Sunday, 24 April 2016

Reluctant Teacher

 BellaCrafts is a lovely craft shop near Eastleigh and Hedge End in Hampshire.  They recently invited me come and give a talk about my knitting experiences and to host a work shop which introduced the basics of fairisle and stranded knitting.  I have to admit to being rather reluctant and nervous to begin with.  I wasn't sure if I was really qualified to instruct this kind of thing, but I thought I'd give it a go.
 In preparation for the workshop, I wanted to design a few projects that attendees to could make on the day or complete at home.  I didn't realise what a task this would be as it's difficult to gauge who might attend such a workshop and what their skill levels/previous knowledge might be.   
I started with a simple beanie shape and got my graph paper out to design several motifs that could be used around the hat.  Then, I adapted the pattern for two smaller, quicker projects: a hairband and a wristband.  The biggest challenge was to put my design to paper and write a pattern that was both intelligible and informative yet concise.  I'm not schooled on the finer points of pattern writing, so I got a few friends to have a go at knitting from my pattern and theirs seemed to come out ok.  Also, they gave me some helpful tips for the future.

The two motif designs I took to the BellaCrafts workshop were a fish pattern (Bella Pesci) and one of rabbits (Wunny Babbits). The fish design came about because the craft shop is situated next to a tropical fish store which had gorgeous Koi carp swimming in a pond outside.

Here's a couple of pics of finished work by two of the ladies who came along.  They took away my pattern and completed two Wunny Babbit hats in their own colours and adding their own twists to the design.  I think you'll agree, they did a great job.

Wunny Babbit pics from BellaCrafts facebook page - check them out!

Star Flowers

 A little while ago, out of the blue, I received a phone call from a woman called Jasmine.  When she said, "this may seem strange, but I have a knitting related question for you", my immediate assumption was that she had seen a poster for the craft group I host and was wanting to find out more.  But it turned out she was phoning on behalf of a craft shop near Eastleigh (Hampshire) and was wondering if I would like to come to their craft festival and give a talk about my experiences on Kirstie Allsopp's Handmade Christmas shows.  Jasmine's ears had pricked up when she heard that I live in Portsmouth.  Rather disturbingly, it was apparently quite easy to track me down.  It seems, no-one is a private citizen anymore with Google.  But then, if you put yourself forward for a tv show, one can hardly complain.  Anyway, I digress...  where was I going with this little tale?

Oh yes.

I shall give you more details about my craft festival experience in another blog post, but what I wanted to tell you about was that while there, I bought several balls of yarn by West Yorkshire Spinners.  They have produced a really rather gorgeous DK yarn range called Illustrious which is spun using a mix of British Alpaca and Falkland (Islands) wool.  Another company to produce a similar product is Blacker yarns, but I haven't yet sampled their product.
The Illustrious yarn comes in a range of 13 colours, plain and variegated.  I bought: Mulberry, sea glass, old lace, highland.   I took a deep intake of breath at the price as it's not cheap for a 'mass' produced yarn, but the balls come in 100g weight so you get a reasonable amount for your money, comparable to others of this class like Rowan.  I suspect they would do well to offer the range in 50g balls to for those who don't want to invest so much on their first try of the range but nevertheless, I took the plunge.  My problem, which is familiar to many knitters/crocheters is that I often buy yarn without a project in mind.  So, it was by chance rather than design that I cast on (is that the correct term for crochet too?????) a blanket.  I know Americans use the term Afghans but I'm not quite sure why, perhaps someone can tell me.

 My first crochet project after being shown the basics at my craft group last summer, was a basic granny square blanket that has got bigger and bigger.  It's been an excellent project because it has helped me use up lots of single skeins of yarn that I bought on a whim (and without specific projects in mind).  But, it must be one of the most expensive projects I've ever done as most skeins were bought at fares like Unwind and Unravel from independent producers selling skeins at around £15 a go.  All in, it must have cost several hundred pounds so far, but it will become an 'heirloom' piece - not because of the time/effort/complexity involved, but because of it's intrinsic value!

I'd wanted to try hexagons for a while, but there are so many variations out there, I thought I'd have a go at designing my own.  Nothing is really 'new' in design, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone came along and said, "that's my design", but here is my version of hexagons.  Of course, if they said, "that's my design", I would probably be a little suspicious for exactly the reason mentioned above, nothing IS new in design.  So much of what I see on Ravelry, Pinterest and even designers sites can hardly be called revolutionary or new.  They all use the same fundamental stitches (knit and purl for knitting, chains/doubles/trebles etc for crochet).  They also all come from a wider cultural background which drawers influence from previous generations.  You can, of course, create you own combinations of stitches and shapes which may be 'new', but with all the thousands of patterns available, there is the inevitable convergence of ideas.  In my opinion, the only true innovations come with new technology and materials.  All that being said, some of the best ideas, are the tried and tested ones :-)

 I started out with lots of hexagons, but quickly found I didn't want to join them together in a honeycomb fashion so I added triangles to the mix.  These then created larger pattern ideas of stars and flowers.  One dilemma with hexagon designs is what should the overall shape of your blanket be? Should the whole piece be a large hexagon or should it be square or rectangular?  How will you allow your hexagons to meet the edge of the blanket?  Will it have a straight or wibbly wobbly edge?  Is there a centre to the design or is at a 'field' of pattern, perhaps with a contrasting border?  I've yet to decide on some of those questions but will update you when I've finished the project.  For now, here are some pics of my progress.
You will notice that I have chosen to join the pieces using a single crochet technique which gives a ridge.  I opted to have the ridge on the right side of the work.  After steaming and a very light press, the ridge is less prominent which I prefer.  If you wanted to do your own version of my blanket, you could join the pieces however you wanted, but I rather like the leaded stained glass effect.  Indeed, I think this blanket would be splendid if you used bright colours for the centres and then black borders to mimic the look of churchy stained glass.