Friday, June 29, 2012

New pattern: INSULATE! hat

My geek-tastic new hat pattern is now available - and it's free! INSULATE!

The Dalek design is quite stylised, so that it works as a purely geometric design too. I'm looking forward to wearing it out and about and seeing who spots the Daleks. ;)

For the colourwork, I've used stranding (or fairisle) technique for some rounds and mosaic (or slip-stitch) technique for the rest, to avoid having too many long floats on the inside. Using a combination of the the two also makes it a quicker knit than if it were all stranded.

For the stranded rounds, I used my newly-acquired two-handed stranding technique, which I'm getting more and more comfortable with. I made a larger one of these for Willie, with a variegated yarn for the Daleks and a solid colour for the background, which worked really well. I still need to catch him so I can take a photo of it!

The yarn I used is Little Wool Company '8ply Pure Wool Naturals', in the colours 'Papa' and 'Pumice'. It's undyed and subtly heathered, and really softens up after a warm wash. After blocking the finished hat, I can wear it next to my skin perfectly comfortably.

I also have a matching pair of mittens planned... :)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ambidextrous knitting

Earlier this month I attended a two-handed colourwork knitting class run by Morag of Vintage Purls, which I talked about in my Handmade: Day 1 post. It's a little embarrassing, but I finally finished the little bag yesterday! I got distracted by other projects, and because this was a practice project, it was looking a bit of a mess. The tension on the side with the birds was decidedly wonky... but with the magical tidying-up power of blocking, it now looks quite presentable:

I basically gave it a vigorous wash in warm water, and smoothed it out flat to dry in front of the heater. Voila!

Things I learned making this little project:
  • learning new techniques from a teacher in person is much quicker than from books/websites
  • how to knit 'Continental style', with the yarn held in my left hand
  • how to knit with one colour in each hand, knitting 'English' style with RH and 'Continental' with LH
  • how to 'catch' the long floats on the wrong side
  • that smooth, fine, slippery yarn is not the easiest for colourwork - it was hard to get my tension right and my double-pointed needles kept escaping onto the floor
  • that yarn dyed with red food colouring can run when you wash it in warm water (oops!)
  • blocking cures all (or nearly all).

I've signed up for another knitting-related class this Saturday (also with Morag), on shawl construction and design. I have several shawl ideas at the rough-sketch-on-paper stage - I'm hoping the class will give me a boost to get some of them nutted out and realised.

Since the two-handed knitting class, I've used the 'Continental' knitting style to make a plain vanilla hat to get more practice holding the yarn in my left hand. The first inch or so was a pain (especially the ribbing, oh the ribbing!), but it got quite natural after that.

After the plain hat, I made a colourwork hat using the two-handed stranding technique. With thicker, fuzzier wool and more practice under my belt, I had a much easier time of it than with the little bag, and my tension was fine. Here's a sneaky peek at the hat, which I'll be releasing as a free pattern shortly... ;)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Out of my comfort zone

Yesterday afternoon my choir held an 'open day' - a concert with items from the choir, the kids' choir, and the two young organists, followed by mulled wine in the choir room. The main event for me (other than the really good mulled wine - lots of cinnamon sticks!) was singing the solo in Mendelssohn's "O for the Wings of a Dove". I don't usually tackle 19thC music - in fact I tend to actively avoid it - but the choir director Robert has a soft spot for what he calls 'chocolate box music', so I had to suck it up!

One aspect that differed from my usual Baroque fare was that I had to obey the dynamic and expression markings in the score, instead of making my own decisions about those things. And of course I didn't have to worry about adding trills etc, so it was actually a more straightforward process than I'm used to when I prepare pieces for performance.

In the end, it went really well! Luckily our organist Tom is a very experienced Romantic performer, so it was easy to really get into the music with him accompanying. And the choir sang well too. :)

In other singing news, I'm now on Day 27 of my self-imposed course of sight-singing Bach chorales. And I'm getting better! As with many things, doing a little bit each day does get results. I discussed it with Robert, and he suggested playing the bass line on the keyboard while I sing the other parts, to help give context. I tried it, and it makes the sight-singing so much easier it kind of feels like cheating. :p

I'm still having trouble with some of the larger intervals. It's pretty embarrassing, but I still can't reliably sing 4ths and 5ths! Playing the bass line does help, but I need to have another strategy so I'm not just guessing. I'm going to try 'filling in' the interval with a fast scale, out loud at first, and then in my head. Simple, and hopefully foolproof. We shall see...

Monday, June 18, 2012

New pattern: Carrot Top

My latest pattern is now live: the Carrot Top hat! It's a super-cosy cabled beanie, inspired by the awesomeness that is red hair (think Pippi Longstocking and her epic plaits). I'm really pleased with the way the cabled plaits 'grow' out of the ribbed brim:

I made one for me - extra long so I can wear it with a pixie point, or with the brim folded up...


And one for Willie, which he's been wearing non-stop since I finished it! :)

Cables not only give extra warmth from their thickness and air-trapping pockets and folds, they look a lot trickier to knit than they actually are. As I discovered when I made my Beatnik jersey last year, cable charts make knitting cables very intuitive - you can see on the chart which direction your cable cross will go, and the symbols tell you which stitches need to be knitted or purled. Much easier (for me) than lists of acronymns. Colour-coding the different kinds of cable crosses is also a sanity-saver, which I used in the charts for Carrot Top.

My orange hat is in Malabrigo Rios (colour 'Glazed Carrot', teehee), from Little Country Wools, and Willie's brown hat is in Three Irish Girls Galenas Merino (colour 'O'Donnell'), which he picked out from the HRYC stall at the Wellington Underground Market last month.

It's been seriously cold in Wellington lately, so new warm hats are very timely indeed!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A cosy kindle

I finished sewing my kindle cover yesterday, and I love it! Very functional + cute. I used this tutorial: Make a custom Kindle cover, and fabric from my stash. The cartoon-books fabric was intended for a bag to haul library books around, but I can do a patchwork-style bag with the leftovers. I cut up two old diary/planners for the stiff cardboard inserts, so it was a good recycling exercise. :)

Propped up for reading

Folded flat for hand-held reading

The back (with cute fabric!)

All tidied away

As with all of my sewing adventures there were a few moments of frustration, but for once the problems were easily solved (i.e. cutting down the cardboard inserts when I discovered the fabric sleeve was too narrow). If I ever make another, I'll add padding to the inside surfaces for extra protection in case of clumsiness.

Friday, June 8, 2012


One of my weak spots in singing is sight-reading, i.e. singing what's on the page in front of you without having seen or heard it before. It's a very handy skill for learning new music in a group (saves time teaching each person/section their part), and it's a normal (and scary) part of auditions. So I've resolved to work at getting better at it, and I have a plan...

Robert suggested I practise sight-reading the tenor parts of Bach chorales, because they jump around in interesting ways, and so I acquired a book of Bach's chorale harmonisations. There are 371 in the book, so that's plenty to be going on with. My plan is to do one chorale per day, which should be easy enough to fit in. I'm up to Day 10 today. :)

I've been starting with the soprano part, as a gentle start - they're just simple hymn tunes, without many jumps. Then I do the alto part, the tenor part (which is usually the trickiest), and the bass part (up an octave). Bass parts tend to have big jumps, so they're good practice for me.

(a nice short one)

The only problem with the book I'm using (the old Riemenschneider edition) is that it doesn't have the text of the chorales written in. I'll have to find something else in addition to practise sight-singing with words. :p

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A musical treat

Yesterday afternoon Willie and I went to a concert of 17thC viol music. Getting more than a couple of viol players together is rare in Wellington, so this was definitely a special treat! The performers were Loren Ludwig and Polly Sussex on both treble and bass viols, Robert Oliver on bass viol, and Douglas Mews on organ. For the five-part viol pieces, they were joined by Kevin Wilkinson and Susan Alexander on tenor viols. Last year, Olivia and I performed some consort songs with Robert, Loren, and Kevin. It was great to be able to relax and enjoy the music this time without being nervous about my own pieces. :)

My favourite items in the concert were the Christopher Simpson Fantasias 'Winter', 'May', and 'June'; the five-part Fantasia by John Jenkins; and the Suite by Anthony Holborne. Lively and well-played, and the sound of the viols together was just luxurious.

Seeing the treble viols in action made me want to take up playing again. During my past flirtation with viol playing, I went for the bass instrument, but I think part of my difficulty with it is that my arms and legs are really too short for it. I think a treble is more my size...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Handmade: Day 2

This morning I had choir as usual at St Mary's, but with a couple of incidents that weren't entirely usual. During Mass, Olivia and I sang the Monteverdi duet we'd been working on (a 'Salve Regina' setting), and it went really well. We'd had a good run-through before Mass, which helped our confidence a lot. I'm even getting more used to leading now. But alas, Olivia is departing to Berlin to pursue her art career. The choir had a farewell lunch (bring-a-plate style), and it was all a bit sad. But she has promised to return after a year or so, and keep us up-to-date with her adventures via email.

Afterwards, I headed over to Te Papa for more crafting at the knit lounge. I hadn't signed up for any classes for today, so I just hung out and did some spinning and knitting and chatting. A couple of people had brought their spinning wheels, which was cool to watch. I started spinning some rainbow merino on my wee turkish spindle (both recently acquired).

When I got sick of spinning, I switched to working on the little knitted bag that I started at yesterday's two-handed knitting class. Happily, I still remembered how to do it! Still awkward, but I shall keep practising. Eventually I started making mistakes and dropping needles, so I took a hint and called it a day. Time to curl up with a pot of tea and my kindle... :)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Handmade: Day 1

First up, Willie accompanied me to a lecture about the history of knitting: "Proud Knitters: A History of Communities of Strangers". It was really fascinating! I didn't know people used to write in to magazines and answer each other's crafting questions, much like we now do online. Or that paper shortages during the war affected how detailed patterns in magazines instructions could be - that explains the extreme brevity of many older patterns, which are so hard for us to figure out today. We're used to being given much more detail!

After the lecture, Willie headed out to a family lunch and I went to the 'knit lounge' to hang out before my afternoon class. I tried out some GIANT knitting needles, which were rather hard on one's arms (bloody cool though)...

I had brought a knitting project to work on, but I noticed no-one was spinning, so I decided to get out my spindle and represent. ;) I got a few curious folks watching and asking questions, and one little boy tested my fibre for softness by rubbing it on his nose (eww). The Holland Road Yarn Co folks had lots of yarn and fibre and needles and things for sale, and I fell in love with this merino spinning fibre:

I'm a sucker for pretty colours.

My afternoon class was over in the town hall, so some of us trooped over there together. I'm glad I booked early for "Two-Handed Stranded Knitting", because it sold out. It was definitely worth seeing the technique in person rather that from a book, because it was a bit tricky to get my head around. We started making our little bags by knitting 'normally', and then learned to knit with our other hand. In my case this meant holding the yarn in my left hand and scooping it off my left index finger to make each stitch.

Once we'd mostly got the hang of that, the teacher (Morag of Vintage Purls) showed us how to alternate stitches with the two strands of yarn held in one-in-each-hand. It actually wasn't too awkward after the practice I'd had knitting with my left hand, although I was knitting tighter than usual. After the alternating stripes, we started on a charted picture of two birds, learning how to secure the long floats at the back as we went. I didn't get very far on the birds, but it'll be good to keep practising so I don't forget what I've learned.

Friday, June 1, 2012


I have one! We found a good deal on refurbished ones, so I decided not to wait for my birthday after all...

I've found it easy to get the hang of so far (granted, I haven't tried connecting it to wi-fi yet). I went "shopping" for out-of-copyright books at the Project Gutenberg website, and loaded some goodies onto the Kindle via USB cable.
I may actually get around to reading Jane Eyre at last. ;)

Of course, I now need to make a protective case for it. Any excuse for a craft project, I know! I found a sewing tutorial that looks good, but I'll have to wait till next week to get started, because this weekend the Handmade craft festival is on! I'm looking forward to the two-handed stranded knitting class, and hanging out at the knit lounge with the other knitting geeks.
Stay tuned for tales and photos.