Friday, 20 April 2012

Stitch glorious stitch

Having spent a few days in France apparently to perfect the art of the parallel turn on skis, only to come down with a chest infection the day before we flew, I spent a good deal of my time near the slopes if not on them, snoozing, coughing and generally being a bit of a horror for other, less ill-inclined tourists and proper skiers.  An American may have referred to me as a CHAV, presumably unaware of what it actually means or assuming that my dusky cough was related to 100-a-day cigarette habit.  It wasn't.  I suspect it had nothing to do with smoking (because I don't smoke) and everything to do with a fun but germ-filled weekend with my sister and her children.  Anyway, there are worse places to be poorly than a sick bed with a view like this.

During that weekend, I went to a Rowan workshop at Poppy's on Colliergate in York.  During a break I had a wander round and realised that within a ten minute walk there are at least four craft or textile related shops.  Grace and Jacob, Craft Basics, and Ramshambles, and Poppy's of course.  I was sad to hear that the Poppy's in Pocklington is closing down and the one in York is moving to new ownership.  Given the resurgence of craft activity, it's a shame that there still isn't sufficient business to keep these shops afloat.  The craft revolution was at least partly down to the idealised notion of a new age of austerity and perhaps as people have realised that making your own is not actually cheaper than buying things from the cheap high street retailers - and are actively encouraged to keep these retailers afloat - the movement was always likely to slow down.

I keep harping on about this, but ultimately making your own shouldn't really be about thrift.  Mending is one thing, upcycling another altogether (and I'm fairly dubious about that) but the pleasure of making something yourself is really pretty special and despite the cost, it's something that will be loved for a long time to come, especially if you invest in the raw materials.  I'd rather spend the extra money on really good yarn (and then why would you skimp on needles, they'll last you a lifetime after all) then have another top cluttering up the dresser when after a mere 20 hours of knitting (or so) I could have a lovely garment that I'd made myself.  I'm going to slide past the fact that I haven't completed my jumper yet - it's too warm to wear a shetland wool sweater anyway - and say that the knitting process has significantly cut down on my knitwear spend this winter as I've been anticipating my own creations.  It WILL be ready for next year.

Aside from that the course was great - it was really good to sit in a room full of knitters with varying numbers of years experience, and chat about yarn, needles, and our own trials and tribulations with finishing.  It has encouraged me to keep a record of all the things I have made so I can chart my progress a little.  I can also report that the bonnets and booties I've made for a couple of friends whose babies have arrived at last both look very professionally finished (in my view) so lots was clearly learnt.  So much so, that I'm planning to attend another Rowan workshop soon - probably in colour work (more on that below).

Apparently Rowan also offer a Knitwear Design workshop (two-days at the Rowan Mill) but try as I might, I've not been able to find it.  Rowan - if something gets booked in, please could you let me know!  Might be a stretch but you never know with this world wide whatnot. 

While in York I was lucky enough to have a look at a wall hanging my sister has.  My maternal grandmother (the crafty one) made it and looking over it, it looks like a type of crewel work.  Thick wool embroidered onto a diagonally stretched piece of linen.  It was hanging in the house throughout my childhood and I always loved it - the heron on the right always looked to me like a fairly knowing chap and the scale of the piece felt exhilarating to me, particularly because of my relative smallness to the piece itself.  More than ever, I can't wait to start the crewel work module at the RSN now.  It will be an amazing experience. 

I am due to start swatching for my first commission this weekend – I’m knitting a lace bed jacket from Susan Crawford’s Stitch in Time.  For the first time, I’m also really looking forward to getting swatching.  Deborah Newton’s Finishing School has inspired me to think about the swatch as a working test fabric that has a life of its own throughout the construction of the garment.  I think my boyfriend thinks I’ve completely lost it (actually “addicted” was his exact phrase) as it’s an unputtdownable read and having to put it down to do things like, I don’t know, go to work etc has caused some irritation.  So I’m looking forward to actually thinking about the swatch rather than suffering through it, and using that as a working document if you like as I knit my way through the bed jacket.

(Susan Crawford; A Stitch in Time)
To test a few skills I thought I might need for the bed jacket I've been working on a baby cardigan.  As you can see from the change of colour on this baby cardigan, I’ve grasped the concept of seamless colour change but haven’t quite mastered doing it perfectly consistently; and I really want the inside of something I make to look as neat as possible so I already know that this is going to niggle me.

Inside of front left
Nervous as I’ve not set a sleeve in before on a knit garment, I finished off the baby cardigan I’ve been making, which is a MilliaMia design and will now be given to a friend’s newborn to road test. 

Sleeve pinned and ready to sew
Given that came off the needles a couple of weeks ago it has taken me a while to do the finishing and I’m now itching to get started on a new project.  I’ve also missed the sewing machine so want to start on a top (for me!) as soon as I have time.  Cutting something out and putting it together is such a different sensation to making a fabric yourself with needles that it will be nice to try something else. 

Ta-da! (MillaMia cardigan)
On that note, I had a go at free machine embroidery the other day.  Results were patchy but what a liberating way to use a sewing machine.  If the word “addicted” was bandied around before, I’m not sure this is going to help the situation.  Saying that, I could do with a few weeks just to focus on making so a sojourn to some kind of rural retreat (for my own good) might be quite timely.  Sadly, unlikely.

In the meantime, my father and his wife have been clearing through some of their family things and have found lots of embroidery related bits.  I was a very grateful recipient of a Mary Thomas embroidery dictionary and a Coats stitch dictionary, and boxes of beautiful embroidery silks in every possible shade of green, pink, blue, orange and brown.  I started reading the dictionary as soon as I got home last night and it’s impossible not to be boggled by the 300-odd stitches to master.  I’m going to take Thomas’s advice and start a sampler so that I can practice as many of the stitches as possible before the RSN.  It’s a lovely book; particularly touching is that it’s got an inscription “May 1952” inside the front flyleaf.  This book has been used and loved for sixty years, pretty much since the moment of its printing.  As my birthday is in May, I’ve taken that as a sign it was meant to be passed from an expert embroiderer to a fledgling starting out on their stitching adventures. 

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