Sunday, 19 February 2012

One of my goals for this year was to learn new skills. There are not many opportunities for an experienced sewer/knitter to upskill here in Perth, except through books and magazines – which are great, but sometimes it’s nice to feel that personal contact. This is where Craftsy has been a brilliant resource for me. I have signed up for a number of courses so far and have not been disappointed yet.

My first course was the (not so) Itty Bitty Giraffe by Susan B Anderson.

I have wanted to make a ‘softie’ after seeing the pattern for Rebecca Danger’s adorable hippo in the Fall 2011 Knit Simple. The only problem was I didn’t have the confidence to just go for it. I am something of a planner so I had to know the details going in. How does the stuffing not come out? What do you do about the eyes? If you substitute yarn, is the idea to knit at a tighter gauge? If so, how tight? How hard do you stuff the thing (given sewn items are normally stuffed rock hard)????? Argh, so many questions!

I thought doing the workshop would help me answer all these questions and more, and it did. As a bonus I ended up with a super cute toy for the baby, which I am really pleased with AND I feel like I expanded my skillset. Not only that, but the cream yarn I used for the body was from stash – another of my goals for the year!

This was not a difficult project and it was made easier by the video tutorials, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The only special skills needed are working with double pointed needles – but if you are a beginner it is explained well. For me it was about building my confidence in the more artistic aspects of the project – where to place the spots, how do you put the head on right and how do you stuff the toy? I worked it up over my Christmas/New Year holiday and it only took a few days, I would absolutely make this project again – much quicker than a blanket.

Susan Anderson also has a lovely manner and each video felt very personal.

If you are interested in the technical details of the project and the modifications I made then visit my Ravelry page.

So what other new skills am I learning? I am currently working through the knit original toe up socks class(very challenging but enjoyable – and more stash used). In the queue are the lace shawls course, Susan Anderson’s other course – Wee Ones, the free Block of the Month series, fit your knits and I am also keen to do the Couture Dress and reverse engineered jeans course. I’m not sure quite how I will get through all this but it will be fun trying.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A tale of two blankets

Crikey, where did a whole month go - again?

As soon as I saw the Spring 2005 edition of Interweave Knits I knew that if I was ever lucky enough to have a baby of my own I would make them the Bear Claw blanket. So as soon as I found out I was pregnant I went ahead and ordered the yarn. I chose 4ply Luxury from the Bendigo Woollen Mills. I love this yarn, it’s soft and even, a joy to knit with and as a bonus is machine washable. My only gripe is the colours aren’t particularly modern. The neutrals are nice but the other colours just don’t stack up against some of the boutique yarn companies (a bit 'old lady' if you like). I wanted soft relaxing colours for this blanket so I went with cream, wild barley, ghost and stone.

In due course the yarns arrived and the colours were as lovely as I imagined, soft, modern, gender neutral. I couldn’t wait to get started. I knew this was a major project but was unperturbed. This is how far I got…

It wasn’t the millions of ends to darn that put me off, I was prepared for them. What did me in was the tediousness of the knitting – which I didn’t expect. I thought this would be perfect for my process oriented mind but in fact it was just a bloody fiddle. And frankly, my lovely modern colour scheme just didn’t work for this project. Instead of clean and contemporary the look I was getting was a bit country cottage for my taste. Maybe it was because by this point morning sickness had struck me full force but I couldn’t bear to persevere and I abandoned ship.

I decided instead to go back to basics. Cerys is about as simple a blanket pattern as you can get, anyone with in-the-round experience could do it and, in fact, it would probably be the perfect project for someone wanting to learn how to work in the round (although the centre is a bit of a fiddle). I modified the design slightly so my round begins in the middle of one side rather than at the corner, and I made up my own stripe pattern. To minimise the ‘jog’ when changing colours I knit the first round with the new colour then on the second round I worked the first stitch into the round below. You get a slightly elongated stitch which smooths the join a bit. I searched around for ‘jogless’ techniques but this is by far the simplest in my mind.

This was the perfect morning sickness project, even when I couldn’t do anything much I could lounge in front of the TV and knit mindless rounds, only having to remember to change colours. The project grew quickly too and once I started to feel better it positively flew off the needles.

I think about 75 – 80cm square is a pretty good sized baby blanket as it works in a pram or capsule and can also be used as a receiving blanket (is that what you call a blanket you carry a baby around in???). I just knit to a pleasing part of the stripe pattern at around that size and then worked the hem. I worked an eyelet round and then 6 rounds reversing the mitre for the hem. I think I could have worked the last stripe a little wider as it looks a bit stingy but it’s not too bad really.

The finishing took ages! I cast off the usual way but then thought it might be a pain to block it with a tight edge, so I undid the cast-off and worked a sewn cast off instead. Next I blocked it (rather informally by washing on a gentle cycle in the machine and spreading it flat and square to dry – no pins involved), then finally sewed down the hem. it is more square than it looks in the picture but I am okay with it not being perfect.

Project details are here if you are interested.

Overall I am super happy with the result. As to the baby bear claw? Yes I would try again maybe, but I think stronger colours are needed and I would possibly go for a thicker yarn and bigger needles to make a modified version!