perfect Period to Press for this Present) is my 100th project!

The Mighty Offspring asked me to tell Santa to buy him a Spiderman mask for Christmas – on 22nd December! I had no idea where to buy one now that Woolies is gone, and no desire to spend time trekking through the shops in the run-up to Christmas, so I decided to cobble something together. The pattern is based loosely on Jackyll and Hide and We Call Him Spidey.  It was finished with a couple of hours to spare – HANDS LIKE CLAWS!!! I went off-chart with exhaustion, eye-fuddle and any other excuse about the eyehole area, but it looks okay for all that. It IS too big, though it would be probably be fine if I sewed some shirring elastic into the collar. MO was speechless when he saw it hanging on the Christmas tree! On recovering the power of speech though, he put in a request for a Venom mask… He’s making do with his father’s BSJ hat in the meantime, pulled down over his face.

The remaining two are a Drops pattern, made with the recommended yarn, Drops Eskimo! I must have come over peculiar to actually use the yarn for the pattern, it’s just not like me at all. I even bought the yarn (from Scandinavian Knitting Design, good value and fast delivery) with the pattern in mind! However, I saved myself by not using the recommended Drops Puddel for the trim. Instead I used some Patons Lush fancy yarn that I picked up on eBay a couple of years ago. It’s a little sparkly and adds some girliness to the hats, which do get compliments. There was only just enough yarn in the balls to complete them, but they do run a bit large – even with my tight knitting. I lightly felted them a few weeks ago and the fit is much better.  The jumper I’m wearing in the photos is a handknit that I liberated from a charity shop. It’s a chunky yarn, 100% wool, with big hairy guard hairs through it. Itchy as all get out, but I don’t mind. £4! I also liberated an off-white fishermans rib crewneck and a blue and white marl 4×4 rib turtleneck, both too large for me so given to X, and a soft and fuzzy Shetland wool jumper with an Aztec-look Fair-Isle design, all for similar prices.

So, lowering the tone to the neck region – scarves!

The first two were last Christmas’s gifts to Mum and Ma-In-Law – Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran and DK respectively. The pattern is a Rav-only download, Anthro-Inspired Scarflet. I got lucky and picked up exactly the right brooch the church Christmas Fayre for Mum’s pink scarf, but couldn’t find anything for the lavendar one, so instead I crocheted a rose using the same pattern I used for the Mighty Offspring’s Christening Shawl. Looks effective, no? My own version is an iron grey yarn from eBay, Knitwitz Camel – 30% camel, 30% alpaca, 40% wool. Very resistant to blocking, as you can see. The brooch is a vintage bone daisy, picked up at the same Fayre along with a matching necklace.

The scarf on the left is Ragged Robin, a reverse-engineering of Annie Modesitt’s Ruffled Roses which is available only through LYS in the US, hence the reverse engineering. The green is Teddy 4ply, but the ‘rose’ is Jaeger Fur, a super-chunky wool-mohair blend that I stumbled across in Northfield’s Pins & Needles. The yardage is tiny – 22yds – but I still have about half the ball left! It’s a bit pouffy and OTT, but livens up a dull suit and is surprisingly warm.

The bobbly purple scarf below left is not a triumph of Aran bobbles, but a very simple scarf made with Teddy Pom-Tiddly-Om-Pom. At £2 in the Bullring, it was 75% off – you couldn’t be bad to it. The yarn came in a great tangled mass, and I wound up cutting it 4 times – yes, me, the master untangler of mohair and laceweight, defeated by novelty yarn. While knitting I just tied the ends together, cutting off any inconvenient bobbles on the way. The bobbles are big enough to hide the ends of the knots! I cast on 5 stitches, one between each bobble. On the second row, I knit into the front and back of each stitch (10sts). Then continued till I ran out of yarn. It really looks like it’s going horribly wrong for the first 6 rows or so, when the bobbles lie down and start behaving themselves. Be patient.

The lacy little number is another Christine’s of Bournville find, Katia Tobago. The colours really are that vivid. Okay maybe not – the camera was playing up at the time. The pattern is Queen Anne’s Lace, which, though really quite simple, manages to be oddly tricky. You need to do EXACTLY what the pattern says, even if it seems a bit odd at first. I made this for Ma-In-Law for what I thought might possibly her birthday – I only have a rough idea of when this is, as X had no idea of the date at all. Unfortunately, this was around the time things came to a head between us, so I have no idea what she thinks of it, or indeed if she even received it.

I think that will do for now. I do have a few more scarves to include, but they are either not quite finished or I have no photos as yet. Only the finished product will appear, m’dears.

T’ra fn!

K

We interrupt the scheduled programme…

…of joyous creativity to announce a tragedy.

At 8.00 this morning, the Clarice bag departed this world.

This beautiful, vibrant – nay, fluorescent creature went into the washing machine last night for felting. Sadly, this morning, it was found in a semifelted condition, almost completely bereft of Kool-Aid colour.

The only colour to survive, however slightly, is the one I dyed with Turmeric (yes, the spice. It’s pretty good, no need for acid, salt, nasty chemicals – just spice and boiling water. Works for cotton too).

And not one photograph did I take before I put it in the washing machine.

So, what did I do wrong? I did a fair bit of research before going into this, and all of it suggested that Kool-Aid dyed wool felted pretty well. Slight fading but not too serious, more of an advantage given how eye-wateringly bright Kool-Aid can be. A quick whizz though my sources reveals no mention the optimal wash temperature, though: my machine was set for a boil wash, which, in retrospect, was probably too hot. It was stupid o’clock in the morning, I’d stayed up to finish it ready for felting, and I was overcome with the desire to have my widdle baggie-waggie first thing in the morning: not my best chemistry thinking time.

Back to the drawing board, then. I still want to make this, but I’ll do some test swatches and try a few different temps first. I’d also like to re-jig the chart: Coss seems to assume square rather than rectangular stitches, and comes out very wide and short when knit up. It produced a lovely oblong shape for the bag, but the flowers were a bit stretched.

So, I return you to your normal scheduled programme with this cautionary bit of advice: don’t wash your Kool-Aid dyes at 90deg until further notice.

ETA: When life gives you lemons, stick ’em down your blouse to make your boobs look bigger! I’m going to use the bag to learn to steek! and maybe needle-felt! Not that I see myself making anything that ever requires either skill, but I’d imagine you could do a zombie some damage with a felting needle…