I am a serial caster on-er, regularly seduced by a lovely, shiny new pattern. But it seems to be getting worse since I have started my yarn diet, because I can see so much potential in my beloved stash.
I knew things were getting bad the other day when I couldn’t find any 4mm interchangeable tips. I hadn’t lost them, they were simply all being used. When I dragged all the bags and boxes of projects out I realised I have to focus on finishing some of them before I can allow myself to start anything new.
Here are a few of my favourites.
Kidalton is by Kate Davies from her Inspired by Islay collection which I am knitting in a Merino yarn by Lang Yarns. I have been cabling without a cable needle on this pattern which the wonderful Jen Arnall-Culliford taught me when she joined The Knitter.
Xanadu is a beautiful shawl by Kitman Figueroa. If you haven’t ever tried one of her designs, what are you waiting for? They are as elegantly written as the shawls themselves. This is a pre-blocking image so you can’t see how yummy it will look. The yarn is Yarn Stories Fine Merino 4ply.
Redshift is a Jared Flood design. I think he is one of the nicest people I have ever met in our wonderful world of knitting so I always have a soft spot for his designs. This is a steeked shawl and I am using Gomitolis Lambswool and Wool/Cashmere. As you can see mine is more of a yellowy-green shift.
Stephen West’s Marled Magic Mystery Knit Along was gifted to me by my dear friend Michelle. She is joining me on the yarn diet trail and though this would be a good pattern to eat up a few of the odd balls that we both have. I am trying not to be too regular in the colours I am putting together and I am really pleased with the result so far. Miracle of miracles, I am actually keeping up with the clues.
There are at least another 6 projects that I am willing to admit to on the needles but I am going to try to finish one off every week or so. Gulp!
The big stash down has started and it’s actually quite good fun. Last time I went on a yarn diet I learned a lot so I thought I would pass on some tips to you.
Take a long hard look
I have finally been brave enough to pull my stash out from all my favourite hiding places and take a long hard look. When you see the enormity of all the yarn you have collected it can be quite sobering. Now is the time to steel yourself and harden your heart. Most of my stash lives in six apple crates and it was sorted in to weight of yarn and then arranged by colour groups, but when I unstacked the crates I realised what a mess it was.
Cut, slash and bin
The first thing to do is get rid. Cue the internal dialogue.’Will you actually ever knit up that hank that’s been under the bed for a few years? Yes, I know you like the colour but it doesn’t suit you’; ‘Eugh, what were you thinking?’; ‘Who did you inherit that from?’ and so on.
Find a home
After a couple of hours I had several piles. I find it helps to think about who might want each discarded hank or ball so I have a straight-to-charity pile, a maybe-someone-in-my-knitting-group-can-use-it pile, a birthday-present-for-a-friend pile and a sell-it-on-ebay pile. I also had a pile of tiny balls and half knitted swatches that went straight in the bin because they really weren’t worth the brain power needed to find a home for them.
Hey Presto! My stash had already gone down by a good ten percent and there was enough room in my crates to arrange the knitworthy yarn that was left into some semblance of order, as well as imprinting what I actually have on my memory for potential projects.
Well, that’s the hard work done, now I can get on with the knitting! Who knew I had so much Noro?
Saturday night found me in the Baldock Town Hall and Heritage Centre – not the most obvious place to spend an evening maybe but I was there to see one of my heroes, Ruby Wax. Alongside Thubten, a Buddhist monk, and Dr Ash Ranpura, a neuro scientist, Ruby talked about mental health and mindfulness, as part of her latest tour.
Her most recent book is called A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, which I had heard her talk about on Woman’s Hour. She is also launching Frazzled cafes where people with mental health issues can just go and ‘be’, without judgement or prejudice, and maybe even get help.
But back to the evening, which began with actually meeting Ruby. She is an amazingly beautiful woman, more petite than you expect, and charming. What a thrill! You might think an evening discussing mindfulness might be a bit dull but it wasn’t. There was laughter and pathos, honesty and humility. What I found really interesting was how the neuro scientist could explain what happens in your brain when you meditate (I’m not keen on the term mindfulness) and the monk could tell us how to do it. Then Ruby shared some insight in to how it had helped with her depression. None of it was preachy or cultish, just plain facts and acres of humour.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety and panic attacks for a number of years I found the whole evening uplifting. Meditation and CBT have helped me and what was discussed left me with a profound feeling of hope.
If you are lucky enough to see her on tour I’m sure you will have a great time. If not, here is her TED Talk.
A really interesting book landed on my desk called On Craftsmanship – Towards a New Bauhaus by Christopher Frayling, former Rector of the Royal College of Art and Chairman of the Arts Council England and the Design Council.
My son has just completed his dissertation as part of his degree course at Manchester School of Art – you may have seen me post pictures of his furniture. Part of his worked focussed on the democratisation of design and craftsmanship. He looked at organisations such as Open Desk, a very interesting collective of designers selling open source furniture. The basic idea is you choose the furniture design you like and then find a craftsman near you who can make it for you. This decreases the cost to the environment as well as making good design more affordable – the very epitome of the democratisation he wrote about. If you are able to make it yourself you can simply buy the CAD/CAM files as Joe did. You can see his Roxanne chair at the top of this post.
So the arrival of this book was apposite. It isn’t a long book but I haven’t had time to read it all yet. In the introduction, Frayling talks about the move from ‘the creative industries to the productive industries’ which seems a very satisfying move to me. His definition of craft as ‘an activity which involves skill in making things by hand’ resonated with me. The word skill had fallen out of favour in the nineties and noughties imho but I celebrate its return. It hints at years of deliberate practise, seeking to improve and build skills, and inherently celebrates age and wisdom.
I recently interviewed Mr Noro who is in his 80s. Many of you will know his amazing yarns that meander through beautiful colour combinations. He has spent his entire working life developing his skill and he is sought out for his abilities. With his kind of skill also comes the generosity and humility to pass the knowledge on to the next generation, which he does to his staff – the ancient relationship between master and apprentice, if you like.
The only things that worries me is that the word ‘craft’ will be overused – it’s already started. Craft should embody the time it takes to acquire skill and not just the latest buzz word used by advertising agencies and marketing consultancies. It needs to have substance.
In December when I announced I was going on a yarn diet it all felt so easy. After all I did exactly the same thing a few years ago when I was editing The Knitter. This time I took a few extra precautions and ordered in some new yarn before the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, just in case you understand. But now reality has started to bite.
I haven’t yet had the nerve to pull out all of my stash and take a long hard look at it but I have started to look at patterns that I think will use up odd balls of yarn. One of the large wooden trays that house my stash is full of tweedy 4ply yumminess. It’s mostly Rowan Scottish Tweed (remember that?) and Jamieson’s Spindrift in a rainbow of shades. I noticed that there was quite a lot of oatmeal among the colours, which screamed blanket to me so off I trotted to Ravelry.
Purl Soho have such stylish patterns but their Optic Blanket really caught my eye. The design is based on a kind of mitred square, knitted in the round. Each square is then cast on to the next but I have decided to sew all my squares up at the end. Partly because I have such a variety of colours I want to see how they turn out first, but also because I want this project to be portable.
I absolutely love the way the squares are turning out and can’t wait to piece the finished blanket together. I just hope I have enough oatmeal to finish the blanket.
A bit of a busy week for me so just a short post.
Whatever your political persuasion, in fact let’s put the politics aside, the 600+ women’s marches across the world were quite an awe inspiring moment on 21st January. I had intended to go to the one in London but life got in the way, so I watched the 10 O’clock news with a growing sense of pride.
Of course I had seen the call for pink pussy hats going out since before Christmas thanks to the vision of cofounders Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, so I knew knitters and crocheters were busily making them, but it wasn’t until I saw the marches that I saw what had been achieved. A simple pink rectangle was taking the world by storm. Makers that couldn’t get to a march were supplying these modern objects of solidarity for their brothers and sister to wear to show that we do care and it does matter.
Now some people may say ‘it’s just knitting’ but our humble craft has a long history of being used to raise awareness. Whether it was les Tricoteuse perched in the shadow of the guillotine or Queen Mary’s army of knitters making socks for the troops, our craft galvanises a simple thing in to a statement of togetherness and a hope that each individual together can make a difference.
I am so proud of each and every knitter or crocheter who took the time. Seeing Time magazine and The New Yorker take the symbol to their hearts and covers makes me hopeful. So if you are one of those makers I’d like to thank you.
I have tried knitting with a lot of different yarns, as you can imagine – many of them have found their way in to my stash. While I like a lot of them there aren’t many I love.
Felted Tweed by Rowan is probably my all time favourite although the current palette is a bit dull for my tastes; Yarn Stories Fine Merino DK, but I have to declare an interest in this yarn because I worked on the brand from its inception; Berger de France Goomy – a fantastic sock yarn in really tasteful colours. Spindrift by Jamieson’s of Shetland which has the best range of colours for my beloved Fair Isle.
Now I can add a new yarn to this select band, The Yarn Collective Bloomsbury DK curated by Carol Feller. Developed by Love Knitting/Love Crochet I have to admit to being a bit sceptical when I heard about it. Their first own brand yarn, Paintbox, was not particularly good. Don’t get me wrong, I am not averse to a value yarn but I found the acrylic too crisp and the cotton too floppy.
However The Bloomsbury DK is a lovely merino yarn with plenty of bounce and drape, and the semi solid shades give a lovely depth to your knitting. Spun in a family run mill in Peru from ethically reared sheep, the yarn is kettle dyed, which is how they achieve their distinctive colour blends. Apparently the mill also contributes some of their profits to a school in the Highlands of Peru. Ticking lots of boxes for me there.
Each yarn from The Yarn Collective is curated by a different designer who chooses the palette and creates some special designs for their yarn. Carol has put her colours together in to 3 groups for the Bloomsbury DK, Surfer Blues, Fall and Fuchsia, but I think all the shades work together across the range.
I loved playing with this yarn so much that I have designed a hat to celebrate its yumminess. The blue I used is called Surf and is almost iridescent in its colour saturation. Just beautiful! You can find the pattern here.
I haven’t yet tried the worsted or lace but if the DK is anything to go by I should be in for a treat. The only downside is that, being on a yarn diet, I can’t buy any of the yarn until next year. Rats!