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The Wedding Blanket

This one has been under wraps for a very long time.

I am a member of Glasgow Knit’n’Stitch – Glasgow’s biggest knitting community with almost 400 members. When I first moved to Glasgow, I knew very few people and GKS was instrumental in me connecting with people outside my very small circle of acquaintances. One of my closest friendships is with Elaine of SoCherry. Elaine is getting married this year and this led to some of us discussing what to make her and Future Mr SoCherry. Originally we wanted to make them a quilt but once other members of GKS heard about our plans, the plans .. grew. They grew so big so rapidly that the focus was quickly shifted to a communal project – one that everybody could contribute to no matter their skill level or amount of time they could devote.

The Wedding BlanketAnd so The Wedding Blanket project began.

We briefly contemplated using The Great American Afghan pattern book, but it did not have as many sampler blocks to choose from and several of our less experienced knitters expressed concerns.

Instead we chose to use a US knitting pamphlet – Leisure Arts no. 932 – which contains 60 different sampler blocks ranging from beginner-friendly squares to rather complex cables. It proved a great choice and I would heartily recommend the sampler to anyone wanting to increase their skill sets by making a blanket. You have a good selection of squares to choose from and all of the patterns are clearly written out.

We already knew that Elaine loves her Aran-style blankets and although we finally ended up with a mix of lace and cables, the emphasis is very much upon texture and cables. This also influenced our choice of yarn. Paula and I were in charge of the yarn-sleuthing. Again, we had a set of criteria: it had to be British, it had to be cream-coloured/natural, it had to be aran-weight, it had to be pure wool and it had to be superwash. We also had a budget in mind which made yarn-sleuthing even more fun! Eventually Lilith of Old Maiden Aunt came through for us and we ended up with an amazing yarn: superwash Bluefaced Leicester Aran. (Lilith is currently dyeing this base and fourteen GKS knitters can vouch for how incredibly nice yarn is! We feel very privileged that we were allowed to knit with it before anybody else!)

The Wedding BlanketWith everything in place, what followed next? Three intense months of knitting.

Elaine had no idea, of course. Parcels were exchanged under the table; secret meet-ups were arranged; Tam Shepherd’s became our mid-city drop-off for parcels & yarn pick-up; cryptic messages were sent out; and at one point Lilith was distributing yarn from the back of her car in the pouring rain. Yes, it felt rather like we were running a drug gang!

Looking back it is incredible that nobody slipped up and that everything went so smoothly.

One GKS member even knitted her square in Australia whilst there for work. Another GKS member had yarn sent to her in Amsterdam where she now lives. I know several other people wanted to have taken part – Emma and Mags, I am thinking of you – but the planning stage was no more than a week at best. It was so touching to see just how many people were keen on getting involved and how much Elaine and her fiancée meant to people.

Then one Sunday not so long ago most of us gathered at Paula’s house to finish the blanket. It was a very special afternoon watching squares turning into strips turning into sections turning (finally) into a blanket. I imagine making barn-raiding quilt would have been a bit like this: women gathered together making something. We worked at it from every angle – at one point one person was crocheting the double crochet edging and another person was crocheting the lacy edging on top. Chain gang, if you will pardon the pun!

The Wedding BlanketAnd we finished the blanket!

From left to right: Alison, Fiona, Paula, Karie, Catherine, Janice, Lynette, and Julia.

Not present: Jules, Lisa, Kathleen, Eleanor, Kerry and Gloria.

Photographer: Lilith.

Gloria also created a beautiful scrapbook detailing how much work went into the blanket, how we had made it and how much it was a labour of love.

And we did think of it as a blanket of love. For me, personally, the blanket represents how much I learned from being involved with GKS; how my life has changed since I embraced being a Knitter; and just how amazing knitters are when they get together. We make things and we give so much of ourselves to others through our making. I made this blanket together with thirteen incredible women with each their own story – and we made it for a couple with their own story-making.

(I hope that made sense. I am not usually this sentimental!)The Wedding Blanket

And then everything almost went haywire. We had planned a small knitterly hen-night for Elaine and we wanted it to be a surprise. On the morning of the hen-night Future Mr SoCherry texted me to tell me that Elaine had had to leave work due to a nasty migraine. Eventually we managed to coax her out to a quiet knitting night but certain members of GKS did have mild panic attacks prior to that.

Subterfuge was finally done away with – and we presented her with the blanket. I think she liked it.

Fourteen knitters, three countries, two continents, three months, fourteen hanks of Old Maiden Aunt BFL Aran and A LOT OF SUBTERFUGE..

.. equals one blanket of love.

Pattern: Elvan

It might come as a surprise, but I crocheted before I could knit. In fact, throughout my teenage years, I preferred to crochet. It was faster and much more immediate. It took years before I felt able to invent when knitting – but i was always able to do so when crocheting.

These days I knit much more than I crochet as I find knitting gentler on my hands. I do teach a lot of crochet and there is a real dearth of patterns aimed at people who have only just begun to master the stitches. This is why I sat down and came up with the Elvan cowl.
Elvan cowlElvan is free to download from Ravelry and uses approximately 200 yards of fingering weight yarn. I made my version out of the new Rowan Wool Cotton 4ply (so soft and warm), but I’d also love to see it made in an indie-dyed sock yarn. As with most of my patterns, Elvan is customisable, so you could use all of your awesome sock yarn and get a long cowl that’ll wrap around several times. And, yes, if you can do a treble (US: double crochet), you can make this pattern. Promise.

I have made two versions of the pattern – one using UK terminology and one using US terminology. Make sure to download your preferred version.

It is a bank holiday here in the UK. I don’t tend to work Mondays as a rule but even I can get into the holidaying spirit. Yesterday I went to see Alice & the Rampant Trio at Glasgow’s legendary King Tut’s club and I am nursing a tiny hangover as a result (two beers!). Today I am off to have dinner with good friends. Outside, right now, it is snowing cherry blossoms.

Wheee!

April 2012Who knew that bouncing about on a lifesize inflatable Stonehenge would be that much fun?

The Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts is well under way. We have been to see various exhibitions and installations through Glasgow – and most have been okay but not that thrilling. The highlight has definitely been Jeremy Deller’s ‘Sacrilege’ – the inflatable Stonehenge you see above. As an interactive piece of public art, it scores highly on the interactive scale, though I am not sure about the art aspect of it.

‘Sacrilege’ is moving down to London for the Olympics (I think it was actually commissioned for the Games?), so if you fancy a bounce in Glasgow, you only have a few days left.

Day Five: Conference

6774276196_ea43748a23Today I attended a conference on the economics and culture(s) of wool. It was an interesting array of people assembled – from Jamiesons and Smiths’ Oliver Henry via New Lanark‘s Aynsley Gough to environmental artist Kate Foster‘s explorations of sheepscapes. I had been invited by organiser Marina Moskowitz and interestingly I found myself spanning several areas as an (ex-)academic, as an educator, as a designer, as a retailer and as a consumer. It was quite a … position.

We dealt with various issues throughout the day. What was/is the reality of sheep farming in Scotland past and present? How does the Scottish landscape inform our decisions regarding  production and consumption? What is “heritage”? What is the reality of working within the wool industry? What does “wool” mean?

I have previously worked with The Wool Marketing Board so some aspects of today were familiar to me (i.e. how does the wool get from the sheep on the field into your yarn stash?) but I was really struck by other aspects. Kate Foster’s work was deeply thought-provoking – not only was she the only speaker to talk about sheep as actual animals rather than products but she also engaged with the changing Scottish landscape and asked troubling questions about authenticity and identity.

I did not get a chance to speak with Kate, but I hope she will be back. The idea of my little knitting project coming from continual acts of violence is very unsettling.

Other topics we explored: ‘locality’ and negotiations of space/place; actual socio-economic implications of handknitting; textiles as identity-making; and the future of textiles within Scotland.

It was a hugely rewarding day. I came to it with a cold and a fair bit of apprehension (it has been years since I last did anything vaguely academic) but I left feeling re-charged and inspired. Maybe this knitting life of mine does have an over-arching narrative despite my misgivings.

(Apologies for the lack of photos. I meant to bring my camera and show you some of the beautiful Jamieson & Smith samples, but I forgot it at home (along with my purse and my tissues). You can always knit them in your head.)

I do want to know: when you think about Scottish knitting, what do you think of?

You can find more blogs participating in the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week by googling 3KCBWDAY5. If you have come here as part of the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week, thank you for visiting. I’ll still be here once this week is over and I’m usually blogging about arts, books, films, language besides all the craft stuff. Do stick around.

Day Two: Pictured

6774276196_ea43748a23KelvingroveI am still amazed that I live in the same city as this mad, bad building known as the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. When you travel along Dumbarton Road/Argyle Street, all you see are dull shop fronts and dwellings. Suddenly the shops and houses give way to the Kelvingrove Park with Kelvingrove itself situated right on the edge. It was built in 1888 for a Great Exhibition and the building feels like a manic Victoriana Gothic fever dream with tiny turrets, arched windows, statues and staircases. Inside it is far more calm than you would suspect. I have been there so often it feels like my second home – if I were the heroine in a steampunk novel, that is.

Right after I took this photo, a hailstorm broke. People tried to take shelter at bus stops or under umbrellas. Glasgow weather is one of the greatest challenges I know as a knitter and photographer. Try taking shots of a Finished Object or for a pattern when you don’t know what the weather is going to be like ten minutes from now. No wonder that so many of my photos are taken indoors..

Then I went pub-knitting with a bunch of friends. I was trying to capture the spirit of a get-together: the banter, the chat, the riot of colour, the yarn mountains, and knitterly frustrations. I gave up. Instead I simply shot a series of people knitting. I never get tired of watching people knit (is this weird?) and how their hands work in small, precise motions.

Pub Knitting

Pub Knitting

Pub Knitting

Pub Knitting

Pub KnittingThe last photo is of me (wearing Signest’s amazing “I YARN CPH” tee) and apparently I knit too fast for the camera shutter.. Apparently.

Knitting to me is also about community, feeling part of something a bit bigger than yourself and nurturing creativity across boundaries. It is about going to the pub with your best buddies and turning a heel over a glass of Whatever. It is about making knitting a part of your everyday life.

You can find more blogs participating in the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week by googling 3KCBWDAY2. If you have come here as part of the Knitting & Crochet Blog Week, thank you for visiting. I’ll still be here once this week is over and I’m usually blogging about arts, books, films, language besides all the craft stuff. Do stick around.

Frontier & A Bike

Blog Photos March 2012My knitting mojo seems to have returned – although I probably jinxed it by saying that.

I have finished two things – neither of which I can show you right now – and I have cast on for a new project. Luckily I can show you this one.

This is going to be Frontier by Julia Frank. Julia is a knitwear designer that works within the realm of deconstructing traditional knitwear ideas: she works with relatively fine yarns knitted at very loose gauge and with dropped-stitch patterns worked across large areas. Her work is a tiny bit more commercial now she is designing for Rowan: Frontier interprets the loose gauge and the dropped stitches within the context of a cropped summer cardigan. (Oh, and I also really, really like Julia Frank’s Clara jumper from the recent Studio 26. Knitted bottom-up in the round with a yoke .. but this traditional construction just seems so fresh in Frank’s hands.)

Anyway. Frontier. I am using Rowan Pima Cotton in “Bark”. I am always wary of knitted with inelastic fibres like cotton or silk, but my hands are doing just fine. It has been a quick knit due to knitting a DK yarn on 5.5mm needles using a drop-stitch pattern. I had to adjust to the double whammy of a loose gauge and dropped stitches (either is fine, combined they are interesting). It helped when I changed from my customary circs to straight (bamboo) needles to stop the wraps getting tangled. I am just one ball into the project but I’m already at the arm hole shaping for the back.

Blog Photos March 2012In lieu of any photos of my two FOs, here is a photo of the delicious vegan date cake I had at Artisan Roast during one of my bike trips.

Yes, the bike arrived this week. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference having a bike has made to my emotional wellbeing.

When I lived in Denmark, I used to bike everywhere – it is simply part of the Copenhagen lifestyle – but I have been reluctant to get a bike here for a number of reasons (traffic & health being two major ones). Recently I have seen a rise in the number of people biking around Glasgow and I decided I might as well join them. I am so very glad I did. Apparently I never feel quite at home in a place before I can navigate it on a bike. Glasgow belongs to me  now.

I am also very amused by the male bikers on their 17-gear racers who look at me with disdain as they race past me – and whose facial expressions turn positively green with sourness when this skirt-wearing lass on a three-gear classic ladies’ bike catches up with them at the red light.

And, yes, I wear a helmet and I am significantly less suicidal on a bike than I was back in Copenhagen (where everything goes if you are biking). Don’t worry.

Happiness is a red bike.

This Bit of Glasgow

It has been a very long month. While January is seldom a cheerful month, this month has been a never-ending stream of tight deadlines, late night working, and battling post-flu malaise. Today I sent off one pattern submission that may or may not go into print (these things always depend) and it was so, so nice to be able to tick that one off the list. Now I just have to tackle the other entries on the to-do list..

Between deadlines, flu and whatnot I have found time to start work on a new shawl pattern. It’s a really relaxing knit – one I can do late at night when my brain is too wired to sleep and too tired to focus – and I’m really pleased with it so far. Tonight I have been tweaking the charts and I had a really satisfying moment when I solved a particularly nagging row. I hate hate hate transitions that do not stack or flow into one another – unless I can see a clear reason why they do not stack, they just strike me as laziness on the behalf of the designer – and this one row just did not look right. The solution was right in front of me: moving decreases from the centre of the pattern repeat to the edges. Hooray!

My favourite bit on the interwebs this week? Reel Scotland speaking to John McKay who directed my favourite Sherlock Holmes-related BBC drama. No, not that one. Nor that other one. This one. The article is full of interesting takes on film-making, on working in TV, and on making things happen in Scotland. And then there is this great throw-away line that just made sense: “..this bit of Glasgow, our San Francisco.”

My other favourite internet bits this week? This fantastic collection of Soviet science-fiction magazine covers. This grey airship bag from Etsy. And you can learn the most interesting feminist lessons in very surprising places.

Well Still Pretty Good Year

First task of the year: sort out the wardrobe.

I should probably not use the word ‘wardrobe’ as that word implies system, thoughtfulness, and coherence. Most of my clothes stem from the frantic days of arriving in the UK with a suitcase of clothes and needing workplace-suitable attire. As a consequence, most of my wardrobe consists of cheap clothes bought in a state of panic.

Nowadays I lead the charmed life of a freelancer working within a creative industry with ties to fashion. Interestingly this means two things: 1) I have a great collection of pyjamas because I spend a lot of time working in my jammies, and 2) I have discovered that while I do not care much for fashion I do care a lot about style.

So I went through my wardrobe and threw out everything that did not fit, that needed a degree of mending that was at great odds with the intrinsic value of the item itself, or which had been too fashionable when I bought it and thus no longer stylish (I think of style as something which cannot pinned down to a particular time nor place – rather it transcends time and place).

Verdict: I need tops and trousers somewhat badly. I need basic cardigans. And I am not allowed to knit myself any scarves or shawls because I have a lot (note the phrasing: ..knit myself.. which means I can knit for others or for design purposes). I can sew some of the things myself, but what I really need is a focused shopping spree.

I hate clothes shopping.

My neighbourhood made national news yesterday after the recent hurricane felled a few trees, made several chimney pots collapse, and ripped roof tiles off. The police have closed off one street due to unstable masonry. I was safely ensconced at work but was troubled by the amounts of roof tiles I encountered on the way from work. One of the big trees in our back garden has fallen too. It is still blustery out there, but the worst has passed. In case you are curious, I live very close to where the fourth photo in this series was taken.

Knitting-wise: I’m swatching for a few designs. Reading-wise: I have finished two books so far this year, although the less said about the second book the better (it was not my idea).

Longing

The Kibble Palace, Glasgow Botanical Gardens, December 2011

Only three more days until Winter Solstice..

Arboretum

Visual poetry: a poetry form in which the shape of the poem is as important as the words themselves. The Scottish poet and gardener Ian Hamilton Smith combined gardening, sculptures and poetry to great effect. The woods around Bennachie yield beautiful surprises as you walk around in them:  words carved in stone, sentences arranged amongst branches and trunks.  I live far from Bennachie, but I live very close to The Glasgow Arboretum (you can almost see my home in the photo) where you can also find fragments of poetry scattered among the trees.

My winter mitts? A fairly quick, uncomplicated knit. I used a pattern I found in The Knitting Book and yarn given to me by my mother. I have tiny hands, so went down a few needle sizes and I also added thumbs. The yarn matches a cowl and a hat I made earlier, so I’m all set for winter now. Bring it on.

I am spending today swatching for a future project/design. I played around with charts in Excel earlier and now I’m trying to figure out which texture I like best. It is always fun trying to strike a balance between my personal aesthetics, an imagined level of difficulty, and the actual purpose of the pattern.

I had a quick Twitter exchange with a few people after I came up with a true lace chart (i.e. lace knitted on both sides). I loved the idea of the pattern, but when I started to work it up in 4ply I knew it did not work in such a relatively heavy yarn. Twitterati consensus was that true lace is scary. I don’t think this is necessarily true, but I know that this is what many people feel. Honestly, this project is not one for ‘scary’ lace so that chart was shelved alongside many other charts. Hopefully I will find the right project for it at some point.

Meanwhile I have come up with another chart – or, rather, four different versions of the same chart. I am busy swatching trying to figure out which version works best. I’m using some leftover Old Maiden Aunt merino/silk for the swatches. I need more of this yarn, I really do. It’s beautiful to work with on my new Addi bamboo needles.

Finally, the soundtrack for work: I rediscovered this album this morning. The light is pale and thin. Like you. Has it really been 19 years?