General, Knitting Know How

Which cast on should I use? Three popular cast on methods to start most types of garment.

The many ways to cast on

I’ve been meaning to write a post about cast on methods for ages as it is something that comes up regularly at workshops. Many of us have a favourite cast on. If you are anything like me, it was the one your Mum taught you and you used it for everything until you did City and Guilds and discovered the reason why you could never get your hand knitted socks over your arch!

There is a book by Cap Sease called “Cast On, Bind off: 211 Ways to Begin and End your knitting. I shall leave you to investigate the many methods that I shan’t be discussing here. In this post I’ll talk about the three most commonly used cast ons and why it is a good idea to be proficient in all of them. Just like exercise and jeans, one size does not fit all.

Sincere apologies to left handers, the diagrams and explanations below are given for a right handed knitter i.e. me.

Thumb cast on (often called backward loop). As a teacher of knitting this is often the one that people find the easiest to grasp and therefore is often taught to children.

thumb cast on diagrams low resAfter tying a slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), a loop is made by twisting the working yarn around the thumb in a clockwise direction (diagram 1). The needle tip is placed in to the loop (diagram 2). The thumb is removed from the loop and the working yarn is tensioned to create an even stitch on the needle (diagram 3).

The advantages of the thumb cast on:

  1. It creates a stretchy cast on and therefore is suitable for garments that need give e.g. sock and mitt cuffs (a revelation for me as hinted at in the introduction above!)
  2. It is simple to do in the middle of your knitting as you continue to work in the same direction. This means that you can use the working yarn as it presents itself from the previous stitches. Hence it is often the cast on used for putting stitches back on to the needle mid row after they have been cast off on a previous row e.g. button holes and pocket holes.

The disadvantages are

  1. The first row can be a bit tricky in some yarns as there is little structure in the cast on stitches and they can overlap and get a bit tangled. However, it is worth taking it slowly and persevering (counting as you go!) as further rows are a doddle.
  2. As it is a stretchy cast on method it can distort and slacken with use e.g. baggy sweater bottoms.

Cable cast on

This is probably the other end of the firmness scale to the thumb method.

cable cast on photos low res

After tying your slip knot (counts as stitch one on the needle), place the right hand needle through the loop as if to knit (diagram 1.). Wrap the working yarn around the needle anti clockwise, again as if to knit (diagram 2.). Continue to create your knit stitch by pulling the yarn through the centre of the slip knot loop on the left hand needle (diagram 3.) and place the loop you have just created on the right hand needle over the top of the left hand needle. Two stitches now sit on the left hand needle. Here it changes:

cable cast on 2 low res

To create the third stitch on the needle (and all consequent stitches), place the right hand needle in between the two stitches already on the needle (diagram 4.). Continue as if to knit a stitch by wrapping the working yarn anti clockwise around the right hand needle and pulling it back through the gap between stitches 1 and 2 on the left hand needle. Place the loop from the right hand needle on to the left hand needle (diagram 5.) to create your third stitch. Continue in this way until all stitches have been cast on.

The advantages of the cable cast on:

  1. It creates an attractive, firm cast on line and as such is great for starting bottom up sweaters etc as it is less likely to go baggy with use and time.
  2. The second row is a doddle (unlike the thumb cast on method as mentioned above).

Consequently the disadvantages are:

  1. It isn’t very stretchy and therefore is not a great choice for cuffs e.g. socks and anything else where the cuff circumference is smaller than the circumference further down the garment.

As these two cast on methods are either end of the stretchy spectrum having both of them in your knitting tool kit will enable you to tackle most garments competently (we are talking function only here and not discussing the many ways of changing the appearance of your cast on edge). However, there is another commonly used cast on method which is a current fave with a lot of the American Knit Stars some of whom claim that they never use anything else. This is probably because it sits in between the two discussed above, being more stretchy than the cable cast on and firmer than the thumb cast on. It is called long tail cast on.

Long Tail Cast On

long tail cast on photos low res

Firstly you need to guesstimate the amount of yarn you need to cast on with. There are a number of ways suggested to do this, one being wrap the yarn around the needle the same number of times as the stitches you require (I would always add a few more on for luck!). This gives you the length of the tail that you will be working with.

Make a slip knot and place on your needle (there are ways of avoiding the slip knot which I shall leave you to investigate if you are interested). Hold your knitting needle in your right hand with both strands of yarn hanging down, tail in front. With your left hand pinch your thumb and forefinger together and place them between the two strands of yarn. When you open your thumb and forefinger the tail end now hangs over the thumb and the working end over your first finger (diagram 1.). Turn your hand to a sling shot position (diagram 2.).

Insert the right knitting needle tip over the top and hook back up and under the outside of the tail end loop. Keeping the strand of yarn from the thumb on top of the needle move your needle over the top of the far side of the yarn on the forefinger and catch it by bringing the right hand needle from right to left. Pull this strand through the loop made with the tail end (diagram 3.). Carefully remove the thumb and replace it behind the tail end to help tension the stitch on the needle. Continue (diagram 4.) until all stitches are on the needle.

A little chant that helps me to remember what I’m doing with this cast on is: over, under, over, under, through, and drop.

If the above sounds way too wordy and complicated for you, there are lots of videos available on line. Just search “long tail cast on” and find the one that works for you.

The advantages of this cast on are

  1. It forms a neat and relatively firm edge.
  2. It retains some elasticity.

The disadvantages are

  1. It is a compromise so before using it I would ask myself whether the function of the cast on would be better met with one of the other two versions discussed above.
  2. You have to guess how much yarn you are going to use before you start casting on. We’ve probably all run out of tail end before reaching our quota of stitches at some time in the past with this method and had to start again. Not such a problem for a small garment but you can imagine the distress this might cause when casting on hundreds of stitches.

I hope that you have found this article helpful. These are only three of the many methods of casting on that are available to you (but for me they are the ones that I use most often, along with the provisional cast on which I have covered in a previous post). The important thing to remember when choosing your method is what is the primary function of the cast on edge for this particular piece of knitting? e.g. decorative appearance, give, firmness etc. This will then inform which method you are going to plump for.

Happy knitting x

Which cast on should I use? Pinterest graphic

General, Stitched Art

5 of the Best Embroidery Stitches to draw with

Cultivating a drawing habit

Hand stitching is one of my favourite ways to relax and those of you who know my work will have seen my stitch drawing and doodle designs. However, all of my work (knitting and stitching) starts life in my sketchbook. Most days, the first thing I do on waking after making a coffee and sorting out the dogs is to grab any sketchbook I have to hand and whatever drawing materials are easy to find on my Desk of Doom (usually my super chunky variegated pencils). Like Picasso (see previous post) I have learnt not to worry about what subject matter goes into which sketchbook as that is the route to procrastination and, ultimately, inactivity for me. And sometimes those strange juxtapositions can lead to all kinds of interesting developments!

This hour to myself at the start of my day is about play and experimentation with no pressure on further development. However, often an idea that has been gestating in my subconscious will start to take form on the page and some of those ideas will start begging to be stitched.

sketchbook and coloured pencils
Sketchbook Playtime

Quality of Line

While knitting is perhaps more of a painting tool as it is all about shape (a single stitch being a rectangle), embroidery is so good for drawing lines. There are five basic embroidery stitches that I go to for drawing purposes that I am going to share with you here.

Running Stitch

Running Stitch example
Running stitch

Probably the first stitch you learnt as a child is running stitch. Like many of the things we are introduced to as beginners, the temptation is often to move on and not look back. However, this simple stitch is oh so versatile. We were probably taught to do it on an even weave fabric with our teacher placing emphasis on even length and straightness of stitch. Personally I am always striving to create interest in quality of line and I love a bit of inconsistency in all of these stitches. I particularly like the broken effect of running stitch and the space it creates between the stitches. Not only is there the potential to play with stitch length but also with gap length. And what about weaving another thread in and out of the stitches. So much potential from such a simple stitch.

Back Stitch

back stitch example
Back stitch

The next stitch you probably learnt (for hand seaming purposes if nothing else) was back stitch. It creates a closed line and therefore comes across as more pronounced than running stitch. It has its own charm but I often find the back of work done in backstitch more interesting as it is less precise and even.

Stem Stitch

stem stitch example
Stem stitch

I use stem stitch quite a lot for outlining my stitched doodle designs. It creates a lovely textural, twisted effect and provides a bit of three dimensional interest and encloses an area containing other stitches very well. It can be a bit tricky going around corners but that can add a bit of loopy charm to the design.

Split Stitch

Split Stitch example
Split Stitch

This is another great stitch for outlining and drawing purposes. It is credited as the stitch that set English embroidery apart from other countries during the Middle Ages and helped to make it one of the most desired and costly art forms in Europe at that time. It has a variety of appearances depending on how many threads are in the needle. On a single thread it looks like a bit like couching (see next section) whereas on an even number of threads it looks like a flatter version of chain stitch. Unlike stem stitch, corners are a doddle with split stitch.

Couching

Couching stitch example
Couching

The final basic linear embroidery stitch that I wanted to talk about is couching. This is such a versatile way of creating lines. Anything string like can be couched and some wonderful textures and colour combinations can be achieved. It is especially useful when the thread that you want to use is not suitable for pulling through fabric e.g. due to thickness, texture or fragility, as the stitching is done using a different thread. Lots of fun can be had with placement of the stitches too. Do you keep them even, group them or apply them randomly?

My Latest Stitched Drawing

Nicky Barfoot Self Portrait stitch and paint
Self Portrait

These five basic stitches (or just one of them!) can be put to great effect in creating quite sophisticated line drawings. The picture above is a Self Portrait inspired by one of my favourite artists, Egon Schiele. It uses back stitch as the main drawing tool, with a few straight stitches and bit of satin stitch, used sparingly, for colouring in purposes. Simple but effective?

5 basic embroidery stitches for drawing

General, knitting patterns

How to make a knitted crown (and rock your inner May Queen)

As Spring has now sprung on UK shores (and we do have a royal wedding coming up) I thought it was about time I had my own flower crown. So I spent May Day embracing my inner May Queen by knitting an appropriate head piece. My idea was to adorn it with some wild flowers (weeds to some) not realising that most people were spending their bank holiday manicuring their lawns and verges. Thankfully I was able to find a few unkempt patches to gather a few daisies and buttercups which had managed to avoid the Big Mow only to end up in my fairy photoshoot!

Knit a crown
Yes, your majesty?

This crown is easy to make and involves a small amount of a double knit yarn (mine is shown in Sirdar cotton DK). You will also need a 3.25mm circular needle (or alternative to achieve the required tension) and a couple of stitch markers. I decorated the tips of my crown spikes, of which there are seven, with a metal bead. With a tension of 22sts to 10cm, the crown has a 48cm circumference and is shown on an average sized adult female head of 55.5cm/22in.

Working the rim

Cast on 105sts on to a 3.25mm circular needle and join to work in the round, placing marker to indicate the start of the round.

Work 20 rounds of garter stitch (alternating a knit round with a purl round).

Working the spikes

Now change from working in the round to working back and forth on each spike in turn while leaving the remaining stitches on the circular needle until needed. The spikes require a double centred decrease, an s2kp, which is worked as follows: slip nxt 2 sts together knitwise, k1, pass slipped sts over. 2 sts decreased. Please note that you will need to develop a suitable marker replacement tactic as the central stitch gets absorbed into the stitch in front and the stitch behind with this decrease.

Spike 1 is worked over the next 15sts:

Row 21 (RS): K7, place marker to mark the next stitch as the centre stitch, k8. 15sts. Turn work.

Nxt row (WS): Knit to marker, slip marker, knit to end.

Nxt row (RS): Knit to one stitch before marker, s2kp (rearranging marker to indicate the new centre stitch), knit to end of spike. 13sts.

Nxt row: As previous WS row.

Repeat the last two rows, decreasing two sts centrally on each RS row until 3 sts remain.

Nxt row (WS): Sl1, k2tog, psso. 1 st.

Cut yarn and pull through to fasten.

With RS facing, rejoin yarn to rim and knit next 15 sts repeating the instructions for Spike 1 to create the next and subsequent spikes.

When all seven spikes are complete, sew in ends and decorate as desired.

I threaded through some daisies and buttercups but the crown would look equally fabulous adorned with beads, buttons or embroidery. And for those of you who make your own Christmas crackers……..

knitted crown flatlay low res
How many ways can you decorate a crown?

I’d love to see what you come up with. Please feel free to tag me @nickybarfoot on instagram or post to my facebook page.

Happy knitting!

 

General, Knitting Know How

How to read a knitting chart

What are Knitting Charts?

Knitting charts are a diagrammatic representation of a stitch pattern. They are presented on a square grid where each square represents a stitch.  The chart below shows a 24 stitch motif worked over 32 rows.

intarsia heart for web
a knitting chart for a heart motif

How to read a knitting chart for colour work (intarsia, fair isle and double knitting)

If you are working on two needles, using stocking stitch, and starting with right side facing, the first stitch to work is the bottom right hand corner. Right side (knit) rows are worked from right to left. Wrong side (purl) rows are worked from left to right.

If you are working in the round on a circular needle for fair isle, then every round is a right side (knit) and is worked from right to left. You might have discovered for yourself that knitting in the round doesn’t work for intarsia as you end up with the yarn at the wrong side of the motif each round!

Keeping your place on the chart

One of the great things about using charts for your colour work adventures is that it becomes relatively easy to see where you are with the work. What you are creating in front of you in the knitting should match what is in front of you on the chart (obviously some motifs are harder than others to keep track of). Additionally, you can immediately see how the row you are working on now should match up with the stitches you have just worked.

reading a knitting chart
using a magnetic board to keep your place

However, it is easy to go a little cross eyed at times and end up merging rows together. There are a couple of ways to keep track of where you are if you are using a printed version of the pattern:

  • You could put a line through each row as you do it.
  • You could balance a ruler across the row you are about to start working (this is OK if you don’t jog it).
  • Personally I am a big fan of using a magnetic board.

The board shown in the image above is created for cross stitch but has become my must have for working with knitting charts. The best thing about it is that you can even pick it up and move it without worrying about losing your place as the magnetic ruler is strong enough to stay put.

An example row 

Using the diagram above, the ruler shows me that I am about to start row 21. As a right side row I will be working in knit and reading from right to left. I would knit 4 stitches in white, 16 stitches in grey, 4 stitches in white.

A note about the double knitting technique

Some charts used for the double knitting technique show a square for every stitch you are working, one for the stitch from the right side fabric, and one from the wrong side fabric. This is necessary if you are creating a different fabric on each side.

For my patterns where the motif is in two colours and the back fabric shows the inverse of the front, I keep my charts simple so it is easier to read the motif, and they can be used for intarsia as well. The charts show the front facing fabric with each square representing a pair of stitches. So for the example on row 21 above: each of the four stitches in white represents a knit in white for the front fabric, and a purl in grey for the back fabric. For the fifth pair of stitches to the 20th pair of stitches, each square represents a knit in grey for the front fabric and a purl in white for the back fabric. For the 21st to the 24th pairs of stitches, each square once again is worked as a knit in white for the front fabric and a purl in grey for the back fabric. When working back on the wrong side fabric, the inverse of the colours is worked.

It sounds complicated written down but once you get the hang of seeing each square as a pair of stitches you can use any two colour intarsia chart for the double knitting technique without having to rewrite it.

I hope that you have found this tutorial on reading knitting charts helpful. I have talked about colour work knitting but of course charts can be used for any stitch pattern as the principle of each square representing a stitch applies whether it is indicating a colour or a stitch type e.g. knit tbl, yo, etc. If you are not used to working from charts I do suggest that you persevere with them. If you get the hang of using them you might find that you get a better idea of how you are creating the effect (rather than just following the instructions). This is especially useful when you need to put right a mistake or if you want to modify stitch patterns. It also gives you access to patterns that aren’t written in your own language.

Happy Charting!

How to read a knitting chart

Exhibitions, General, Knitted Art

Soft Engineering Exhibition, a review of Textiles Taking Shape

In Hampshire (UK) we have been gifted yet again by the Winchester Discovery Centre with another fabulous textile exhibition. This time it is a group show by soft engineers: Alison Ellen (hand knitting), Ann Richards (weaver) and Deirdre Wood (weaver). Together they are demonstrating the common threads between knitting and weaving and show how the materials they use in their methods, particularly when working with materials of very different qualities side by side, spontaneously shape the constructed fabric.

Deidre Wood weaves with materials of contrasting physical property. The work is straight during the weaving process but when cut from the loom and soaked in water it reshapes itself.

Deidre Wood interlocking circles low res
Deidre Wood, Interlocking Rings, silk, linen and wool.

In contrast Ann Richards work exploits the different spin directions of high twist yarns to create her sculptural effects. Again the work is woven straight and the properties of the yarns are allowed to exert their influence once it is cut out and wetted.

Ann Richards scarves low res
Ann Richards double cloth pleated scarf

I was fascinated by the work of these sculptural weavers, having not been exposed to it before. I was, however, more familiar with the work of hand knitter Alison Ellen who introduced me to the joys of modular knitting a number of years back when I attended a couple of her workshops at West Dean College.

At the time I was working through my City and Guilds Hand Knit Design course and was struggling a little with the process of translating seemingly unrelated visual inspiration into knitted fabric. As a life long knitter with no previous design training, I had always worked from the other way around. That is using an ongoing inquiring experimental process with yarns and stitches (a “I wonder what would happen if I did/used this to……”), creating samples, and the properties and appearance of those samples then suggesting to me what garment they would lend themselves to.

It was a relief when I met Alison as she also appeared to be working (successfully) in this direction too and while it wouldn’t have helped me to pass my City and Guilds, I have continued to use this process, particularly in my knitted art practice, alongside the more conventional design process which I am pleased to say with practice has now become second nature.

Alison Ellen sweater low res
Alison Ellen modular sweater in wool.

Alison’s garments allow the stitches to shape the fabric. She is well known for using a modular approach, allowing herself to effect the drape of the constructed fabric by changing the bias. I have had the pleasure of trying on some of her cardigans and sweaters at a previous workshop and have seen others in them too. They transform once a body is put inside them, and create the most flattering garments due to this bias and drape effect. She has a number of wonderful design books too so if this type of knitting excites you I highly recommend them.

Alison Ellen Books low res
Alison Ellen’s books (you can see my copies are well thumbed)

So my love affair with modular knitting is probably all Alison’s fault (thank you lovely lady!). Some of you will already be familiar with my Weimwood Shawl design (pattern available from Etsy here and if you would like to learn more about this type of knitting, I have two workshops coming up devoted to modules. The first is on Saturday 10 February at Wyvern College in Eastleigh. More details and booking is via the Ashcroft Centre here. The second is a slightly shorter session on Saturday 17 February 2018 at the fabulous Unravel Festival of Knitting in Farnham. More details can be found here.

modular scarf portrait low res
The Modular Scarf design for my upcoming workshops.

I highly recommend you visit this exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre if you can. It is free entry and I’m sure those of you interested in textile art and engineering will find it very interesting. If I have whetted your appetite for modular knitting it would also be lovely to see you on one of my workshops.

Until next time….

 

 

 

General, Knitting Know How

How to plan your approach to the New Year yarn sales

Happy 2018 to you!

As my inbox is currently full of e mails offering me lots of yummy yarn at discounted prices I thought it would be helpful if my first post of the year shared my previous mistakes and gave you some guidance on how to avoid a costly seasonal yarn binge. I’m not saying don’t buy as that would be hypocritical of me. But do go into it with a plan as the kiddy in a sweet shop approach, in my experience, doesn’t usually go well.

My first spot of advice would be, know what you want to knit first and find the appropriate yarn to make it with. Try not to be tempted by the bargain pack of 12 balls thinking you will be able to find something to make from it later. If you are anything like me, that pack will go into the stash cupboard and probably never see the light of day as other designs catch your attention before you get around to it. In a short space of time that yarn starts to look dated, or worse still becomes moth food.

Even if you are working pattern before yarn as I suggest above, there are still pitfalls to avoid with the sales, the biggest one being colour. We all have a favourite colour palette and if you have ever had your colours analysed on a style and colour day (great fun and highly recommended, particularly if you go along with another person who knows you well) you will be aware that some colours just don’t suit you. Isn’t it tempting when you look up the yarn you want and see that some of the colours are half price? The temptation to “save a fortune” can often override the knowledge that you never e.g. wear hot pink, and on that basis you don’t have anything else in your wardrobe that would go with it either! So that 100 hours of work on that beautiful sweater is all wasted.

Also, remember that the fashion industry works on annual colour palettes. You might have noticed that there tends to be a predominance of a certain colour or colours in all the high street windows at once. How did they all choose the same one? The answer is that Pantone release an annual colour palette and the fashion industry embrace it. Once the new season is upon us, the on trend colours of the previous year and/or season are often discounted to make way for the new ones. So even if you did bring yourself to wear your hot pink sweater, that colour could be sooo last year! And just for your information, Pantone’s colour of 2018 is Ultra Violet. Think Prince and his Purple Rain album cover. I can guarantee you’ll start to see it everywhere pretty soon.

Prince purple rain

Of course if your favourite colour is actually hot pink and you know you look great in it, fill your boots!

The last temptation to be aware of is trying to use a discounted yarn in place of the recommended yarn when actually the yarn type just isn’t suited to the pattern. By this I mean, if the sweater you are making is stranded colour work in Shetland wool, beware buying e.g. a cotton 4ply instead, on the basis that the ball band states the same tension ranges as your pattern, and it is in the sale. Now the finished item might actually look amazing, but the properties of the two yarn materials is so different that it won’t look anything like the picture on the pattern instructions. Be prepared for a surprise and also be aware that regardless of ball band information, it probably won’t work to the same tension either so if you do want to embark on this knitting adventure, swatch, swatch, swatch…..

I hope I haven’t been too much of a party pooper with this post? My aim was not to curtail your sales fun but rather suggest a planned approach to your sales yarn purchasing. Have fun buying, and most of all knitting, with your yummy yarn.

2017-11-19 11.40.31-3
Know your colour scheme (even if it is beige!)

 

General

My top five listening recommendations for knitting and stitching to

Knitting and stitching are wonderful meditative practices and sometimes peace and quiet (or a gently snoring dog) is the most soothing accompaniment. However, for me, having my hands busing working on something repetitive actually improves my listening skills.

I am one of those doodlers in a meeting who, far from being bored and distracted, is concentrating harder on what is  being said through the use of a physical focus. I would have taken knitting to meetings when I worked in an office but I think that would have been tolerated less and misinterpreted even more than drawing on my hand outs. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon involving different parts of the brain, which I have yet to look into. In the meantime I thought I would share with you my current top five things to listen to while knitting.

freestocks-org-425059
Doodling, an age old meeting survival tactic. Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

Audiobooks

I am a massive fan of these and have a 24 book (which only lasts me about 9 months!) annual subscription with audible.co.uk. Many people view listening to audiobooks as something less productive than reading. However, I have found that some stories really come to life with the right narrator. Some of my regular readers will know already what a massive fan of Terry Pratchett I am and his books definitely fall into this category.

At this time of the year I usually indulge in a Charles Dickens novel as nothing quite beats his witty observations of Victorian England to put me in the festive mood. Last Christmas I enjoyed Great Expectations one of my favourite novels from childhood. This December I am listening to Hard Times. Both of these novels are expertly narrated by Martin Jarvis and if you haven’t read a Dickens novel for a while I throughly recommend you listen to one of these.

william-iven-5894
Your listening friend, what did we do without them? Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Podcasts.

Being more of an enjoyer of fiction than chat, I came quite late to the podcast genre but am now finding myself listening to more and more of these interview and magazine style programmes. The first I’d like to recommend to you is “Tea and Tattle” a marvellously feminine lifestyle podcast (I was put off to start with, expecting make up and fashion tips but was pleasantly surprised after listening to it). It is presented by best friends Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler and really does feel like you are having a chat over a cup of tea in a cosy kitchen about things ranging from literature to business to hygge.

At the other end of the spectrum I love listening to “Under the Skin” a sometimes risky and occasionally controversial podcast hosted by Russell Brand. I know he is a bit Marmite but I find him honest and entertaining and the subjects he discusses are current and thought provoking.

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All you need is a mic and a computer. Photo by Elliot Sloman on Unsplash

Radio Six Music.

For times when I am likely to be moving around a bit more and can’t concentrate quite so hard on the spoken word I choose the radio as my background. For many years my choice of station has been the fabulous Six Music. This is a digital only station where the DJs are all passionate about music either having been in, or currently still in, bands themselves (Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Huey Morgan etc) or music journalists e.g. Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe. The result is a station which looks at music as a whole, not restricting itself to one or two genres, and where current releases are played alongside great and inspiring music from previous decades. I have been introduced to so many new bands through this station as well as authors, comedians and actors who have either been interviewed or have guest hosted their own show.

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Radio is still my sound salvation Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

Jazz. 

I was brought up in a household where music was the constant background courtesy of my father and his extremely wide taste in music. This is a man who went halves with me when I bought Prince’s Purple Rain album as a teenager, was extremely fond of Pink Floyd (I can’t hear Shine on you Crazy Diamond without remembering Dad and my childhood), was just as likely to have a classical album on as a rock/pop one, and who initiated my love of Jazz, a musical taste that I share with Mr B and indulge in regularly through visits to local live music venues in our locality. The most recent of these was a trip to the wonderful Turner Sims music venue at Southampton University to see the extremely talented jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and his trio. I have since been playing rather a lot of his 2015 album, Space, Time, Continuum. Dad would have loved it.

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Enjoying the talent of others. Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

Midsomer Murders re runs.

And finally, here comes the guilty pleasure. If the TV remote is the only form of entertainment at your fingertips, you can’t beat a bit of Midsomer Murders to stitch to. Its wonderfully formulaic structure, the 95% likelihood of Wogan’s Law coming true (i.e. the most famous actor did it) and the chance that you have seen the episode a number of times before, makes it the perfect programme to have on in the background. If you get stuck on a tricky bit of stitching and have to focus concentration away from the screen, it is unlikely that you won’t catch right back up when your attention can return to it.

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The good old TV. Photo by Ajeet Mestry on Unsplash

What do you like to listen to while you are creating? Do share in the comments. I’d love to hear.

Happy listening.

Exhibitions, General

Christmas Craft Fair in Winchester, Saturday 9 December 2017

I’ve been a busy bee over the past month making Weim and kitty inspired artwork to share with you wonderful folks at the Winchester Discovery Centre Christmas Craft Fair next Saturday 9 December. I love the build up to Christmas and while Mr B is secretly watching the Christmas 24 channel all the way through November, I hold back until 1 December and then let loose with gusto on fairy lights, snuggly knitwear and photos of Weimadogs in antlers. I can not lie, I get a little excited.

The only in person sales event (my Etsy shop is open as usual) I am doing this Christmas is an art and craft fair at the Winchester Discovery Centre on Saturday 9 December. It’s free entry so I hope that lots of you can pop in and say hi while you combine it with a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition (see previous post) which is in the same building, and of course a wander around the Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market.

I’ll be there with my textile sculptures, brooches (new!) and cards, all perfect for one of a kind, hand made, Christmas gifting purposes. Of course there will be lots of other talented makers there too. I hope some of you local lovelies can make it.

Winchester Discovery Centre
A perfect opportunity to pick up one of a kind gifts

 

Exhibitions, General

Alice Kettle Exhibition “Threads”, an inspiring afternoon in Winchester

I was fortunate to have a whole Saturday to play with this weekend so after convincing Mr B that he would like to have brunch out, we made a cheeky little trip to Winchester. My main motivation was a visit to the Alice Kettle exhibition, “Threads”, so after a rather lovely breakfast, we parted company for an hour or so and I made my way to the Discovery Centre.

Alice Kettle is well known in the area due to her links with the City and the Winchester School of Art. A large piece of her work has been hanging in the Discovery Centre for a number of years, although due to its massive size it is probably more visible from the bus as it drives past the building than when up close to it inside the building itself.

The first few pieces of work had me transfixed for quite some time. They were two of her 2011 “Heads”, “Agape” and “Coeus”, consisting of re-cycled offcuts from another huge piece, stitched (incompletely in places) onto folded and pleated fabric backgrounds to create an image that we can’t help but interpret as a face. They are described as being a “remembering” and a “representation of feelings and encounters”. I spent some time sketching “Agape”, an image that really stood out for me (not least because it has a three dimensional quality due to the fabric manipulation) in the exhibition despite it’s relatively small size.

Alice Kettle, my digital drawing after Agape
My drawing of Agape using line where Alice Kettle uses stitch and collaged fabric pieces

The write ups on the walls between the pieces were interesting to read and some of the comments given quite pertinent. Prof Simon Olding from the University of the Creative Arts refers to stitch as “a method of repetition, coverage and endlessness” while Sara Viersen-Corsa makes comment on how embroidery art imitates painting and how painters imitate embroidery in their work.

Alice Kettle is a leading protagonist in the field of collaborative works and a number of the pieces on display in this exhibition illustrate the dynamics of working with another Creative. In “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” a large scale, somewhat disturbing image is calmed by Kirsteen Aubrey’s line of “Glass Grasses” which sit in front and cast beautiful shadows, in places, on the wall behind.

Alice Kettle The Dog Louckanikos
Alice Kettle’s “The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle” with Kirsteen Aubrey’s “Glass Grasses”

Much of the work shown is the artist’s observation of current affairs. In “Golden Dawn” Kettle marries a Greek myth with current Greek politics in a 360cm long, stitched narrative.

Alice Kettle Golden Dawn
Alice Kettle’s “Golden Dawn”

More comment on the current political landscape is made with a huge piece (792x284cm) called “Sea”. This is Kettle’s attempt at making some sense of the migrant crisis, reflecting both how the UK media have been reporting the events and her own meetings with refugees in the south of England. The result is a piece exploring the differences between people being viewed as anonymous groups via a media complete with it’s own bias, and the impact of the crisis and resulting displacement on individuals. The work also represents the sense of helplessness of the viewer as a witness. I encourage you to go and sit in front of this huge piece of art for a while to get a true sense of its scale.

Other pieces on display include “Orphrey”, a 2006 work done on the Schiffli multi needle commercial embroidery machine. The Schiffli Series of works apparently marked a change in the artist’s approach to creating: “I have liberated the fabric as it was no longer covered in stitch”.

Alice Kettle Schiffli Series Orphrey
Alice Kettle’s “Orphrey”

Another piece that drew my eye, partly because it is predominantly blue and I have a weakness for this particular colour, and partly because it can be seen as a representation of the current turmoil in the UK regarding our exit from the EU and our drift away from the main European continent, was “Sea Figure – Island”.

Alice Kettle Sea Figure Island
Alice Kettle’s “Sea Figure – Island”

The last piece of work I want to show you is a ceramics collaboration with Alex McErlain, inspired by the late medieval “Tring Tiles” on display at the British Museum. For these works the artists have developed their own sgraffito technique in the production of a ceramics collection decorated with narrative imagery.

Alice Kettle ceramics with Alex McErlain
One of the ceramic tiles on display as part of the collaboration with Alex McErlain

My aim of this post is to give you a taster of what to expect and I strongly urge you if you are in the area to go and visit this exhibition yourself. Digital representations taken in low lighting can not do justice to the vibrancy and scale of the works on display. I came away throughly inspired by this talented artist’s work and I hope that you too get to enjoy this exhibition. There is also a rather lovely exhibition book to accompany it which I personally shall be using as a source of inspiration for quite some time.

Alice Kettle’s “Threads” is on until 14 January 2018 and more information can be found here.

 

General, Knitting Know How

How to work a provisional cast on

Nicky Barfoot presents

Provisional cast ons are a fabulous way of deferring decisions, creating symmetry and producing a cast on edge that mirrors a cast off edge if kept permanent. Let me explain a little more before I show you how I do a crochet chain provisional cast on.

Deferring Decisions

One of the frustrations of working a bottom up design, let’s say a sweater, is that a firm decision needs to be made on the cast on edge and the welt before the main body of the sweater is worked. If one has done their sketching and sampling this should not prove to be a problem but for those of us who have a plan but are easily persuaded to “I wonder what would happen if I just did this …..” half way through said plan, it is near on impossible to change the welt (design, length etc) after the main body has been worked. This is where the provisional cast on really comes into its own. If you have an idea of the main part of the sweater but wish to defer a decision on the welt until the end, you can cast on provisionally, work the body upwards and then come back to the cast on edge, release the stitches and work the welt downwards. Brilliant!

Creating Symmetry

Sometimes a stitch pattern needs to be worked in a certain direction to create the desired effect. Where a mirror image of the stitch pattern is required to complete another side the provisional cast on is, once again, your friend. A great example of this is my leaf and lace scarf design. The way to achieve the leaf motif at both ends of the scarf is to cast on provisionally at the centre back neck and work one side of the scarf to the motif. You then return to the provisional cast on, release the stitches, and work the other side of the scarf down to the leaf motif thereby creating a symmetrical design.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Leaf and Lace scarf. Pattern available in my Etsy Shop here

A decorative cast on edge

As the provisional cast on I am going to show you is a crochet chain, it can look rather decorative especially where teamed with a cast off (also effectively a crochet chain) and/or when worked in a contrast colour. Of course in these circumstances the cast on is no longer provisional but permanent, however it is worked in the same way. I have just finished designing this hat (pattern to come soon once test knitting is completed) where I have used this effect.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Permanent “provisional cast on” teamed with cast off stripes

So, now to the knitty gritty:

How to work a provisional cast on

  1. Using smooth waste yarn and a suitable sized crochet hook start a single crochet chain and work a few repeats (the number is irrelevant here as the cast on has yet to begin). It is really useful if the waste yarn contrasts well with the main yarn as it will make it easier to see when releasing the stitches at the end. Smooth yarns also help prevent snagging, catching and splitting when releasing the chain. I often use a mercerised cotton in a light colour.

    Crochet chain
    Working a few repeats of a crochet chain before starting the cast on over the needle.
  2. Introduce your knitting needle and begin to work the crochet chains over the top of the needle. It is a bit fiddly at first but once you get a rhythm going and remember to swing the working yarn behind the needle again after each chain is pulled through it becomes easier.
    provisional cast on 1
    Start to crochet the chains over the top of the knitting  needle for the cast on stitches.

    provisional cast on sepia2
    Continue until the correct number of stitches are over the knitting needle.
  3. Continue working the required number of chains over the knitting needle until the correct cast on number has been reached. If the cast on is going to be removed at a later date i.e. it is provisional, then continue for a few crochet chains more without the knitting needle before cutting the yarn and pulling through the final chain. Don’t pull too tightly as this will be undone later.

    provisional cast on 3
    After all cast on stitches have been worked, continue the crochet chain for a few stitches before breaking yarn and pulling through.

If the cast on is going to be permanent then obviously it is worked in the correct yarn for the garment. There is no need to work additional stitches at each end of the chain and the last chain loop created is the last cast on stitch and gets slipped onto the knitting needle.

Once all the stitches are in place, knitting can begin using the correct yarn for the garment. When it comes to unravelling the provisional cast on, the tail end of the yarn is slipped back through the last chain and gently pulled. The chain will unravel leaving the first row of garment stitches live, one by one, which need to be carefully placed on to a knitting needle as they appear. Care needs to be taken not to twist the stitches as you put them on to the needle and I suggest counting as you go to ensure you don’t miss any. Once all of the stitches are on the needle, work can commence in the opposite direction.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. Provisional cast ons are such a useful tool to get the hang of and I use them a lot so I encourage you to get practicing. I have shown you my favourite way of doing this cast on. However, if you don’t get on with this method there are others so please don’t give up as a bit of research will reveal another way which might suit you better.