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Sparklies

I’ve had a fun day, surrounded by sparkly beads. I’ve collected some lovely beads in the past few months, including some special sets, and today I made up some stitch markers that I’ve listed in the shop as Limited Editions. Because the beads are more expensive, they’re priced a little higher, but worth it for those who enjoy something extra-special!
Cloisonné and glass bead knitting stitch markers Gold foiled glass bead stitch markers

I also used some wonderful lampwork and other fancy beads from some bead mixes I’ve bought, and made up a stack of one-off stitch markers. These are destined for the ‘Lucky Dip‘ I’ve now set up in the shop: customers can buy a ‘Lucky Dip’, and receive one large, two medium, or three small stitch markers for a bargain price – and a nice surprise! I’ll also give away a Lucky Dip to anyone who buys two sets of stitch markers. I know there’s some knitters out there who love to collect individual markers, so the Lucky Dip is a way to add a surprise to the collection!
Medium stitch markers for 'Lucky Dip'

I enjoyed playing with the sparklies during the day – sitting out in the sunroom, with the sunlight pouring in was a lovely way to spend a winter afternoon. I think the stress of all the medical dramas – and The Princess Dog’s medical dramas – has been catching up with me, so it was probably past time I spent some hours doing something purely pleasurable, that didn’t require vast amounts of brain power! The new markers are now all made, photographed, entered into the shop, and packaged up in the new display/posting packs I made. So that’s a fair amount achieved for the day.

However, I haven’t done a stitch of knitting today, so I’m no nearer finishing the new shawl. The revised border chart is now finalised, and it SHOULD work for both small and large sizes, but the proof won’t come until the knitting is done…. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’m going to knit. And write. Really.

The art of stash

When I was a child, on a shelf in the fold-up kitchen table/shelves unit was a collection of old Maxwell House coffee jars containing buttons. Lots of buttons. I think some of them came from one of my grandmothers, but my mother added to the collection. Before a worn-out garment was thrown out, the buttons were cut-off and added to the button jar for the relevant colour. If we needed buttons for something we were making (we three girls learnt to sew quite young), we went straight to the button jars.

My Dad’s never done much sewing, but he too had a collection of Maxwell House jars in his workshop, filled with nails, screws of assorted sizes, and other useful making-things bits.

My parents switched to percolated coffee in the late 60s/early 70s, thus pretty much ending the supply of Maxwell House glass jars… but I digress 🙂

Having grown up in a household in which making things and fixing things was quite normal, I acquired the habit early in my young adulthood of having a moderate stash of stuff – knitting needles of assorted sizes; sewing cottons and embroidery yarns in a good range of colours; interfacing of various weights and lining materials in basic colours; fabrics (I sewed much more back then than now); knitting yarns in various quantities. Not being one of those very goal-focused, organised people, I would at times buy fabrics, yarns or tools on sale, without a specific project planned, and I still do that – although much more moderately than some I know!

I don’t have a HUGE stash of anything – but it’s a good size for my way of working, especially now that I live 25kms from a small town with limited yarn/fibre. Some people decide on a project, plan it in advance, purchase exactly what they need for that project, and work on it exclusively until it’s finished.

I’m not like that 🙂 When I decide I want to do something, I love to be able to start it right away, if possible. While being able to order online on a Sunday or at midnight or whenever inspiration strikes is wonderful, I get impatient waiting for things to arrive via snail mail – especially when it can take 3 weeks for something to come from overseas. So, I love being able to go to the cupboard, and find a suitable yarn, or fibre, or fabric, or whatever, and start making while my enthusiasm is fresh, and while the time is right for me. It doesn’t always work that way, of course – a cupboard is not the same as a fully-stocked shop! – but I’m reasonably good at buying useful things, and I can improvise/adapt when I don’t have exactly the right ingredients (rather like my cooking…)

Given that finances are somewhat tight just now, I’ve been stash-diving a reasonable amount the past couple of months. The dog coats I made in May came from stash; all my recent knitting has used stashed yarn; and when I wanted to photograph stitch markers for the online shop, I pulled out my tin of ribbons of many colours and used those as backgrounds. I’ve also been using some of the narrow ribbons to tie sets of markers together, and some paper from the scrap-book stash to package up the stitch markers. In the next few weeks, I’m planning to make a new light kimono-type dressing gown for my forthcoming hospital stay – and I’ll use some fabric that’s been in the stash for ahem some years. I also may make an outfit for a jacket for a formal dinner in August… and yes, there’s some fabric in the stash for that, too.

Having a stash is simply a way of life for me. It’s not huge or out of control, although it would take me a good couple of years to work through it all – but not several lifetimes. I’ve got yarn for about 5 jumpers/cardigans, maybe 20 pairs of socks, and a similar number of shawls (I’ve knitted 7 this year already!), plus an assortment of weaving yarns enough for maybe a dozen projects. I gave away a fair amount of spinning fibre a while back, but I still have one small box full – so if the fancy takes to spin yarn for a historical-textile weaving project, or a fine lace shawl, I can just go to the cupboard and start. I also destashed some yarns and fabrics that had accumulated that I decided I’ll never use – all to good homes!

I do tell my DH that, compared to many people, this is not a lot of stash. He’s not convinced. But then, most of what he does is digital, and is stored in electronic bits on computer drives, which don’t take up much space at all. And he doesn’t get the pleasure of deciding on a Sunday afternoon to start creating something… and having just the yarn on hand to do it!

Beginnings

My life is a bit up and down at the moment, and I’m kind of in a hiatus on several fronts; looks like I’ll be having brain surgery in the next couple of months, and I’ve also got to start again on the next book – very tough decision to make, but it just wasn’t working. My new idea, however, is starting to bubble away this last 24 hours, and I think the new heroine is going to work. Now I just have to come up with a hero, and a plot, beyond the first few pages!

To counter the down bits and nurture the creative spirit, I’m concentrating on some less-demanding creativity; amongst other things, I’ve started designing another shawl. I’m aiming for a semi-circular shawl this time. I’m using Bendigo 4ply luxury for the prototype, and here’s a teaser:
Knitted shawl beginning

I’m not sure what the rest of it will look like yet, so I’m in the same position as with the new book – great beginning, but still a long way to go!

Did you notice the little red danglies? Yes, I have become a sucker for stitch markers. I love the pretties, hanging off my needles, and for this shawl I need three. I didn’t have any in my small stash of purchased ones that toned properly with the crimson of the yarn, so I made some. Then I made some more. Now I’m just anxiously waiting for the postmen to bring some tigerwire, because the wire I have isn’t ideal. But these ones will be fine for me!
Knitting stitch markers

Wonderfully warm wool

I’ve always lived in places with chilly winters. Not as cold as Canada and northern Europe, but chilly enough – frosts and below-freezing temperatures most mornings and occasional snow falls. We’re lucky where I live, that most of our winter days are dry and sunny, but that’s not been the case for the past week or so.

After growing up in Canberra, and moving to the Armidale district 22 years ago, I’m very good at dressing for the cold! I’m definitely not one of those people who wanders around in a thin long-sleeved t-shirt, shivering and looking miserable. Nope, my winter wardrobe has a lot of wool in it; not just hand-knits, but bought jumpers etc. Wool, especially mixed with other fibres such as cashmere and angora, are so, so much warmer than acrylics, polyesters, rayons and other man-made yarns.

But have you noticed how hard it is to find pure wool, or wool-blend things now? I went hunting for simple wool-blend black socks… other than Explorer-style socks, there was nothing in womens’, mens’ or boys’ departments with wool in it, and the Explorers are too thick for what I want (and nylon on the outside). Yes, I know I’m more than capable of knitting socks, and I do, but black is a hard colour for me to knit, hence wanting to buy some.

I also went looking for woollen blankets… okay, so I haven’t looked in the expensive places yet, but Target, KMart, Big W used to have them as a regular stock item… and now there’s not a one in sight in our local stores – despite the fact that we’re in one of the coldest towns in the country! There’s plenty of ‘fleece’ blankets, and cotton ones, but no wool.

Wool jumpers and cardigans have disappeared from the cheaper stores, too – fortunately I can still get them in a couple of local up-market clothing stores, and they’re better quality than the cheapies, but naturally they cost more… and aren’t as good as a handknit!

So, to make sure I don’t sound like a grumpy old woman complaining how much better things were in the old days, I’ll cut my little rant short there and mention instead that when I took the dogs out for a walk this afternoon, in the cold, windy, overcast weather, I was snug and warm in my handknit wool/cashmere socks and fingerless mitts, and the handknit pure wool big jumper and matching beanie that I’ve been wearing around the house and for outside work for years.

I love being a knitter 🙂

Still knitting…

Yes, I’m still alive, despite the lack of blogging evidence to the contrary in the past few weeks.

On Wednesday March 31st, I started a new Brangian shawl… while sitting waiting at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney for a procedure on my aneurism. A gorgeous 50/50 silk/merino yarn, a pattern I’ve knitted enough times to have memorised – definitely good hanging around hospitals knitting.

The plan was that the procedure would go fine, I’d be in hospital overnight, and then I’d have a week in Sydney, followed by a few days with my family in Canberra. Well, the plan worked… up to a point. I was out of hospital on the Thursday (although I had to wait to do some scans, and wasn’t discharged until evening) and then had the Easter weekend with DH and my sister, enjoying the shops and cafes of inner Sydney. DH flew back home on Sunday afternoon, and I was looking forward to a few more days in Sydney…

Monday morning, I was back in RPA hospital, where they found a blood clot in my groin (right next to where they’d accessed the artery for the procedure). I was in RPA for a week, while they put me on to blood-thinning meds and eased me on to Warfarin. After a week, I was able to be transferred by air ambulance up to Armidale hospital, and I had another two nights there.

So, 9 nights in hospital, feeling relatively fine = much knitting and reading time. I confess I did more reading than knitting, because it’s a bit easier for me to block out the noises of a busy ward while reading, and canulas in the hands make knitting a bit tricky, but I did make a fair amount of progress on my shawl, and it was lovely to pick up when I needed to focus on something beautiful.

Now I’m home, and fine, although I’ll be on warfarin for another month or so, until the blood clot has cleared up. My shawl isn’t finished yet, but I only have a few more rows of pattern before I start on the edging chart.

I’m varying the pattern in a couple of ways this time:

1) In the stocking sticth section, instead of working the centre spine as yo, k1, yo, I’m doing it as m1R, k1, M1L – thus not having the line of lace ‘holes’ down the centre. I quite like the effect – a small ridge, but not as prominent as the holey spine.

2) I’ve done an extra repeat of Chart 1, but will only work the first 8 rows of Chart 2. This will mean that there’s only 1 line of offset ‘buds’ between the main body of the lace and the edging, rather than the 3 lines of alternating buds.

Here’s a little preview of how she’s looking so far:

Brangian Shawl in progress

And now, in totally not-knitting-related news, I shall just mention shout from the rooftops that just before I went into hospital, I found out that my second book, Dark Country, is a finalist in the romantic suspense category of the prestigious Romance Writers of America RITA Awards… and now I’m finally celebrating by having a book giveaway over on my writing blog. So, if you might like gritty romantic suspense, set on the edge of the Australian Outback, do hope over and enter. (Sadly, my characters are so busy dealing with bad guys that they don’t get time to knit, so there is little yarny content  – but my heroine in Dark Country does spend some time wearing a handknit Aran cardigan.)

Art, craft, and yarnosophy

Having been involved in textile crafts in various ways for many years, I’m very aware that ‘Craft’ is rarely valued as much as ‘Art’, sometimes to the extent that the very notion of ‘craft’ is often derided – especially if it relates to women’s activities. When I was writing the new ‘About’ page for this blog, I included a quote from Japanese philosopher Yanagi Soetsu that I’d come across some years ago, and always loved. It really captures for me the essence of craft and its importance, and I think it makes an effective differentiation between the arts and the crafts, while placing value on both:

“The special quality of beauty in crafts is that it is a beauty of intimacy…. The beauty of such objects is not so much of the noble, the huge or the lofty, as a beauty of the warm and familiar. Here one may detect a striking difference between the crafts and the arts. People hang their pictures high upon the wall, but they place their objects for everyday use close to them, and take them in their hands”.

The beauty of intimacy… of the warm and familiar… I was contemplating this morning how art could, in a general sense, be regarded as being a public practice. While the creation may be a solitary process, it is often with the goal of a statement, a performance,  a display, aimed to challenge and provoke thought, a reaction, or to provide a perspective on an idea. Whereas with craft, the creation is generally more personal, indeed more intimate, the item usually crafted to be used by individuals in daily life.

Perhaps art has the potential to take us beyond ourselves – the catch in our breath as we see an idea in a new light; the awe of something so beautiful we cannot help, for a long moment, simply being still and admiring it. I remember, at age 20, sitting in a small, dim room in London’s National Gallery for half an hour, just gazing at Leonardo Da Vinci’s cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St Anne & St John the Baptist:
Leonardo da Vinci: Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist

It’s a beautiful work; what caught me most, and what still captures me every time I see the image, is the expressions on the faces of the two women; the young mother, absorbed in maternal wonder, watching her child, and the other mother, watching her, her expression full of shared understanding and empathy with that maternal wonder.

I don’t know the name of the potter who made the mugs, sugar bowl and milk jug I bought in New Zealand, on my first trip overseas, back in December, 1980. But almost every morning for 29 years, when I wrap my hands around my mug of morning tea, and in the evening when I drink a mug of chamomile tea, I appreciate the work of the unknown potter, the perfect shape of the mugs for my hands, the smooth texture, the beauty of the deep blue glaze against the dark brown base.
Pottery mug, made in New Zealand, 1980

But the value of crafts often goes beyond that of a beautiful, functional item.

When my DH wears his hand-knitted cap in winter, with his name knitted in binary code into the cable pattern, he knows it is a practical expression of love and commitment.

When my niece, then a toddler, insisted on putting on her Christmas gift dress immediately, she already had some concept of handmade gifts.
Lauren in her Christmas dress

And as she and her brother grew up, the various items that Mum and Aunts and Grandma knitted, embroidered and sewed for them were worn with pride, the kids’ self-esteem boosted by the knowledge that they mattered enough for us to spend time making special gifts.
Cross-stitched kite waistcoat Cross-stitched zoo waistcoat
Cross-stitched butterfly pinafore

And each time my sister wears the beaded Aeolian shawl I gave her for Christmas, she knows I spent weeks knitting it, thinking of her, and feels wrapped in love.
Beaded Aeolian Shawl

All around the world, millions of people every day hand craft items for daily use; some to earn a living, some out of necessity, some for pleasure, some to give as gifts. While an attempt could be made to estimate the value of those crafts in simple economic terms – cost of materials, cost of production, cost of distribution, value at sale – no economic measures can ever hope to convey the personal and social value, and the richness and beauty that crafts can bring to our lives.

Dark red beaded Brangian

Last weekend I finished my third Brangian, in a deliciously rich dark red sock wool from Saffron Dyeworks. It was a bit of an experiment – I’ve put the yarn requirements for the small size in the pattern as 440yds (400m) but I wanted to see if the revised small size could be knitted with just 400yds (365m) of yarn. The answer? It can’t! I ran out of yarn two rows from the end, so had to cast off early without doing the picot row.

However, the other experiment with this one was to bead it, and I used dark red clear glass beads – and I’m very happy with the result!

Pattern: Brangian Shawl Yarn: Wasabi from Saffron Dyeworks

Pattern: Brangian Shawl (bead detail)

Beading instructions:
Use the crochet hook method to place beads.
Chart 2:
On rows 3, 11, & 19: Add a bead on to the K1 between the K2tog and ssk (ie at the beginning of each bud.)
On rows 5, 13 & 21: Add a bead on the 2 & 4 stitches of the k5 section. (ie on ether side of the bead in the previous row).

Chart 3:
On row 3: Add a bead on to the K1 between the K2tog and ssk (ie at the beginning of each bud.)
On row 5: Add a bead on the 2 & 4 stitches of the K5 section. (ie on ether side of the bead in the previous row).
On rows 7, 9, 11 & 13: Where there is a yo, K1, yo to form the columns, add a bead on the K1. Also add a bead to the centre K1!

Brangian now available

My shawl pattern, Brangian, has been knitted up by several test-knitters, the pattern tweaked on the basis of their feedback, and it’s now available in the Ravelry store. It’s been a lot of work – but an enjoyable challenge! – getting charts right, creating ‘uncharts’ and checking them, playing with the layout, making sure the instructions are clear.

I incredibly grateful to my wonderful test-knitters, most of them from the Aussie Shawl Knitters Hangout on Ravelry, who have, in a few short weeks, knitted shawls and provided feedback on their experience – along with enthusiasm and encouragement! Thanks, Sue, the other Sue, Rachel, Tara, Kelly, Margaret, Bel and Ellie!

Extra special thanks to Tara, who lent her photography skills to the project and took some great photos, and to her friend buyambienmed.com Bella, who modelled the shawl.

I’ve created a page with more info on Brangian, a link to the Ravelry pattern store (you don’t need to be a member to purchase it) and answers to what might be Frequently Asked Questions. There’ll be a few more bits of info added to support knitting the pattern in the next week or two.

Oh, and I’ve knitted a second Brangian, this time in Handmaiden SeaSilk, and in the medium size. It’s currently blocking, and taking an age to finish drying, as we have wonderful rain today:
Brangian Shawl blocking

I’ll take some better photos when it’s dry, and the sun is shining!
ETA:

Introducing: Brangian Shawl

Brangian Shawl Pattern

I’ve designed a shawl 🙂

In the old tales of Tristan and Iseult, Brangian was Iseult’s faithful companion, who travelled far from her own land to serve her Princess. This shawl, with its textured lace columns, subtly shifting to form a border flowing into the scalloped edging, is not as stunning as some lace shawls, but like Brangian the handmaiden, she is quietly beautiful.

I’m very happy with the shawl, and have written up the pattern – it’s now being test-knitted by a few friends. Once that’s been done, and their feedback incorporated into the pattern, I’ll be making the pattern available through Ravelry (and possibly through this site).

Brangian Shawl - detail

I’ve thought long and hard about whether to make it available for free, or to sell it for a small cost… and I’ve decided not to give it away. One of my concerns over the years in the textile/fibre arts is that traditional ‘women’s’ crafts such as knitting, spinning, weaving, etc are constantly devalued – and that often, we are party to that devaluing. It’s for this reason that I don’t sell what I make, because the going prices for hand-made items do not reflect anywhere near the expertise and time that goes in to the making of them. I’m always saddened and frustrated when I see a pair of handmade socks selling for $20, or a beautiful woven scarf for $60. Subtract the cost of materials, and divide by the number of hours of (trained and skilled) work that goes in to the making, and you come out with a very low number. Try telling anyone else in an independent business – a plumber, or a computer technician, or your hairdresser – that they should work for $1 per hour!

I do give things away as gifts some times, to people who appreciate the value of the making and the giving. I’ve designed my own patterns before for various items, and there’s a lot of work and experience involved in making things work – and even more in doing it and writing it up in such a way that the pattern is repeatable by others. I don’t mind paying a few dollars for a pattern in recognition of that work, and I hope others don’t either. I don’t think anyone’s getting rich selling knitting patterns 🙂  (Okay, maybe Kaffe Fassett…)

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great that there are free patterns available, too. But I think that the choice to give away a pattern is each designer’s to make, for whatever reasons they choose to make it, and should not be an expectation. A design does have considerable value, whether bought or received for ‘free’, and that should be appreciated.  If ever I design more patterns, maybe some will be free, as a gift to a community that I enjoy being part of.

Anyway, the Brangian pattern will be available, probably in a couple of weeks, in both charted and ‘unchart’ form. It’s designed for fingering-weight yarn, and will be in two sizes, a small shawl, and a larger shawl. Now, I’d best get knitting and finish the larger version!

Knitting for sanity

November has not been a good month for me. I headed down to Sydney on the 9th for surgery on the 11th, hoping I’d only be in hospital a night or two, but planning to stay in Sydney a few extra days afterwards, so I took some knitting with me. Unfortunately, the surgery (attempting to insert a stent inside the existing stents in my cerebral aneurysm) did not go well, and despite the best efforts of my wonderful doctors, I ended up with multiple complications – a small brain hemorrhage, some damage to the retina in my right eye, an abdominal bleed, and a tear in my femoral artery which gave me a large bruise/haematoma on almost my entire upper right leg. So, as a result, I was eight days in hospital, and had to have further surgery to repair the femoral artery.

Boy, was I glad I had my knitting! I did try some lace knitting on an Ishbel in the first couple of days, but my brain/eye coordination wasn’t that great, and I had difficulty relating the knitting to the chart, which is something I usually find easy. My lovely sister fixed up the row I stuffed up, but I put Ishbel aside for a day or two and instead worked on some socks, which were much easier. Many of the doctors, nurses, cleaning staff, fellow patients and their families expressed interest and asked me about my knitting. One of the young doctors mentioned several times that he’d love a pair of handknit socks 🙂 After I finished the socks, I picked up Ishbel again, and my brain and eyes were working much better so it went more smoothly – except a number of times I was one stitch short at the end of a pattern row. I fudged those bits, adding a stitch reasonably seamlessly in the pattern – and so the scarf, in a peppermint green wool/silk, got renamed the Peppermint Fudge Ishbel.

I finished her a day or so after I got out of hospital, but as I stayed on in Sydney for a few days as a precaution, I didn’t get to block her until today. Here she is, all pinned out:
Peppermint Fudge Ishbel

The pattern is, of course, the popular Ishbel by Ysolda Teague, and the yarn is a merino/silk fingering weight yarn from Lush Yarns. I used size 4mm needles, and made the small size in the stocking stitch section, and the large size for the lace section, working charts ABABACDE.

The socks are the Harris Tweed pattern, knitted in Bendigo Woollen Mills Luxury 4ply. The pattern was nice and easy to knit, so I could knit while writing – the knitting keeping my fingers from being distracted and clicking all over the internet, but easy to drop the moment any words came to mind. I suspect I’ll be casting on another pair soon, because I love these ones, but I’m giving them away as a Christmas gift. Sorry that the photo isn’t that great – taken in a hotel room, rather than my usual photography space at home!
Pattern: Harris Tweed. Yarn: Bendigo Luxury 4ply

Now I’m home, I’m working on my two Aeolian shawls. The blackberry one is getting closer to finished – I’ve only got about 10 rows to go, but as they’re looonnngg rows and beaded, there’s still a few hours’ work in it. I’ll post pictures when it’s done. The sea green/blue one is still only in the yucca section, so it has a lot more to go yet. But I’m thankful that, despite the medical problems, I can see, and knit, and I figure there can’t be too much brain damage if I can knit lace! It could have been so much worse, so I’m grateful that it wasn’t. I have to take things easy for a bit, and will go back to Sydney in mid-December to see the neurosurgeon and the vascular surgeon. There is likely to be more surgery on my aneurysm in the future, since this lot wasn’t successful. I’m not looking forward to that, as it’s always risky, but I’m determined to pull through it okay. After all, I’ve got a lot of stash waiting to be knitted up into beautiful things!