Archive for September, 2010

Review: Twisted Woolly Toppers by Woolly Wormhead

In Twisted Woolly Toppers, Woolly Wormhead’s third book, she brings us a fabulous collection of new hat designs with its focus: cable, twist and bias techniques. Beautifully photographed on location in Italy, there are ten great designs for men, women and children. Each hat is sized to fit three or more head sizes so by altering the colour and sizing to suit, each hat can be made for a range of people including those with big hair, like me.

The hats have great names which reflect the designs such as the curved, windmillesque lines of Turbine which meet centrally at the top and the directional arrows of Freccia. There are a combination of styles to knit, some beanie-shaped, some with double points at the crown, some upright, some slouchy and yet others still, like Lollie, finishing with the flourish of an i-cord topknot. They all have a characteristic twist pattern in common either on the brim, in the body or at the crown.

Unlike her previous book, Going Straight, there are no tutorials included, but don’t let this put you off, as ‘…all techniques needed to complete the projects are available online or in general knitting techniques books.’ Although some of the designs seem complicated at first glance, they are cleverly written with clear and concise instructions which are easy to follow. What’s more, each pattern has both charted and written instructions giving an option if you prefer a visual over text, or vice versa. There is an excellent two-page abbreviation/chart key in-one at the back of the book, as well as useful sizing information and a resource guide.

I loved this book and look forward to knitting many of these creative, fresh and fun patterns.

If you’d like your own copy, click here to purchase one from the knitonthenet shop, and please do check out Woolly Wormhead’s website for more of her designs, tutorials including making your own woolly dreadlocks, and some really great blog posts.

First published for knitonthenet.

Itty Bitty Knitting

Did you see the animated film version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline last year? If you didn’t, I would highly recommend it and if you did, you might remember the lovely little knitted jumper that Coraline wears. But did you know how it was made?

Althea Crome (also known as Althea Merback) knits miniature conceptual clothing using specially made needles in the finest yarn or thread. In the tradition of miniature artists and artisans, she spends months designing and knitting a single garment. She tries to create more and more detail in each piece with her ‘micro-sweaters’ containing up to eighty stitches per inch. You can see more of her work by clicking here for her blog BugKnits.

I don’t think I’ll be complaining about knitting with laceweight again anytime soon…

Teaching Knitting a Century Ago

Girls knitting, 1918Girls knitting, 1918. Image courtesy of UA Archives.

Hand knitting was brought formally into the British school syllabus with the 1870 Education Act. It had been taught in many schools, and especially to girls for long before that, but was not formalised until the late 19th century. By the time of the First World War, knitting was a required element of girls’ education and of many boys’ too.

The examiner for the London School Board 100 years ago was one Ethel Dudley. She wrote the 1914 standard school book Knitting for Infants and Juniors which I recently consulted in the Knitting Reference Library. Sadly, due to copyright and library rules, I wasn’t able to show you a photograph or any of the text here.

I really love looking at old textbooks, (especially old textile-related ones) because I’m just geeky like that. This one was particularly fascinating because it was a textbook for the teacher, not for the pupils. The book showed how the teacher of this period was expected to instruct a class of both boys and girls from age five to eleven. At this point, British children attending state run schools were generally taught in separate single sex classrooms except when they were very young.

In the book, techniques are explained for the teacher using both diagrams and text and teachers are advised to physically demonstrate the knitting techniques in front of the class. This makes a lot of sense today in the light of what we now know about learning styles. It also suggests that either the teachers may not know all of the techniques or that they may need to improve on them in order to meet the programme of learning/teaching.

In her book, Dudley suggested lesson plans and instructions for patterns suitable for varying ages such as the following for five year olds:

‘Duster for school blackboards. Needles 5. Number 8 cotton. 30-40 minutes.
Cast on 18 stitches. K (chain edge) 36 rows.
Cast off and make chain of 12 stitches to hang up.’ (1930:14)

It seems surprising to me today, that five year old children would be able to produce a duster in 40 minutes. Certainly when I have been teaching small children to knit, even those who are ‘improvers’ would struggle with the speed of this due to the dexterity of their fingers. I’m not sure of the comparable weight of number 8 cotton (but would guess DK to aran weight), but number 5 needles are 5.5mm or US9.

Other items recommended by Dudley to be knitted by children at ages six to seven included lace-panelled, pieced and fitted doll’s clothes, and shaped and pieced slippers. I have to say that they appear much more complex than projects in knitting books for children of a similar age today.

So, is it just that knitting is seen today to be a leisure activity that children might be interested in as a hobby and therefore has to be simple and fun? Was it that 100 years ago, knitting was a necessary life skill that they had need to be competent at from an early age and therefore seems more complicated through our 21st century lens? Or do we expect less from our young learners today?

From the teaching point of view, I wonder whether the school knitting teachers of today would know all of the skills that Ethel Dudley had in mind for those of 1914, or perhaps we should have our own kind of training manuals today? In some ways, I’d love a book that told me how to teach people certain skills. As an example, it took a  few tries for my (adult) student and I to work out a good system for teaching her to knit left-handed with me as a righty.

What do you think to these century old differences in the percieved skill levels for teaching and learning to knit?

Do let me know in the comments.

‘…a chair where she can always find her needles’

When I first found this great piece of film (whilst actually looking for something about making your own banjo, but thats another story), I decided to share it with the world on the knitonthenet blog, but really it is so good, that you all need to see it too.

Picture the scene, It’s 1952: Britian is still under rationing, space in the home is at a premium and advertising voiceovers are delivered in a condescending manner to the housewives of the day.

Forgiving the blatantly chauvenistic overtones of this piece of film from the British Pathe archive, wouldn’t you just love one of these chairs with a hidden extension for your knitting?

Here’s the link to the site so you can watch the entire video. Skip to 53 seconds for the chair.

…I wonder if they still make them?

The Gathering Mystery of the Silk Sock

The first email arrived on a chilly February morning.

Subject: To my Arch Nemesis

Coded clues are within { }

The Clues

recommended colours – { country singer formerly married to Julia Roberts: Lyle __ }
& {A one legged EX? __ Mills}

4 double pointed needles, sizes {__ days of christmas} or {Psalm __ – How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?}

To begin:

Cast on 4 score & 10 sts .

Work 6 rounds with Lt in a rib of K2, P1.

The Code

1st Round – * K4 Lt, 1 Hr, 4 Lt, P1 Lt. Repeat from * to end.
2nd Round – * K3 Lt, 3 Hr, 3 Lt, P1 Lt. Repeat from * to end.

Solve the puzzle before the daffodils bloom or a hideous fate awaits….

…with thanks to my friend and nemesis in this project, Susan.

Keep a look out for the mystery’s progress.


Review: Soak Wash

Felt beads by Ingrid Murnane © 2010

Recently I have been on a roll, making felt beads for necklaces and earrings. I’m really getting through the liquid soap! I’d mentioned the feltmaking on Twitter and in the course of things, Alison from p2tog and I got into a tweeted conversation about felting. She carries Soak Wash in her shop, which is a liquid soap wash made especially for textile makers: for wool, felting and washing delicate fabrics. Alison was kind enough to send me four samples of Soak to try out in felting, as she hadn’t tried them for that purpose herself.

Turns out that it was really good. Here’s what happened:

Soak Wash by Ingrid Murnane © 2010

Each of the samples contained  6ml of soak which is enough for one wash of a some undies or soak of skein of yarn. I added one sample to about 700ml of hot water, found that it wasn’t quite soapy enough to felt my fibre, so added another sample into the mix to get it up to strength.

Felt bead making by Ingrid Murnane © 2010

Alison sent four different frangrances of Soak, and my favourite was Floral (which also smelled lovely when mixed with Aquae). One of the best things that I found about using Soak is that it does not have to be rinsed out  which made it brilliant for felting.

In the spirit of the review, I also tried the Soak Wash for soaking some newly spun yarn and a pocket hankie. Both the yarn and the hankie smelled really lovely afterwards, but apart from that I couldn’t really tell whether they were softer or not.

Felt bead necklaces for Havant Spring by Ingrid Murnane © 2010

In any event, I would give Soak Wash five stars for felting and three and a half for soaking yarn and will definitely be using it again.

If I’ve given you ideas and you’d like to purchase some too, p2tog have lots to choose from here and if you’d like to see what I made the felt beads into, take a look here.

Pass it On: the Food Edition

Battenburg Cake, copyright Ingrid Murnane. (Disclaimer: there isn’t a battenburg recipe in the post, but I did make the cake from scratch a while back and like to show off the photo every once in a while)

I collect recipes and cooking tips with the same zeal as I devour any information about knitting. I pick up tips from friends, from books and am doing an ongoing recipe swap with my sister and cousin too. If you’re reading this, Hannah, we had the pancetta and prawn dish tonight and it was lovely!

Of course, I also find fantastic recipes and articles about food online. Things I’ve wanted to know how to do for a long time, and things that I’ve never thought of.  I bookmark them to delicious and come back to them again later, but really, just like all good recipes, they need to be shared around, so here are a few more links that you might like.

A Ravelry friend, Susan has recently started a blog investigating her Great Uncle Arch’s cookbook. She plans to make a recipe form it each week and so far, through such fantastic sounding recipes as Canelon of Beef, has begun to give an insight into Australia in the 1930s and 40s through food. I don’t know whether Uncle Arch any mystery recipes like my Nan’s tin does, but this is definitely a blog that I’ll be following for the food and social history, both.

Kristin Roach’s always fascinating blog, Craft Leftovers, features a ‘thrift kitchen’ slot each Wednesday which is well worth checking out. This week she has a post about making perfect poached eggs with minimum fuss. I always have trouble with timing eggs, so I’ll be giving this a go.

My friend Eddie gives us her recipes for rosemary and elderflower jellies on her blog (the savoury jam sort, not the party kind. That would just be strange). It may be too late now for elderflower, but there’s plenty of rosemary to be had still.

If you, like Giles are a fan of the dried meat extravaganza that is biltong (or jerky), you might like to beat the high prices at the shops with this genuis Ikea hack and put together a box to make your own. I can see that knit night at Ikea might soon include a shopping list for the makings of this box.

In some ways, I’m mighty glad that the summer is coming to an end and one of the main reasons is that I can start making lovely warming soups again. This butternut and garlic soup makes the tastiest lunch ever. We’ve two butternut squashes growing on our balcony garden and I’m sure that one will be destined for this recipe. Oh, and if you’re a meat-eater, the addition of some fried pancetta never goes amiss either.

Are you hungry yet?