Australian in Grenoble part one.

I’ve heard that Grenoble has a large English population, so it wasn’t such a surprise to discover on day one, an English cafe selling secondhand English books. The Bookworm Cafe is just across the river from the main part of town, on a street which contains quirky shops, restaurants and a couple of museums. It’s a car-free street, but not busy like the main shopping part of town. You can hear the serenity (Australians will know what that means, others please see The Castle). It isn’t like European cafes – this is a place you can really hang around for hours, you could knit, read….or chat to Mag, the very friendly prioprietor. We did all of those. Ate scones – Mag specially made me fruit free – pot of tea, and some books. I ended up with four cookbooks and a novel. I left the Short Stories of Kate Chopin for a certain friend to pick up when she visits soon.

Speaking of knitting, it saddened me to walk past an Anny Blatt shop which had been abandoned, in the middle of town. On the one hand, knitting is a booming activity worldwide. On the other, is the internet killing local business, even for something as hands on and visual as yarn shopping? I hope not. A thriving community that feels good to be part of will include all manner of shops, not only those whose merchandise can’t be sold online. Here in Grenoble there are plenty of haberdasheries that sell a little yarn, but nothing to interest a devoted knitter. I was all the happier, therefore, to find myself going down one of the many little alleys of the central part of Grenoble, wondering if it was a mistake, only to fall upon an utterly delightful yarn shop, Maille à part

Gorgeous yarn in a creative, beautiful space.

Elise speaks excellent English, so chatting about yarns and patterns was easy. She stocks Rowan patterns, some in French, some in English and she has a nice range of Brooklyn Tweed patterns as well. Elise’s mum machine knits garments that are for sale in the shop. These are unique once offs, made from best quality yarns and are very reasonably priced. I was torn between many of them, but ended up with a fair isle cashmere scarf, done as a tube so that the workings of it are invisible. It comes with an embroided flower pin to close it at the neck. I also bought a bag of a new Lang yarn, Vivienne, which feels very similar to my greatly missed Jaeger chamonix and has the same kind of construction as well. I was torn between that and a Cascade wool silk mix in red, which seems to be my colour right now….next time….

When I spotted – down another alley – a sign saying ‘Adelaide Cookies‘, I had to take a detour. ‘Don’t get too excited,’ said Manny. ‘It’s just a name. You know, like Madeleine’. Huh. I’m always telling people how great Australian food is, it’s gotta be my own home town. And indeed, upon sampling one of the biscuits – to use the Australian word – Manny asked the girl serving why ‘Adelaide’. ‘Because the recipe comes from the town.’ Yay!!! First London, next Paris, now Grenoble. Slowly Australian food is taking over Europe. Now if only it could make it over the Alps….

Food in the next installment.

Perfect left-sloping decreases

At the Richmond Knitting Group last night I mentioned that I’d discovered the perfect left-sloping decreases, so I thought I’d record the link details here. It’s a post by the brilliant Techknitting and you’ll find it here.

Honestly, it only looks complicated because she goes to the trouble of providing so much illustration of the technique. It takes me 10 seconds or so to do a stitch, but that’s probably just because I’m a slow learner and it is completely worth it. There is no other method I’ve seen that comes close to the attractiveness of it. It perfectly matches the right-sloping decrease.

I have the whole thing printed out and in my knitting bag as I never do enough decreases to be able to keep it in my head.

Try it: it’s worth it!

Set-In Sleeve Calculator. Free online tool

How useful is this. Inspired by Elinor who writes the Exercise Before Knitting blog (one of my favourites), a friend of hers has written a little program to do all the calculations for set-in sleeves.

For people like me who are forever knitting from stash and therefore changing the gauge of patterns, it’ll be mighty useful. Not to mention for designing, of course.

The link is here. Thanks Aaron!

Kim Hargreaves adds downloads to her site

Ooooo. So long ago I can scarcely recall, I had been thinking about buying a kit from Kim Hargreaves – it was called Evergreen. But it disappeared from view and upon contacting Kim I was told that it would be reappearing in download format. Well, I reckon that was in 2007. I waited. And I waited. AND I WAITED. Finally I completely forgot.

But I should have kept the faith. Evergreen is back. In .pdf format.

Evergreen by Kim Hargreaves
Evergreen by Kim Hargreaves

Isn’t she beautiful?

I happen to have some Rowan Alpaca Soft waiting to be knitted so this one had to be bought too:

Spirit by Kim Hargreaves
Spirit by Kim Hargreaves

Downloads make me happy but worried – there’s a place for downloads for sure, but I’m a book girl and the Hargreaves books are my kind of books. Good quality production, extravagant use of paper – so important to the aesthetics of book design, generous number of pictures. Her designs are exquisite, so they deserve layout to match.

Well, I asked Kim about this and she assures me that the books are the focus, with downloadable patterns an extra. I hope it stays that way.

When I bought my patterns yesterday a glitch in the new system meant I didn’t receive them. This was almost worth it as an enquiry to Kim led to one of her charming responses. She writes like she designs.

Her new collection of downloadable patterns are available here.

Sorting out hoodies once and for all.

There are SO many hoodies out there in pattern land that I’ve gotten to a point where my head swims every time I think about which one to go for. This is to sort out my own thoughts….if it helps anybody else, great!

When Wanderlust Hoodie first came out in Interweave Knits, lust pretty much summed up how I felt about it. I love cable patterns that don’t look contrived, I love its cozy chunky look, I imagined I would live it in, reluctantly taking it off to shower each day. Imagined is the operative word. There was no actual meeting of knitting needles on this…or on any others mentioned in this post.

Wanderlust Hoodie
Wanderlust Hoodie

This is the one – Central Park Hoodie – that everybody’s had a go at.

Central Park Hoodie
Central Park Hoodie

I guess it’s for sporty people – is that it? Sorry, I don’t understand the fad with this one. All the others in this post I’d by happy to try, but not this one. Maybe I’m too old to like it.

Probably the most famous internet patterns for hoodies being knitted at the moment are from Twist Collective. Ysolda is responsible for Vivien, which some say is fiendishly difficult:

Vivian by Ysolda
Vivian by Ysolda

Who didn’t put this straight onto their must-be-done list? Ysolda actually managed to make cables look sexy. How DOES she do it? And yet, however gorgeous it is, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t feel more comfortable lounging about in Shirley Paden’s Wanderlust Hoodie. You’d get dressed in Vivan. You’d live in Wanderlust. Well, I would!

Vivian, a sexy hoodie? How's that?
Vivian, a sexy hoodie? How's that?

Twist Collective could have rested right there with the hoodie of the year, but oh no. They had to obfuscate the situation with ANOTHER hoodie of the year, in the SAME issue. Yes, I’m talking about Sylvi

Sylvi by Marie Muinonen
Sylvi by Marie Muinonen

And yes, plain but darn cute from the front:

Sylvi front view. Hmmm. Do I have the right boots?
Sylvi front view. Hmmm. Do I have the right boots?

I’m a tad nervous about this one: is it going to be too heavy? And if done in a light yarn, would that mean some sort of alpaca/mohair based yarn which would obscure the lovely detail?

Getting back to something a bit less extravagant, what about this:


You can get this as a .pdf download from Patternfish. I am really taken with this. Cables and bobbles not overdone, but it seems to me more stylish than the Central Park Hoodie. Maybe it’s more adult. Speaking of which….

I rather like this, too, for simple and stylish, also a download from Patternfish:

Grown-up Hoodie by Kira Dulaney
Grown-up Hoodie by Kira Dulaney

I adore this one:

Hooded Pullover by Deborah Newton
Hooded Pullover by Deborah Newton

From a recent Vogue issue, it is also available as a download here. Adore it maybe, but I’m also scared of it. What is it going to look like on a grown-up short person who needs bust darts? Disaster?

I could go on. I haven’t even mentioned the sleeveless hoodies, some of which are rather nice too. But that’s enough confusion for one post.

In the gauge sin bin.

I am speechless. If I used speech recognition software this would be a short post. Fortunately I can still use a keyboard.

The bad news:

There I was, cruising along on my Louisa Harding Laurie, well aware that I didn’t seem to have nearly enough yarn, even though 10 skeins of Sublime DK should have been more than ample. So, I modified as necessary to cover the yarn deficiency while muttering darkly about designers who can’t do simple maths. Finished it. Put it on. Maybe eight inches of ease…about 5 inches more than the pattern planned for.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. FIVE inches too much ease. So, about midnight I hopped out of bed, I took my new jumper down to the kitchen, got out the tape measure and took a look at my gauge. 19 st/4 inches rather than the called for 22.

There has to be a lesson here somewhere. I don’t doubt the lesson will contain some or all of the following words: Arrogance. Laziness. Overconfidence. Presumptuousness. Asininity.

Having said all that, however, I must say the reason I don’t bother with swatches is that my gauge is usually spot on. The idea that it will be out by 3 stitches/4″ is pretty much inconceivable. Which just goes to show…always expect the unexpected

The good news:
Clarissa will not be borrowing this one. She likes things to be fitted, feminine. These things my new sweater is not. Of course, it MIGHT be fitted on her soon enough. Ever since she got released by the Somalian pirates (see here) she’s been eating like there is no tomorrow. ‘The food they served up’….even now it makes her shudder.

I think when I get back from Surfers this weekend I’m going to suggest to her that I need to go on a diet, a bit of a get-fit campaign. Not that I need to myself, but I know how Clarissa’s mind works. She’ll hop on board ‘just to give me the support’. Who knows…it could do us both some good.

How do men knit – and why?

I was rather moved by the following analysis of a baby’s jumper knitted in the 1920s. You will have to click here for a view of the item in question.

Jumper, infants, hand-knitted, wool / plastic / cotton, made by Alfred Varley, London, England, 1926

Baby’s hand-knitted jumper made from a lavender coloured wool. It has long sleeves ending in a ribbed cuff and a front collar featuring a white spot on either side. At the back is a sailor-style collar which features a white and lavender trim that is also repeated around the waist. The collar is closed at the neck with three large, white, mismatched buttons taken from a pair of male trousers. The buttons are reinforced at the rear with blue and white striped fabric. The arms have not been worked to form the shape of the shoulder. Instead they extend horizontally out from the collarbone. Irregular stitches hold the two sides together. A hole on the back of the jumper may be the result of dropped stitches.
Production notes
This jumper was made by Alfred Henry Varley in London in 1926. Alfred had never knitted before and decided to make a jumper for his new baby daughter Phyllis. The jumper exhibits a number of irregular features and design flaws which can be explained by Alfred’s previous lack of knitting experience and decision not to use a pattern.

Phyllis did not get to see much of her father before his early death. She kept the jumper for many years before finally donating it, at age 80, to the Powerhouse Museum. The story of its making was passed on to her by her mother:

This jumper was made by Alfred Henry Varley in London in 1926. Alfred knitted the jumper for his new-born baby daughter Phyllis (the donor) who had been born in London in October 1925. The family lived in Newington Green Road, Islington.

Elsie Varley, Alfred’s wife, was a great knitter who made many items of clothing for her new-born baby daughter. Elsie was a teenager during the war years and likely took up knitting as a wartime activity. Alfred had never knitted before but decided that he would like to make something for their new baby after watching his wife knitting. Elsie gave him the lavender wool used in this jumper.

While it was unusual for men to knit at this time there were exceptions. For instance, men of the upper classes were often taught to knit as young children by their nannies. School children were sometimes taught and many sailors were knitters. Some soldiers received knitting lessons as part of survival training or learnt to knit as prisoners-of-war. Alfred Varley’s decision to knit a jumper for his new baby is less surprising given this context and the ensuing post-war knitting mania.

Alfred did not ask for knitting advice or use a pattern. However he watched Elsie knitting and according to his daughter probably looked at other knitted jumpers. Phyllis also suggests that he may have watched his wife reinforce buttons on other jumpers since he knew to add fabric behind the buttons. It is likely that the large buttons were taken from an old pair of Alfred’s trousers.

The donor said her father was a brilliant man who spoke seven languages fluently. She suggests that he would have been able to successfully duplicate knitted jumpers seen elsewhere. This ability is particularly evidenced by the elaborate trim. However the treatment of the armholes and the poor sewing on the sides betrays a lack of skill. Phyllis cannot recall her father making any other knitted items.

Now, doesn’t that tug at your heart-strings?

Men and knitting

Soon after noticing Ilga Lega’s ruminations on the difficulty of designing – in an interesting way, that is – for men, I came upon Janet Szabo’s blog for Big Sky Knitting Designs

She reported this discussion with her husband:

The conversation went something like this:

Me (having located a really cool cable pattern in one of my stitch dictionaries): Wow, I love this stitch pattern. This would be great in a cotton yarn as a guy’s pullover.

The husband: Cotton? Why would I wear a cotton sweater? It gets wet and makes you cold. I like wool.

Me: Hmmm, this design isn’t for you.

The husband: It’s not?

Me: No, this is for the Summer issue of the newsletter and wool isn’t really an appropriate choice.

The husband: What guy wears a cotton sweater in the summer?

Me: Think “metrosexual.”

The husband: I’d rather not.

Obviously we did not make any headway in the “knitting for men” department.

This is a great site and blog for technical discussions about knitting, by the way, such as recently a set of posts on how to set about turning your pattern into a range of sizes. Janet also puts out the Twists and Turns newsletters, dedicated to cable knitting with technical discussions and patterns. They are all available via .pdf download and I’d say they would be a great investment for anybody with more than a passing interest in cables.

My terrible knitting confession.

Sonia is making me feel bad. She had some sort of fit of conscience at the beginning of the year and she is finishing all her old unfinished objects. Either than or turning them back into yarn…

I guess everybody who knits has some sort of stash, don’t they? Yarn stash – yep. Book stash, count me in. Needle stash – absolutely. But this is the thing I just have to get off my chest. You see, I have an unfinished object stash. However I try, there is no other way of putting it. Does anybody else have one of them?

From the prosaic to the outrageous: a source of knitting history

I think I mentioned that I’ve been looking for tea cosy patterns on the web. What an education I’ve received along the way. Most recently, I discovered that The Powerhouse Museum has an eclectic collection of items to do with knitting. There are some interesting descriptions and pictures on the Museum site.

Unfortunately I can’t show the pictures here, but you might find just about ANYTHING here, from 19th century knitting machines to groovy seventies designer knits – Liquorice Allsorts by Vivian Chan – to the earnest entry: One of a series of specimens showing the most approved methods of sewing, darning and knitting as carried on in Holland: Knitting specimens of 2 heels for renewing stockings. There is a selection of tea cosies . One, hand-knitted in wool and glass by Moreen Clark is quite extraordinary to look at….the description will give you a good idea of why, but do click here to look at it:

The Significance Statement summarises why an object is important and places it in a social and cultural context. An object may be significant for various reasons, including: historical use, rarity, design/aesthetics, new technology or changes in society. Statement of significance
Moreen Clark is a significant contemporary Australian craftswoman. This cosy is a fine example of adapting a traditional area of womans work into a contemporary form. She dyes hanspun wool in order to suit her designs of Australian flora and fauna.
Tea-cosy, wool/glass, hand-knitted, Moreen Clark, Australia, 1989

The hand knitted cosy is comprehensively covered with embroidery of a bush scene of Australian native trees and flowers. The cosy is hand knitted from handspun and dyed wool in bands of red, pink, yellow, blue, mauve and orange and the two sides have been sewn together. At the openings at the side and neck is a black crotcheted scalloped band in black wool. This scalloped band is also around the base of the cosy.
Embroidered onto the tea-cosy in wool and glass beads is a bush scene of Australian native flowers, trees, sheep and birds. The flowers depicted include Sturt desert pea, xantheria and wattle. Horizontal knitted bands form landscape ground with handworked embroidery creating the lasndscape details, polychrome glass bugle beads applied to embroidery to form flower centres etc.
History Notes include facts about what has happened to an object since manufacture. This could include who owned it and how it was used (provenance). It may also describe any cultural meanings with which it may have become associated. History notes
Commissioned from the artist by domestic & Industrial Life Collection Division of MAAS.

A knitted clothing ensemble can be found by Moreen Clark can be found here.

Ensemble, comprising jacket, skirt, pillbox hat and muff ‘Taking the Bush to London’, wool / glass / plastic modelling compound and design submission, paper, Moreen Clark, Australia, 1988-1989.

A four piece knitted womens ensemble comprising a fitted long line cardigan style jacket in black wool and matching short straight skirt muff and pillbox hat. The jacket is densley embroidered around the shoulders front and back yokes and cuffs in polychrome wool depicting an Australian landscape theme and featurning Australian native flowers including the sturt’s desert pea, flannel flowers, wattle and banksia. The muff is embroidered on the front with a dense floral bouquet, and the hat in embroidered on the flat crown with foliage and flowers. The skirt is plain black.

The ensemble is supported by a design drawing and knitting sample, that were part of the submision for the outfit to be included in the exhibtion Australian Fashion: the contemporary art.

Amazing stuff.