I was fortunate enough when I was growing up to live next door to my grandparents. They were the kinds of grandparents you hear about in story books. The ones where Granddad lets you steal fresh peas from his vege garden and helps you build snowmen in winter, and Grandma bakes your favourite cookies and calls you her ‘treasure’.
I spent countless hours sitting next to Grandma’s chair listening her to tell me stories of when she was young and watching her work. Her hands were never still. Constantly in motion as she embroidered, crocheted or knitted. I watched in fascination and marveled at her skill. I still have the pretty pastel coloured scarf she made me when I was 4 years old and moving to a place where it snowed. I remember the green crochet vest I begged for to match my party skirt at 9 years old. The batwing sweater that she knitted in a week when I was a moody teenager.
As I grew older she taught me some basics. I was never patient enough, but finally managed to learn enough to be able to cast on, knit and purl, and cast off. Over the years I tried many different crafts, but somehow always picked up the needles again at different points in my life.
Hidden in the bottom of a storage box is the sweater that Mum and I worked on together. A wonderful example of the importance of gauge with sleeves I knitted that are way too big for the body that Mum made to fit.
I knitted again when my niece was born, because neither her grandmother or great-grandmother was alive to do it. Every baby should have something handmade, even if it is by an auntie who has no idea how to sew up the sweater she made.
After a car accident left me with a concussion that lasted for months, and ruined my career leaving me unable to work, I walked into a yarn shop desperate for something to do. The steadily growing full length cable coat meant that I had achieved something that day.
I’m still not brave enough to tackle an entire sweater for my husband even though he has picked the yarn. He’ll have to make do with the garter stitch scarf that I made in pure alpaca which doubles in length as he wears it.
Finally I knitted again, for my own daughter. A chubby cheeked toddler who had outgrown the handknitted baby gifts from my best friend and her mother.
And as I sit wrapped in the granny square blanket my grandmother crocheted, I realise that yarn has been woven into the strands of my life. Sometimes it has been therapy, sometimes it has been comfort. It is always an inspiration, but above all, I know that yarn is love.
Righto, we need to have a little chat. About gauge, and swatching, and garments.
Just because you CAN get the gauge listed on the pattern it does NOT guarantee a great finished project.
All yarn is not created equal!
As well as different thicknesses, yarn can also have different fibre content and different construction.
Think of it like this - if you want to paint your fence are you going to go out and buy the first paint you see that you like the colour of? You can’t paint your fence with artist’s watercolours and then get mad at the paint for not doing the job and washing off in the rain! There’s nothing wrong with the paint, but you are expecting it to do something it's not designed for. I see this time and time again with yarn substitutions.
So, how do you know if the yarn you have chosen will work for your pattern?
Now, I know most of you treat swatching like it’s a dirty word, but that’s the answer to most of the questions people ask about choosing a yarn. Although before you even get to the swatching stage you need to take a few things into consideration.
What’s the fibre content of the yarn in the pattern and the yarn you want to use. Are they similar? A yarn with 100% wool content is going to hold structure more than one with a large alpaca or silk content, so the crisp, defined cables that you love in the pattern won’t look the same if you knit them in a soft, drapey alpaca. And the gorgeous flow of that silk blend swing cardie is going to be curtailed in a sticky colourwork wool. Does this mean that you can’t use that yarn? No, but you do need to understand how the characteristics of the yarn you choose will affect your finished result.
What is the gauge on the pattern compared to the suggested gauge for the yarn?
The gauge for the yarn is IMPORTANT.
To use an example we had recently. Yes, you CAN knit Bohemia Sport on 5mm needles and get 18 sts per 10cm, but that doesn’t mean you SHOULD. That gauge is waaaaaaay too loose for the yarn.
Note - I’m specifically talking about garments, shawls are different. Yes, you can knit a shawl at a looser gauge, because a shawl doesn’t have as much wear and tear on it as a garment.
When you wear a garment it creates friction every time you move. The bigger the gaps are between stitches the more the yarn can move around. The more the yarn can move around the more pilling and stretching there is. So, a garment at that gauge is going to look dreadful in no time. Does that mean there is something wrong with the yarn? NO! You are just asking it to do something it’s not physically capable of.
Bohemia Sport was designed as a colourwork yarn. It’s a loosely spun yarn that sticks to itself and blends together. Perfect for colourwork. That’s not the only thing you can knit with it, but it’s going to give you the best performance at a tighter gauge (many people use it at a fingering gauge as well). The suggested gauge is 26 sts per 10cm. Most people can probably get that using a 3.5mm needle, but you might have to go up or down a size depending on how tightly you knit. That's why you need to swatch. Once you know what your gauge is then you can work out how that relates to the pattern you want to knit. But that's a whole other equation - yes, maths is sometimes necessary and that's why we have calculators.
And I hate to say it, but another thing to consider when you are choosing a pattern is whether the designer actually knows what they are doing. I have seen patterns where I suspect the designer is just trying to create a ‘fast knit’ using bigger needles and I know the that garment is just not going to hold it’s shape with that yarn at that gauge. Luckily there are so many great designers out there that actually understand garment construction there is no shortage of fabulous patterns to choose from.
Also, I often see people wanting a super soft, hard wearing yarn. It’s a bit like wanting to clean your cooking pots with cotton wool instead of steel wool. A loosely spun 17 micron yarn is going to be gorgeous and soft, but it’s not going to wear like a high twist 28 micron yarn. There will be pilling. Probably lots of it. If you want to wear it while you wrestle alligators, all power to you. Invest in some version of a depiller and spend 10 minutes every so often taking care of your fabulous garment. Some yarns (like Bohemia) pill less, the more often you wear them.
One of the best things about knitting is that there are no knitting police. So, if you want to knit a fingering weight 100% silk sweater with all over cables at 18 sts per 10cm you can! But be prepared for the outcome to possibly be a little different than you expected.
And don’t blame the yarn!
The holidays are over and it’s back to the school routine. It was great to wind down and take some time out. Last year felt like it went by quickly and was a long slog at the same time! I guess that’s a combination of being really busy, (there’s always something to do when you are a self-employed one-man-band), and having to deal with one thing after another happening at home. I think it was a tough one for a lot of people. I’m hoping 2018 will be a little kinder to us all.
So, with the new year I watched many other people making resolutions and picking their ‘word’ for the year, but since I already had my ‘nofomo’ in place I wasn’t feeling any pressure to come up with something profound!
My favourite new year’s blessing is from Neil Gaiman and includes the line “And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself”. And I have! Already! If you’ve been following me on Instagram and Facebook this month you would have seen the progress of my beautiful Bohemia Muse blanket. The fact that I managed to crochet a whole banket, and have it completely finished in 3 weeks at the height of summer when we are experiencing regular 30+ degree weather astounds even me!
I totally have to give the credit to the #nofomo (and air conditioning!). I went with my gut and picked something I have been REALLY wanting to make for ages (even though making a possum yarn blanket in summer is probably the definition of crazy!) and then focussed on it. Nofomo. Even though I was sorely tempted to cast on for the Miss Jane KAL. Even though Nyx is calling to me every time I walk past it. Even though I’ve seen other people’s lovely projects that I’d like to make too. Nofomo. Nofomo. Nofomo.
And how wonderful it is to have this one gorgeous, FINISHED project.
It’s such a relief. The best part was making it, and being able to enjoy the making without feeling overwhelmed because I was neglecting another project. Yes, I have more WIPs than I can count scattered around the house, and I will be either finishing or frogging them as I come across them, but the bliss of not being pressured into starting something else while I was making the blanket is really great for the mojo.
I took a few days after I finished to decide what to make next. The needles were calling and the Miss Jane KAL is still happening. Although I am late to the party I have cast on and I’ve made steady progress in the last few days. I’m not a fast knitter and not an experienced garment knitter so it feels a bit experimental to be making a cardie for myself. Whatever the outcome I’m going to enjoy the process. I might even have a cardie to wear at Unwind if it ever cools off!
When you lose your mojo it’s not always an easy thing to find it again. I know how to find my car keys. Either on top of the fridge, or in the pocket of whatever I was wearing yesterday, but mojo is a lot more elusive.
I’ve tried diving head first into the Ravit hole and checking out all the fabulous things I could make. That ended up with that drowning feeling though, which is what I am trying to avoid. So, I’ve decided to KISS it. Keep It Simple Stupid, and for a knitter the most simple thing ever is a garter stitch scarf.
I have a particular love for The Knitographer’s Camp Fire Scarf. Jo published this wonderful simple and striking design on her blog about two and a half years ago, and she knitted it in Vanitas. It was one of the very first (if not the first!) patterns designed for an Outlaw yarn by someone else. It’s always exciting and wonderful to see a project that someone has made in your yarn, but nothing quite beats the feeling of having a designer create something because your yarn inspired them. It kinda feels a bit like Michelangelo painted a portrait of your baby!
Vanitas will always be special to me. It was the first Outlaw Yarn released just in time for Knit August Nights three years ago. In fact we only saw it an hour before all of you since the boxes were delivered straight from the mill to East Pier. Opening a box full of those smiling, happy little faces was such a thrill! Those of you who did a mill tour that year didn’t know it, but the yarn that you were looking at in the middle of production was the very first run of Bohemia Sport.
There’s something very soothing about garter stitch. I know some people find it boring, but to me it’s like meditation. I don’t have to think about it. I can just concentrate on the feel of the yarn and the needles in my hands. My mind can wander, or I can watch TV without missing anything. There’s no pressure, just simply being in the moment. One stitch at a time. It’s tiny moments of peace in the middle of the life chaos. And gradually those little stitches become a lifeline. Add in those colour block changes that happen just before I tire of looking at the same colour and suddenly, there it is...
A tiny spark of joy.
I might not have fully grasped it yet, but it’s a relief to know the mojo is still there.
I did something crazy… No, before you ask, it wasn’t breakfast bourbon! Also, there’s nothing crazy about that - it’s delicious! I went to the Summer Woolfeast… and I didn’t buy any yarn...
It wasn’t even a conscious decision! Maybe it’s my #nofomo at work. Or maybe it’s a byproduct of the no mojo. The funny thing was I still found plenty of things to spend my money on, (including a new Crafty AF tee-shirt from Ngaire at Little Radiator), and it actually wasn’t until I got home that I realised I didn’t buy yarn. That’s got to be a first. Even though I am not usually a huge spender at events, (I tend to buy small and often!), I always come home with more yarn to add to the stash.
I was really worried that I would wake up on Sunday morning with a bad case of needing to buy ‘ALL THE YARN’, but the funny thing was I didn’t. Instead I felt relieved. I had a fun day, talked to lots of people, spent some cash, and ate more dessert than was strictly necessary. It was great party and I didn’t wake up with a yarn hangover!
Let’s face it, I do have more yarn than anyone could possibly use in a lifetime (and that’s just my personal stash - we won’t even think about what’s in the warehouse!). And I often buy yarn knowing that I am probably never going to knit it, but it’s so pretty I have to have it anyway! Then when I get it home and put it in my stash instead of feeling excited and happy about it, I just feel overwhelmed by the pressure of another thing I don’t have time for, and that’s not a great place to be. Has anyone else had this feeling?
Now, I know a few people will be reading this and thinking that I have lost my marbles! After all my whole business is to sell you yarn! Why on earth would I advocate for NOT buying yarn??? Believe me, the last thing I am ever going to tell someone is not to buy yarn if it makes them happy! But if you get to the point where buying yarn isn’t making you happy, then maybe you need to check your #fomo levels, like me. Your stash should be a wonderful treasure trove of inspiration, not a source of guilt and obligation.
When you take your Outlaw Yarn home, I want you to be thrilled! I want you to revel in the anticipation of casting on. I want you to be delighted every time you make a stitch. And you’re not going to feel any of that joy if you’re crushed under the #fomo.
You know I’m not good at following rules, so ‘cold sheeping’ and stash downs aren’t great ideas for me. I am much more likely to buy more and knit less! So, I am just taking a breath and realising that it’s okay if I don’t buy it today - there will still be more wonderful yarn tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that, and when my mojo returns I can shop till I drop and cherish every skein!
Is it too early to have a New Year’s Resolution?
It feels a bit like a new year to me at the moment since it was my birthday a couple of weeks ago. I am now 47, so not one of those big zero (or even five) birthdays, but in some ways this is one of the biggest birthday’s I’ll ever have. You see, my mum died 5 weeks after her 47th birthday, which means that by xmas this year I will be older than she ever was. And the truth of the matter is I still don’t know how to process that.
Should I be writing a bucket list? I’m bombarded everyday with a constant stream of things I could miss out on (thank you social media!). I’m sure I read somewhere once that we are exposed to 2,000 advertising images a day. Well, that was before Facebook! I’m sure that now I have fulfilled my daily quota before I have even finished my first cup of tea in the morning.
If only my life was as beautifully curated as my Instagram feed. I posted an image earlier this year and was asked by Heather if I have just one beautifully decorated, well organised room in my house, or does the whole place look that nice? Of course I fessed up that it was taken in the showroom and my house looks like a bomb site. The truth of the matter is often the one square metre of shelf or table that you can see in the photo is the only pretty spot in my life at that moment!
My resolution for this year was to learn to knit garments for myself and the Oatmeal sweater I started in January is still on the needles. I need a new resolution! I still want to knit sweaters, but the long queue of them on my Ravelry list is daunting. I am not a fast knitter.
I’ve lost my making mojo. In fact I lost it a while ago. I haven’t lost my love of yarn (god forbid!), but I have so many things I need to be making that I am totally overwhelmed by the list and can’t get started, or finished, with anything. I think the problem is #fomo. What if I don’t join that KAL, make that fabulous project that everyone is talking about, buy that yarn before it is gone? When does all that inspiration becoming so overwhelming that it’s paralysing?
I think my resolution this year needs to be to focus on the journey, not the end project. I need to live in the moment and keep celebrating where I am right now, the good, and the bad. So, I’m going to mix that fantasy perfect life that you see on your screens, with a dose of good old reality. If nothing else it should give you a laugh (I am the queen of frogging and I always lose at yarn chicken!).
My resolution this year is #nofomo. Life is short. Use the best yarn first and enjoy every single stitch.