Tag Archives: crochet

Just in Time for Summer!

Just in time for summer, I’ve finished a heavily textured pullover! After the lower than average temperatures of May, June has started to hot up and thick jumpers are unnecessary! It’s my penultimate project for Part One of IDC and fulfils the criteria: commercial pattern; sleeves; and shaping. The pattern was called Elbow Patches Pullover by Nichole Magnuson (Inside Crochet, issue 60) but I omitted the patches, which was acceptable as we are allowed to make one change to the commercial pattern.

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Dare I admit it..? Even though I’ve been doing crochet for about six years, this was the first garment I’ve made – though not the first attempted! I was keen to do something tactile, as I’m more interested in texture than colour-work. I have the (perhaps incorrect) notion that colour dates a garment faster than texture, and as I’m not really into fast fashion (handmade items are slower to make and so surely have no proper place in fashion that gets replaced every season) texture appeals more. I really liked this jumper when I started making it, but by the time I’d finished it, I completely gone off it! It remains to be seen whether I wear it or not. Anyway, as an IDC project, it passed with ..ha.. flying colours!

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Alpacas and Dragons and Sheep, Oh My!

Ickworth House, a National Trust property in Suffolk, held their second Wool Fair at the end of May. I went along because my IDC teacher/assessor Helen Jordan asked if I might, on the off chance, be up for helping with her crochet supplies stall Thread of Life. I had just handed in my household project and the request came when the project was returned to me. I didn’t immediately agree, as I’m not really a “Roll up! Roll up! Come and see this…” kinda gal and thought that this, combined with my rubbish maths, wouldn’t make for a good stall companion! Helen said it was fine, and that I could sit and do demonstrations. The magic words were “all expenses paid!” Well, I thought, why not?? It would be a good, if slightly daunting, experience for me and, although a stall companion isn’t essential, it is handy to have someone to mind the stall during a break as well as to help with setting up/deconstructing a stall, and hefting things about.

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Helen Jordan and her stall, Thread of Life

The event came around, and the forecast was for a lovely bright Saturday, followed by a wash-out the next day (did someone say Sunday?). We were situated in a big marquee – less likely to get blown away than the individual tents (this did happen to someone the night before the event!) The weather matched the forecast but the rain didn’t put the public off, as I think there were nearly as many visitors as on the sunny day.

To calm my nerves, I sat and did demonstrations for much of the day (mostly of hairpin crochet, with a bit of tunisian thrown in), The hairpin really piqued people’s curiosity and I was asked about it lots. I explained it wasn’t new-fangled technique dating to at least Victorian times but, for some reason, had never become widely used. I showed how it could be used to create intricate and delicate shawls but also to produce denser fabrics. It uses less yarn than ordinary crochet, and works up quickly, which is great if you’re an impatient beginner! Most of those stopping by the stall didn’t know what hairpin was, though some had heard of it; only one elderly lady knew exactly what it was. She told me her grandmother had used this technique but that she hadn’t seen it in a long time. I found out she had taught a bit of crochet so I encouraged her to teach this method of crochet which deserves to be more widely known.

Another fascinating conversation sparked off by the hairpin was with a Textiles graduate. From a distance, she seemed totally entranced by what I was doing, before coming to talk to me. Turns out she had tried her hand at most textile crafts but had never encountered hairpin. Not that she got on with crochet at all – apparently, the constant motion of slightly flicking the wrist in crochet wreaked havoc with her neck. My comments about hairpin being an old technique in a relatively young craft surprised her as she believed crochet to be older than knitting, which is ages-old. (Pauline Turner of the International Diploma in Crochet teaches that there is no solid evidence of the craft prior to the 1800s.) The graduate’s eyebrows rocketed! This all lead on to her telling us about her studies, and her dissertation which revolved around the idea of the invisibility of “women’s work” – the cooking and cleaning and clothing – which enabled men to get on in life. Her husband was nearby and smiled at the irony – while his wife studied, it was he who did the housework… much better with the Dyson than she was, in fact! Not content with a Textiles degree, this crafter is going on to do a Masters in Fine Art – no easy thing when the emphasis is textiles. I remember something Grayson Perry said about craft not being valued as highly as art, and how it was more difficult to “come out’ as a crafter than as a transvestite”! Let’s hope this woman manages to shake up the status quo!

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Rare Breed Sheep.. before the music started..

Of course, no wool celebration is complete without sheep. In a spare moment I wandered round the fair and got drawn in by the dancing sheep. Yes, you did read that right. Even scarcer than a rare breed sheep is a dancing rare breed sheep. There was Lenny the Lincoln Longwool, Nobby the Norfolk Horn (a breed rarer than the panda), Dougal the Scottish Blackface, and Sam the Suffolk. These disco woollies were on tour with The Sheep Roadshow. Of the many interesting facts thrown at the audience by Sean the Shearer, here are a choice few: there are more sheep in the UK than the rest of Europe; the waterproof oil in wool is lanolin and is used in cosmetics e.g. lipstick, which is “basically sheep sweat with a pretty colour!” And did you know that sheep have a great sense of smell? Desert sheep can smell water from a distance…

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Rivals for the attention of the public were the (non-dancing) alpacas. They are lovely creatures belonging to the camel family – think camels without humps. Mind you, I’ve tended to think of them as long-legged sheep with elongated necks. But don’t you dare call their fleece wool! For some reason it’s called fibre. Unlike wool, it is hollow in structure, and the absence of lanolin makes it hypoallergenic. There are two types of alpaca based on differences in their fibre: the Huacaya have sheep-esque woolliness; the Suri have long,spiral locks.These camelids are friendly with sheep, goats and chickens and can be kept alongside them. Handily for the chickens, they offer great protection against foxes. But if you’re thinking of keeping a guard-alpaca, do remember that they are herd animals and must be kept on groups of at least three. Not that they’ll vocalise aggressively; they don’t even brazenly bleat like sheep or goats. It’s almost as if they’re ventriloquists, throwing their voices, as the sound doesn’t quite seem to come from them. I now understand why it’s described as “humming”..

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The dragons were of the non-maiden-eating type. They jingled a bit, they skipped a bit, for these were the Green Dragon Morris Dancers, a “family side” meaning that women are allowed to participate.

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Other delights included a sheepdog trial which I, unfortunately, missed, and non-woolly stalls such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and Libbidib Pottery. All in all, an enjoyable weekend – and a lesson learned: don’t pass up an opportunity because of self-doubt.

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Mary Janes

I’ve no idea who Mary Jane was, nor if she wore this style of footwear. The necessity for making something as adorable as these arose when another friend of mine had a baby, so I’ve a  mini-make to show off… Cute, aren’t they?

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The new arrival is Carolin, and hopefully she won’t be as fussy as Emily (recipient of the pompom blanket from the post, Half A Mermaid). Emily apparently doesn’t like wearing anything on her feet or head, so that rules out some of the sweetest patterns.

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These booties were designed by Vita Apala, and the pattern appeared in issue 34 of Inside Crochet (October 2012)

 

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Camera Cosy

There is something about cold weather which seems to affect phone and camera batteries – they drain quickly only to revive again when back in the warm. Or is it just my technology?

The reason for mentioning this is that I have a new camera, courtesy of Father Christmas, and it didn’t fit into my old camera case. For a while, I took it out to play in a mere wisp of a cover, to stop the screen getting scratched. One particularly frosty morning, the battery registered full before I went outside only to threaten “no charge” when I was taking photos. This has happened occasionally with phones too. So I decided to crochet a cosy for said camera, utilising a tranche of my ever-growing stash and one of the buttons that came free with a magazine a while back.

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Using Tunisian simple stitch, and an envelope style with asymmetrical flap, the whole thing was stitched up using dc as an outside seam. My camera hasn’t complained of  cold since, even when I took it out on the one day of settled snow here in north London.

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First Attempts

Do you remember what your first crochet project was? Do you still have an early example of your efforts? I haven’t hung on to my first attempts and my first project was a scarf which turned out well enough to give away as a gift. At least, I gave it to one of my best friends for Xmas, and she seemed happy with it, but she may have been indulging me!

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My mum showed me a piece of crochet she did many years ago – I think it may even have been her first item, a doily done in thread cotton. I’m impressed – I don’t think I’d be able to work anything so fine. Time has unravelled it somewhat – maybe years of folding has worn it away at the creases, or perhaps it snagged on something in the cupboard. But there’s enough of it left that the pattern can be worked out. Mum said it was done in motifs and then joined together at the end with a border put round to finish it. It’s way too fine for me to copy, but I would like to try working my own version, possibly in 4-ply (the thinnest yarn that I’m happy to work with), or chunkier. Not sure what use I’d put a doily to, though. They are very old-fashioned (not that I pay attention to fashion!) If I needed a rug, I could do a massive version. Any suggestions for modern uses of doilies?

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Twelfth Night

The end of Yuletide has arrived and, with it, the end of revelries. Back to work in time for “Plough Monday”, and a return to normality. For me, it was an excuse to send a Xmas prezzie late, as I hadn’t finished it on time for December 25th. It hadn’t been a particularly difficult pattern, but I miscounted stitches a few times and had to undo rows several times. The pattern was Claire Montgomerie’s Fern Cowl from Inside Crochet issue 14 /Feb 2011 – it’s a pattern I’ve wanted to try for ages, and finally! got round to it..

100_7397I was pleased with how it turned out, though I’m a bit apprehensive that it might be too snug a fit.. What I wasn’t pleased with is my inability to get colour right in photos – I find it really tricky to get the colour of a garment the same in pictures as in real life. I gave the recipient of the gift a choice of hue – turquoise or.. well, I could only describe it as a kind of greeny-yellow, verging on the acid green. My instincts told me my friend would like the latter best, and I was right. When I went to the yarn shop to get more wool to complete the project, I asked the helpful assistant how she would describe it – she called it pistachio, which sounds more appealing!

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Centenary Stitches

One of my lovely gardening clients, who knows I’m a crochet addict, told me of an exhibition she’s heard about on the radio called Centenary Stitches. It sounded very interesting, and I was keen to go. Finding out it was in Lincoln, I figured it was a bit too far to visit just for an exhibition! But then I remembered I had some money-off vouchers from a delayed train journey in the summer, so I decided to use them to day-trip halfway up the country especially. And I’m glad I went – it was a small exhibition, but I spent nearly an hour and a half having a good ol’ rummage around.

The Centenary Stitches project grew from the costuming of a community film called Tell Them of Us. The aim was to create something centred around the war story of ordinary people, not celebrated already by fame or high rank. But these are the people about whom there is typically less documentation. However, one family – the Crowders from the village of Thimbleby in Lincolnshire – had maintained a comprehensive archive containing letters, memoirs and scrapbooks, photos and other items from the Great War years. From this family archive, a script and screenplay developed.

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If the stories of everyman are difficult to discover due to lack of records, costuming and clothing can be even more tricky. Fabrics are fragile, especially the woollens, being susceptible to moth damage or easy to repurpose, for example, through felting. Photographic evidence provides little more information, as these tended to record special events rather than daily attire. Knitting patterns from the era are a more reliable source, though these are problematic for the 21st century yarner thanks to the difference in culture; in the early 20th century, most girls were schooled in knitting and crochet, so patterns didn’t need the details required by many today. For instance, sock instructions could use the short-hand “turn the heel” and the reader could proceed without panic and you-tube how-to guides. Some of the items in this exhibition are clothes crafted for the film, but there are also reproductions of other items from World War One.

There are two woolly stories to be told here: one is military – how knitting affected the lives of troops at the Front; the other is social – the tale of women and how their clothing reflected their increasing emancipation.

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Military uniforms were not enough for the needs of the soldiers, and were supplemented with knitted accessories that came to be known as ‘comforts’. These were sent by women to their loved ones in the trenches, but also distributed by organisations like the Red Cross and Regimental Comforts Fund. Such items included scarves, gloves, balaclavas and smooth-seamed socks. Lord Kitchener, British secretary of state for war and the face of “Your Country Needs You” posters, is credited with the invention of an invisible grafted toe seam which helped prevent blisters – sock patterns of the time were made with a seam up the toe that tended to cause chafing. Among the more unusual knits were knee warmers, often worn over bandages in hospital, and rifleman’s gloves without thumb and trigger finger. Despite the value of their endeavours, many of the crafters put themselves down as being just a “Sister Susie”, and denigrated their war work , believing it to be a minimal contribution because  they did not suffer or don a uniform. But VAD nurse Olive Dent noted otherwise in her diary: “We nurses know how much the gifts and comforts are appreciated… Every stitch..meant a few minutes greater comfort – and correspondingly less pain – from an aching body tortured on our behalf, for our defence and birthrights.” She goes so far as to say that these Sister Susies performed “some of the most valuable war service”.

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Rifleman’s glove

The process of women becoming more active participants in society, in roles that were previously denied them, meant that their clothes had to change. Greater freedom of movement became necessary. There was a shift from garments which needed to be clung to like the shawl, to those such as jumpers and cardigans. Women started to ditch the restrictive corset and this was hastened by metal shortages brought about by the war – metal, of course, was needed to construct the framework of corsets. Apart from maintaining a rigid, upright posture, corsets also provided an insulating layer  to the torso so all that would be required to stave off the chill might be a shawl. Without this thermal layer, those same garments enabling freer movement, the waistcoats etc, became fundamental for warmth.

The costume design for the film was based on original knitting patterns from the Edwardian period as well as photographs of the eldest Crowder sister, Grace, whose clothing was ‘reverse-engineered’ by specialist knitters. Looking around the exhibition, most of the items were knitted which is hardly surprising given that, traditionally, crochet uses more yarn, which isn’t conducive to the frugality that the war demanded. One of my favourite pieces was a knitted wrap waistcoat.

Knitted wrap waistcoat with crocheted embellishment

Its maker said she was excited to see the way garter stitch was used in this pattern because people usually think garter stitch is boring. It has a crocheted embellishment on the belt, which I liked. Other crocheted items included a bag, shawls and hats. The most surprising item was a tie done in Tunisian crochet, certainly an unusual technique today as I suspect it was then, too.

Tunisian crocheted tie

Commemorating a war through its woolies is an unusual venture, perhaps deemed too trivial in comparison with the horrors endured by the soldiers, or not dramatic enough to be considered. But knitting and crochet really did play an important, if understated, role.

 Further Reading

http://www.centenarystitches.wordpress.com

Jane Crowfoot, The Kitchener Stitch, in The Knitter, Issue 19

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