Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 - a year in review

If my top Instagram posts of 2015 are anything to go by, it was a big year for yellow and Chuck sweaters! Or if we are being specific, one yellow Chuck sweater!

The last year has seen me grow as a knitter. I've designed a couple of very, very simple accessories, knitted cardigans for the first time and started thinking more about what I'm making. With that in mind, I've been making things that I'm more and more likely to wear, which can only be a good thing.

I've also taken my sewing to the next level, somehow making a shirt (no sleeves - I'm still learning!) that hasn't fallen apart yet, as well as several items without any supervision!

I'm really looking forward to what 2016 will bring - no doubt more sewing and knitting adventures. My list of things to make is already filling up for the new year. I'm going to challenge myself and make a dress good enough to wear to a friend's wedding, and attempt to use up all the fabric I've found at Fabric-a-brac. Most of it is all intended for a particular project, it's just getting the motivation to get going. My knitting stash is relatively under control. There are few skeins of sock  yarn, and some odds and ends that I need a solution for, but otherwise I've been happy with my plan of only buying what I will use for a project I already have in mind. 

I think I'll do another destash early in the new year, before I go back to work. I've already tidied the craft room and my making space, which is usually so cluttered that I drag the sewing machine out to the dining table. I've found that every time I've destashed in the past, even if it's been daunting to give yarn away, or just go through it all to see how much exactly I own, I've never gone back wishing I'd kept something. And I like that. So in 2016, it will continue! All I will keep is stuff that will be used, and turned into things that myself or others will enjoy and make use of, instead of being kept in a drawer. 

Happy 2016 team! See you all in the new year!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Finishing up the last WIP of 2015

With 2015 very rapidly coming to a close (I have no idea how this year has gone so quickly!) I've decided to use my days off wisely and finish a very long-standing WIP, my socks in Happy Go Knitty Spotty BFL. I'd had a bit of a case of second-sock sydrome, that lasted quite a few months. I got distracted by cardigans, jumpers and scarfs. But with only the toe of sock number two left to finish, and the new year in sight, I thought it would be worthwhile to start 2016 without any leftovers from 2015. That's not to say I won't start a new project in the next day or two, but at least now all the project bags are empty and ready to be filled with new items. 

And in preparation for the year ahead, I went in search of a book to read at the library and came away with Why we make things and why it matters by Peter Korn. I haven't finished it yet but so far it's an enjoyable read - an autobiographical journey of one man who finds his calling as a furniture maker and a philosophical study into why people make and create. So for it has been an interesting read about craft, the human experience and the creative process. While I won't be trying my hand at wood working any time soon, I think crafters using a variety of mediums could take something from this. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Season's Greetings from mine to yours!

Here at the bottom of the world, cardigans are not usually Christmas-appropriate. Given our festive season is spent in the sunshine, with mandatory beach visits, swimming and barbecues. But this cardigan was just made for Christmas - how could it not be, with that green? So even though the sun was shining, I insisted on wearing my just-finished Netherton for the whole day, and very festive I felt, if not a bit hot...

I am so happy with how this turned out, especially after my near escape from running out of yarn without finishing the second sleeve. 

I hope you are all having a peaceful holiday with family and friends, and wherever you are reading from, you get a bit of time to take it easy after a few days of busy festivities. And I hope you get some knitting time, too!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Knitographer Interviews... Miss Click Clack

Here is the second interview from the series I did earlier this year for Extra Curricular Magazine's winter 2016 issue - this time with Melbourne indie-dyer, Miss Click Clack. Renowned for her amazing sock yarns, Kelly Oday gets creative with lots of blues and greys, punctuated by bright jewel colours. Check out her lovely Etsy shop here.

What dyes / yarn / materials do you predominantly use?

I love wool. I use predominantly merino wool but it hasn’t been a conscious decision to exclude other breeds. I like all wool. I like it because I’m a practical knitter and if I’m going to invest a big slab of my life into knitting a garment then I want something that is not only durable, but a pleasure to create. To my mind there is no other fibre with both those qualities. I love the sproing-sproing feel of knitting springy woollen yarn. A good springy yarn in the hand is a fine thing indeed! My hands feel like little machines! Like something out of a Wallace and Gromit animation. So wool ticks many boxes for me. I dye my yarn with acid based dyes sourced from two Australian manufacturers - Landscape Dyes, which are produced by Kraftkolour here in Melbourne where I am, and Gaywool Dyes which operates out of Tasmania. It’s possible to get a little swoon-y when visiting Kraftkolour.

What is your process from initial concept to a final product? Is there lots of testing/experimenting/refining?

There is no plan! Dyeing yarn is a form of ‘play’, and I am an adult with a huge propensity for ‘play’. There were some early trials where I sampled a number of yarns from a variety of suppliers before whittling it down to the two core yarns I work with today, but in a perfect world my dyed yarns would be a succession of one-of-a-kind skeins. I just like to get up and see where my dye-pots take me! But I’ve learnt that my customers like to buy garment-quantities of yarn, or want one-of-what-she’s-got, so I now have a small, but expanding, catalogue of reproducible colourways. Having that little bit of extra rigour and discipline is probably not a bad thing (although if the truth be known, it’s not as much fun!).

What do you think sets your yarn apart from other indie dyers?

It’s difficult to answer the question as to why a customer chooses my yarn over that of another indie dyer. I’m not even sure that that is always the case! A lot of yarn lovers are yarn hoarders, with promiscuous buying habits. I know this because I am one myself! I, like my customers, buy yarn from myriad indie dyers. We’re all after fresh meat! I do, however, think I was lucky enough to get sufficient traction shortly after I opened my shop to nab a share of that great yarn-market-pie. But I’m sure that none of my customers is truly monogamous! Having said that, my yarns are lovely - my Merri Creek Sock and Bridge Inn Road lines are 22.5 microns so are suitable for wearing next to the skin. I also keep my prices competitive. I don’t have sales, or offer discount codes, or other deals. Just the one competitive weight-based price all the time. And I guess people like my colours, too.

Tell us a bit about the mini skein sets for socks - where did you get the idea and what's the reception been like?

Well those sock sets have become a bit of a legend in their own lunchtime! I’ve been stoked by their popularity! The back story is that as much as I love dyeing and knitting variegated or tonal yarn (it’s like a technicolour aurora australis sliding onto the needles) I’m less enamoured with wearing variegated garments. Eeep! It’s a conundrum for a dyer! Especially when my own personal style is dark and monochromatic. So I make a lot of socks because I don’t mind a bit of variegated KAPOW between cuff and shoe. But sometimes I also want geometry - socks with stripes, or blocks of solid colour. I recently made a pair of ‘Ayame-Inspired Block Socks’, after the Japanese sock brand, and this is where my customers' interest in the ‘Block Sock’ sets began. They wanted their own Block Socks. So I put together some sets. Each set is comprised of three mini-skeins with two colours - one of which may be neon, or a super-saturated shade - anchored by a neutral grey or charcoal. I wanted them to be fun and a little wild, but not too ‘unsafe’. They sold out immediately. Then I made more - same deal. Then more again. Then the customers wanted to do a KAL for their own Block Socks - so I set up a Ravelry group and started a KAL! It’s all been wonderful and very affirming!

How did you begin dyeing yarn? Was it an extension of a fibre hobby?

YES! - I began dyeing yarn as an extension of a long-standing fibre hobby! I have been knitting since I was 4, and crocheting since I was 7 or 8 (I had to wait until my mum learnt so that she could teach me!), always using the same few brands of omnipresent commercial yarn in a country that grew a lot of sheep, but didn’t have a lot of yarn choices. Then I discovered Ravelry, and with it indie yarn dyers. The first time I held a skein of Kristen Finlay’s Skein Yarn in my hands I had an epiphany. I had to do this. So with no experience or training in this area other than being a knitter/crocheter (I am, or was, a cytogeneticist) I set myself the long-term challenge of making yarn as beautiful as Kristen’s. I had to work out not only how to source yarn, but how to dye it, and dye it in a way that achieved the aesthetic I was after. I spent a lot of time googling. The fact that I now have a solid customer base indicates that I might be close to my goal! It’s a good feeling.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

On the shelf - Take Heart by Fiona Alice

Readers of this blog will know how much I love getting cool things in the mail. My Christmas treat to myself was to renew my annual subscription of Pom Pom Quarterly, but I couldn't stop there when I found out the ladies behind the magazine have delved into publishing books. 

I first heard about Fiona Alice when I saw her name next to mine on Pom Pom Quarterly's website, in the contributor list for issue seven in winter 2013. In this issue, Fiona wrote about her design process for a very lovely cabled beanie pattern, called Take Heart. Two years later, Fiona has created a beautiful collection of accessories, naming the collection after the original pattern, and this is the first book published by Pom Pom Press.

Fiona's accessories are inspired by her home in Canada and time spent in the UK. She uses yarn from both countries, and each design is inspired by a special place in either country.

As someone from one side of the world but currently at home in another, I can easily relate to the importance of place and how these influence ideas and designs. Also, what I love about this book is the styling - a lot of the photos were taken on the Welsh coast. As I grew up quite close to the coast in Wales, the landscapes in this book remind me of home and time spent on slightly rugged beaches.

As for the designs themselves, they are lovely. The collection is well rounded with varying degrees of difficulty. There is something in here for beginners and advance knitters, with a good variety of techniques from cables to slip stitch patterns.

I want to knit a lot of what I've seen in this gorgeous book. The Queensland Beach headband on the front cover is enough to make me want to grow out my pixie hair to wear it. And the Pennard Castle leg warmers - love! If only it wasn't summer here right now!

If you're after a Christmas treat for yourself, I'd recommend getting this beauty. Great photos, cool designs and insights about Fiona's experiences of designing and getting inspiration for each piece.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Knitographer interviews... Dark Harbour Yarn

Earlier this year I was very privileged to speak with some lovely indie dyers from home and abroad for Extra Curricular Magazine's winter 2015 issue. The magazine contained small profiles of each dyer, and below you can read the full conversation with the lovely Nikki Jones of Dark Harbour Yarn. I've been coveting this lady's yarn for a while, knitting my now lost Storm Shawl with it. It was also great to meet Nikki at Knit August Nights and see more of her amazing colourways in person.

Can you describe your workspace? If I'm ever dyeing yarn (not very often and only with food colouring) I tend to be making a giant mess in my kitchen!

I have a very, very small space in our laundry which I use for testing, and dying single skeins. It’s not ideal, as loads of white laundry and dozens of jars of dye stock and powders are a terrible combination! When I’m dying in batches, I clear the benches in our rather brown 1960s kitchen and work there. Dyes and food/utensils are also a terrible combination, so I am very careful about cleaning down surfaces and mixing dye stock away from the kitchen - my poor children saw a crock-pot being used to cook food at someone else’s house recently and were very confused!

What dyes / yarn / materials do you predominantly use?

I'm a fairly fussy knitter, and that translates to my dying too. The construction of the yarns I use is important to me - both the fibre content and the way the yarn is spun. I like natural fibres, and yarn with some silk content as it takes colour so beautifully. Yarns with a high twist suit the way I like to knit, so I prefer to dye them too! I'm also really interested in woollen-spun yarn, which is much more rustic looking, but it can be hard to source.

What is your process from initial concept to a final product? Is there lots of testing/experimenting/refining?

My process is usually full of calculations, percentages, pages of scribbled notes, and testing – it’s pretty controlled. I often think of a finished object first (whether I actually plan to make it, or not) then test and test until I have the colours and finish right. And then sometimes, when the controlled approach gets too much, I toss the notebooks aside and throw dye randomly at the yarn until it looks finished.

What do you think sets your yarn apart from other Kiwi indie dyers?

I think we’re incredibly fortunate to part of such a collegial group of dyers, and we’re also fortunate to have very different styles! I tend to produce yarn has a predominant colour, with subtle tonal variations, or layers of similar tones. I like to knit lots of cables or complex lace, and the subtle tonal yarns work well with this style of knitting.

How did you begin dyeing yarn? Was it an extension of a fibre hobby?

I’ve been knitting for 13 years, and spinning for around 6, and it just doesn’t get old – there are always techniques, old and new, to discover, and different fibres to experiment with. I’ve been dying yarn for my own use for years, especially before there was access to such an amazing international market of hand-dyed yarns. In mid-2014 I took the leap into dying to sell to others, I’m really enjoying it and wish I had a bit more time so I could keep up with demand!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Op-shop magic and a mystery

I found a bit of time last week to do something I haven't done in a while - rummage through an op-shop. I've recently taken to buying my vintage online - often it saves me the time and sometimes I really like that the hard work has been done for me. The pretty dresses have been found, often cleaned, and I get more of a chance of finding something I really like and having a range to choose from. I've found some amazing gems online, with variety that I don't always find locally. But with an afternoon to spare, I wandered K Road op shops to see what I could find, and I came away with a treasure. 

A hand woven top. The fabric is just beautiful. I think it's wool, but I'm not completely sure. I do know that it is very well made and I wonder how it came to be in an op-shop. This isn't any old boxy shaped top. This was hand woven by  Lindsay Matterson, of the Handweavers Guild of Auckland.

I would love to find out the story behind this woven beauty. Who is Lindsay Matterson? Was it woven for an exhibition? Maybe as a fundraiser? How long did it take? What about the design process? What inspired this maker to weave? 

I think I might research this further and get in touch with the guild. I love how one object can have so many unanswered questions, and this is so beautifully made that I must know more!