Monday, 28 May 2007

Knitting as therapy

After my Dad passed away quite suddenly in 2000, my Mum began a diary as a way to keep a track of time and she also began to knit again. She knitted simple garter stitch squares with some wool she had stashed. It upset me at times to see how hard she concentrated on these simple squares after her skilled hands had produced lovely fair isle and lace knitting. But she explained that this was one way that she could produce something constructive to show for the time she spent thinking and grieving. She worked them in the square and diagonally, and invented her own take on modular knitting before we even knew the term existed. She exercised her imagination and gradually, I could see a small part of her coming alive again.

Looking back I was doing the same with cross-stitching. I have samplers on the walls of our home, and when I study them hanging there, I can remember exactly what part I was sewing on when Dad was called back into hospital, when we sat at his bedside and during the sad times when we just sat together at home afterwards.

After a couple of months had passed, I discovered a book by Debbie Abrahams called 'Blankets and throws to knit'. I just had to buy it for my Mum to encourage her to develop her repertoire. By this time she used to say - 'It's just squares - I'm just wasting time knitting these, don't you think?'. Finding this book was a way of saying - 'Squares are good - look what can be achieved by just knitting a square at a time!' She loved it and has already completed a throw and some cushions. We have been fortunate to have attended several of Debbie's workshops held near to where we live (in Northern Ireland, that is no small feat, as we seem to be the 'ugly sisters' of the knitting fraternity - but we are catching up!).

So, to cut a long story a little shorter, I have decided to take the plunge and knit one of Debbie's designs from her second book of blanket and throw designs. It is simply called 'Fish' and has some lovely designs in the squares that make up the throw. There isn't really a good clear picture of it in the book, so I will try to post pictures of some of the squares as I complete them. It should be an interesting process as I am not too good with intarsia - Mum, as a true Shetlander, thinks that fair isle should be good enough for anyone!

I do think we should never underestimate the therapeutic potential of creating things with our hands. In particular things that we can sit and do while thinking. Knitting, I think, provides almost the perfect elements for that, depending, of course, on the pattern you chose. There is something comforting about the simple rhythm of passing yarn over needles and the repetitive movements that calms the soul and clarifies the mind.

(So after spending the day marking dissertations from our final year nursing students, I am off for some soul calming!)

By the way, the garter stitch squares were all sewn up into pretty, colourful throws and sent to Shetland. My aunt works in a lovely nursing home there, and they use small throws as lap rugs for the eldery and infirm residents. So hopefully they will brighten someone else's day there, too.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

All's well that casts off (with enough yarn)

This wasn't a good time of year to start blogging, I think. I have a growing pile of assignments to mark and lots of preparation for summer teaching to get underway (no long break for us nursing lecturers, unfortunately!). Yet I still want to knit and talk about knitting in preference to working. I need some discipline.

I have just finished knitting Birch from Rowan 34. It started when I needed to buy an extra ball of Kidsilk Night to cast off about 100 stitches of the Froth scarf that was the free gift pattern from Rowan a few months ago. I was knitting it a second time for a gift.

I was left with almost a full ball and thought it would be a good idea to buy 2 more and cast on for Birch (which I had always fancied knitting). After getting one third of the way through the shawl I had only one ball left:

So off I went to buy another ball of yarn to complete the last few pattern repeats. Now I have about 3/4 of a ball left. Am I the only one who would find that frustrating? After all I was only trying not to waste yarn in the first place! I do, however, love my shawl. It is larger than I had imagined when blocked out to the proportions stated in the pattern. Now I only need somewhere to go and something glamorous to wear with it!

Time for a bit of colour - this is what is next for the needles:

Anyone guess what it is?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Is there such a thing as 'Investment Knitting'?

Following my knitting revival came a succession of plans and lists of items that were to be produced - some sooner than others. One of the first Rowan patterns I completed was 'Lisette' by Kim Hargreaves from Rowan 36. Boy, was I a proud girl when this was finished!

It was my first experience of knitting with a Rowan yarn, and nothing has yet shifted 4-ply Soft from the top of my list of the best yarns for drape and finish. It has virtually no 'bloom', washes brilliantly and wears as new. The colour is aptly called 'Beetroot' and is a bit darker than the picture below.

The pattern was straightforward to knit, and as a result I think I will forever be partial to a Kim Hargreaves pattern. The edging was knitted separately and sewn on, which was a challenge for me as I am not too confident of my hand sewing skills when it comes to knitted fabric!

I have learnt many things since I knitted this a couple of years ago. One of them is never to carry 'live' stitches across the back of the neck of a cardigan. At the time I thought I was being rather smart and saving myself the work of casting off and picking up - creating a professional finish. What I got was a neckline that was too wide and gapey and I had to sew in a ribbon from shoulder seam to shoulder seam to hike it up into shape.

The yarn for this cardigan was purchased at HK Handknit in Edinburgh. There I met Julie, who is so sadly and tragically no longer with us. She was so helpful and encouraging. Although she didn't have enough yarn for the next item on my list, she posted it home to me free of charge. Everytime I am back in Edinburgh, I wish I could let her know how I got it all knitted up!

More 4-ply Soft was used for Veronica, this time in 'Raincloud' - used double as a matter of fact (!). At this point I began to wonder if there is such a thing as investment knitting. Spending more that you should to knit something that you just know you will want to wear again and again for ages. I have never found another pattern that I feel the same way about. Designed by Marion Foale, everytime I wear it, I am glad I took the plunge and knitted it. It's a bit of a 'couture' knit that I wear for work - less than a suit jacket but more than a cardigan.

The seaming was so well designed:

And at the back, a surprise the Rowan magazine didn't show in the picture!

Just in case you're wondering - I haven't done any investment knitting for a while! Since this I have been using up bits and bobs and trying to plan and budget ahead - rather boring really, but I have eventually come to the realisation that time is precious, and if I am to spend some of it knitting, then I better make sure that what I produce will last for a good long time too.

To blog or not to blog?

Having spent considerable amounts of time reading other knitter's blogs over the past couple of years, I have finally plucked up enough courage to have one of my own. I think Polly's blog was the first one I read and as a result I was introduced to many other fascinating knitters. Courage is maybe not the right word to use as I am not sure that I will have such interesting crafty exploits as many of my favourite bloggers. Based on the idea that I have to start somewhere - here goes!

Since fifty percent of my DNA comes from the Shetland Isles in the form of a wonderful mother who can produce super fair isle knitting, it shouldn't surprise me that I was taught to knit around the time I learnt to read. However, we are very different knitters. Mum works best without a pattern - as long as she can visualise (either literally or in her mind's eye) the finished object. On the other hand, I need a pattern - really need a pattern. There are many times that I wish I could be creative, but have still to develop a link between my mind and my needles without lots of printed pattern in between.

After lots of knitting in my teenage years, I deserted into the realm of cross-stitch for a while until a holiday in Shetland and a visit to what I now call a 'real' yarn store reminded me of what I was missing and introduced me to Rowan. Of course I had to become a member as soon as I got home and the rest, as they say, is history. From the forums I was introduced to a whole new concept of knitting and craftsmanship that has really added another dimension to my spare time!

It may take some time to get used to blogging, I have already had problems trying to get pictures uploaded, so please bear with me!