Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Miss Murray

I have a new pattern under my belt for the upcoming ebook - behold, a very poor picture of the little blue cuffs I've decided to call 'Miss Murray'

They are knitted side-to-side, curved with short -row shaping, frilled at one edge and finished with a contrasting band of single crochet. I knitted them in DK weight on 2.75mm needles for a nice firm finish. The buttons are vintage, and although you can unbutton them if you want to, they're easy to remove with a bit of tugging.
The yarn is a DK merino, rather more blue than the picture, and the contrast yarn is a silky blue-grey cotton that forms a nice smooth edge, rather like piping. I'm planning to wear them under my blue autumn jacket to stop the wind whistling up my sleeves when it's still too warm for gloves.

The Secret of my Success

Hi everyone. my name is Ms Mongoose. You may remember me from such films as ‘You, Me, and Sixty Cones of Yarn’, ‘Suddenly Last Woolshop’ and ‘Is that Alpaca or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?’

Well, today, I’m here to tell you the secret of my knitting productivity. You may have wanted to ask ‘Hey, MsMongoose, how do you get some much knitting done? I just saw you cast on that cardigan last week and now it’s the size of a couch!’

Well, the secret of my success is simple; I have a bag big enough to fit in a cone of yarn, and I commute for three hours every day, and I don’t care if strangers see me.

Now, you can buy my three-DVD set of ‘Success the Mongoose Way'  for six easy instalments of $39.99.

Or just, you know, work really far away from where you live.

Friday, 19 August 2011

How instructive!

More knitting updates this evening, but in the meantime, here’s an excellent and unintentionally hilarious online resource I’ve been using recently to get hold of old and out-of-print books.

Manybooks.net hosts advert-free, free of charge out-of-copyright online e-books. There’s novels, plays, etc, but there is also a particularly good ‘intructional’ section. For anyone who is curious about the history of knitting and other crafts, or just gets a lot of pleasure reading old books, this is perfect. You can download the books in a pdf which allows you to save them on your PC or laptop or print them out. Here’s a couple of the best;

Exercises in Knitting – 1847 http://www.manybooks.net/titles/meec2103221032.html

The Ladies' Work-Book


So far, so normal. But wait – there’s more. All of these really are titles from manybooks, I can assure you! Have you ever been interested in

The Ranidae;

How to breed, feed and raise the edible frog

No? Me neither. Edible frogs. I suppose all frogs must be ‘edible’ in the same way that straw or snails are edible. Not keen on trying that – how about;

How to Cook Husbands

That’s a rather poorly-named romance from 1898.

And my final, absolute favourite – better than a treatise on the Cauliflower that I found, better than Taxidermy for The Home, better than something about dairy bacteria, is this;

Talks on Manures;

A Series of Familiar and Practical Talks Between the Author and the Deacon, the Doctor, and other Neighbors, on the Whole Subject

Multiple conversations about manure. Not just one, in passing, that happened to turn to manure. He went out and purposely talking about the many aspects of manure with everyone available.

Now isn't that worth a download?

Monday, 15 August 2011

Toad Babies II ; The Revenge of the Toad Babies

After Mr Mongoose confessed he was less than in love with my toad babies (felt things) I said I would make one with a glarey face and put it on his nightstand.

Reader, I scaried him;

It's not angry, by the way. Just dissapointed.

Crowns of Glory

I'm thrashing around a pattern at the moment, one you might be familier with; Crowns of Glory, also known as Cats Paw, which produces an open oval shape. Here's the pattern;

Works on multiples of 14 stitches plus 5.
Row 1 (right side): Knit 3, *slip, slip, knit, knit 9, knit 2 together, knit 1. Repeat from *, ending knit 2.
Row 2: Purl 2, *purl 1, purl 2 together, purl 7, purl 2 together through the back loops. Repeat from *, ending purl 3.
Row 3: Knit 3, *ssk, knit 2, yarn over 3 times, knit 3, k2tog, knit 1. Repeat from *, ending knit 2.
Row 4: Purl 2, *purl 1, p2tog, (knit 1, purl 1) twice and then knit 1, all into the yarn overs from the previous row, purl 1, p2tog through back. Repeat from *, ending purl 1.
Row 5: Knit 3, *ssk, knit 6, k2tog, knit 1. Repeat from *, ending knit 2.
Row 6: Purl 2, *purl 1, p2tog, purl 6. Repeat from *, ending purl 3.
Row 7: Knit 3, *knit 1, (yarn over, knit 1) 6 times, knit 1. Repeat from *, ending knit 2.
Row 8, 10 and 12: Purl.
Rows 9 and 11: Knit.
Repeat these rows for pattern.
Note: stitch counts are not consistent through the rows but should be accurate on any of the rows from 8 to 12.

I'm working on 3.25mm needles with a fairly stalwart DK, and it keeps looking like noses. The pattern variant I have includes this reverse stocking stitch section after the excerpt above which, in stiffish wool, makes mad pointy lumps;

You can see the silly lumps in the bottom repeat. I can't help but think they don't mean for it to look like rows of nostrils, but it does.

I'm hoping to use this pattern on the sleeve end, front edges and centre back of a short cardigan, but it's proving really difficult to work with. I might need to go a few sizes higher on the needles to help it relax, and I'm definitely going to leave out the reverse stst section, but I'm worried that it's pulling too hard. Because the stitch count varies so much, in Dk yarn the 'pull' in is really pronounced. If the sizing change doesn't work, I might try it in laceweight and put it in a foamy little shrug instead. I like the oval holes, it looks like cutwork, which I rather like - you might recognise this type of embroidery from old linens;

Anyway, for now it's back to the swatches for me and my mad nostrils pattern. It it really doesn't work out I might bring out a Halloween special; Patterns that Look Like Horrid Body Parts.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Teatime for All

Wow, I've just had the shock of my life looking at this cunning little map thingie that shows where people who have looked at this blog come from. Denmark, France, Canada, Finland, Hungary, Australia, Greece, Germany and Japan as well as the UK and USA. Hello everyone!

In honour of your visit and, you know, English and all, I've laid on tea for everyone.

No hogging the crumpets, now, and there's enough cucumber sandwiches for everyone!

Toad babies

I've been playing around with felting since I went to Fibre East last month, and seeing all the very talented felters there. Needless to say, I'm not in the same league, but it's been fun mucking around and pretending I know what I'm doing!

I actually tried felting a few months ago after seeing some felted beads - but the method I picked, where you roll the ball of roving in soapy hands and dunk it in hot water every so often - took a really long time. Because I couldn't roll with an even pressure, I got things that looked more like felted bottoms than anything else. Then, after a conversation with a nice lady at Fibre East, I decided to try it in the washing machine. It's really simple - you make the roving ball, stick it in some tights, and stick it in a quick hot wash with some dish soap for twenty minutes. Then you blast it in the cold wash for about as long, spin, and unpeel the tights. The worst bit was the unpeeling - the felt tends to want to grow around the tights, so you have to be quite careful. There's some great tutorials online if you want to have a go yourself - it's very easy.

Here's the results of my felting - little fat pincushions of various sizes and colours, which I've decorated with embroidery, buttons and beads in some cases;

After slaving over these little felty things for ages, I showed Mr Mongoose. He handled one gingerly, and then confessed that felt feels really horrible to him. Sigh! Repelled by felt - who knew?

So these have been rechristened my toad babies - unlovable to everyone but their mother - and are sitting on the bedroom shelf looking at him accusingly. I might make one with eyes and an angry mouth and sit it on his nightstand so when he wakes up it will be glaring at him.

My poor toad babies - mummy loves you, precious hairy things!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Happy contrasts

I had a pleasant breakthrough last night whilst half-watching a nature documentary. For some reason these things always work out best when I'm not quite paying attention. (Contradicts everything I assume about my work! Perhaps I work best when I'm not consciously deciding things, and getting in the way of my real understanding?)

Anyway, I digress. Yes, I managed to find a nice resolution to a lace border I've been working on for a few days. It just popped out of nowhere - an increase in the last row, then immediately after a firm purl-wise chain bind off created a neat, sculpted edge that fans very crisply.

This piece is a neck-scarf, quite short and soft, designed to be fastened at the front with a brooch like a dressage neck-tie or the high lace collars of Edwardian ladies. It is also designed to be worn under another, tweedier scarf or at the neck of a cardigan, so the middle section is plain and all the attention is on the outside edges. I like the firm, slightly pleated lace of Edwardian collars, but they must be very uncomfortable to wear; by giving this a stiffish cast-off I can have a ruff that slightly stands without grating the chin of anyone who wears it!

Now that the larger scarf is done, this lace will go into a smaller 'collar' with pearl buttons at one side, and a pair of matching undersleeves.

The partner piece for this is the tweedy cashmere scarf I mentioned before - without giving too much away, here's a peek. These buttons are my favourites, by the way - Bakelite, and all different!

I love the contrasts here - the rough tweed with the foamy soft lace, the structured edge of the underscarf with the soft, stretchy centre, the dark outer piece with the lighter inner. And the chipped, mismatched green buttons with the new, slightly severe tweed. Mix and match, borrow and add - that's the way to do it!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Past is Another Country

They do things differently there.

Those have to be some of the most famous words in English fiction, and yet I can confidently say that hardly anyone can tell you where they come from.

L.P Hartley's The Go-Between was published in 1953, in a time when most people were looking forward - away from the terrible wars, away from the dingy sepia past and into the world of tomorrow where everything would be wipe-clean and Formica and we would all eat pills for dinner.

Out of step with this headlong rush into the unknown future, The Go-Between peers back, half-longing, half-bewildered, into the time before the world wars. The story is told as the recollections of a lonely, middle-aged man, who has never quite been able to shake himself free of that 'other country', one long hot summer when he went to stay with a friend in an upper-class household in the country.

Ignored by the grown-ups, left alone by his friend, he is press ganged into carrying messages for the daughter of the house, for a reason he can hardly understand, to the local tenant farmer.

I can't say any more - that would be spoiling! - but it's unforgettable. You're going to have to take my word on that. It's disturbing, haunting, melancholy and beautiful, and full of the confusions and embarrassments of childhood.

"To my mind's eye, my buried memories of Brandham Hall are like effects of chiaroscuro, patches of light and dark: it is only with effort that I see them in terms of colour. There are things I know, though I don't know how I know them, and things that I remember. Certain things are established in my mind as facts, but no picture attaches to them; on the other hand there are pictures unverified by any fact which recur obsessively, like the landscape of a dream."

I've taken a lot of inspiration from this book over the years, but it's more than just a source book or a place to go for pithy quotes; it's really, genuinely moving, and I unreservedly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read this summer. 

Monday, 8 August 2011

Peace and quiet

The hot weather has broken (somewhat) in the UK this weekend, with lots of thunder and lightening and foot-stamping as it left. It looks positively autumnal outside - a day when a knitter's thoughts turn to warm woolly items of inestimable worth.

I finished knitting up one of the latest designs for the new e-book which will come out in the autumn (sneak peek later) and I have to say I'm very pleased. I like little neck-scarves and snoods and suchlike, but I'm always disappointed when I get them on. My main disappointment it that I have to keep tugging around at the back of my neck to keep me warm and stop the wind whistling down the back of my jacket!

So after a lot of twitching and swatching, I think I've solved the problem with a nice combination of stiff pin-tuck pleats and some invisible shaping that I think you'll like. Pictures here this evening.

I've been working with a very nice yarn from Colourmart cashmere called Teja Tweed, a red-brown-orange cashmere/merino flecky business with a slight stiffness. It's great for shaped and sculpted items, unlike most cashmere I've worked with. Just goes to show - you never know until you knit it.

The picture above, for your viewing pleasure, is Josephine Knitting by E.C Tarbell.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Rowan Silk Aran

t's ARRIVED! My delicious bargain yarn!

The first thing I noticed is how heavy it is. it's listed as 15% silk and 12% linen, which doesn't seem high enough to produce that kind of weight when the rest of the yarn is made up from viscose. I'm not sure, in spite of that weight and the fibre make-up whether it will drape well, it has a slight resistant stiffness, almost a crunchyness, that makes me wonder.

I'm going to have to think carefully about how to use this yarn. Because of the slight 'marble' texture, and how flat the stitches came out in my swatch, I'm thinking mainly stocking stitch, which rather limits me. But the colours are very nice and more mixed than I was expecting, and it comes out very 'close' and strong when it's knitted up. Quite resistant to stretch. Perhaps a cushion cover? Something that needs to be 'dense'.

Watch this space - I'm share my design thoughts as I go on, I have a secret thought percolating in the back of my mind for this yarn, and it could be something for the e-book.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I'm luxuriating at the moment in my latest knit, using the novel sleeve-to-sleeve method. For anyone new to this, you cast on at the cuff of one sleeve, work up to the shoulder, and cast on the depth of the body from armpit to hip. Then you knit along that cast on, back up and round the sleeve-head, then back down the back of the cast on. Yes, you read that right. You pick up the back of the cast-on and knit it.

I'm currently working on two 80cm circs to handle the monsterous over-shoulder seam, which clocks in at about 300 stitches. It seems to be taking forever! The only thing keeping me going is watching the textured knit-and-purl pattern appear. I love the whorls it forms as the seam is worked, and the unexpected patterns it creates. it will be really exciting to create the shaping for the shawl front and seeing how the centre-back graft looks. It should be two sets of triangles meeting to form one larger set of triangles down the centre back - if my calculations are correct!

Here's the cardigan in progress. That larger piece is the sleeve, and the line you see in the middle of the smaller section is the cast-on edge;

I'm also working on a novel reversible textured shawl, worked outwards from a central 'spine'; here's the spine piece swatch.

Hopefully, both of these will reach fruition and arrive in the autumn in my new e-book, which will be designs based on the Edwardian country house. Lots of textures and tweed, lots of lace and pieces that can be layered together.  It's very exciting : ) I love working with such a broad range of styles and textures and shapes, but being able to work around a theme. It gives everything direction, and builds on lessons I've picked up from the previous design.

Cornish Guernseys

On a recommendation, I've just picked up a super-cheap second-hand copy of Cornish Guernseys and Knit-frocks by Mary Wright. With over 30 traditional patterns and backgrounds, it looks right up my street. something to read whilst I knit!

I'm also curiously delving into the world of knitting-themed who-dunnits. Who knew such a thing existed? it's like someone looked at my amazon orders, and dreamt up a combination of my two favourite categories....

Currently on my wish list is the brilliantly titled Skein of the Crime by Maggie Sefton. I'm sure I'm pretty late to this particular party, but damn - the possibilities for crimes are really infinite. Strangled with circulars! Stabbed by a sharpened DPN! Fingers caught in deadly needle-gauge! The last one is not strictly terminal, but it would really hurt.

Monday, 1 August 2011

The Wide Awake Club

There's something about this weather (warm, muggy and dense like soup for those who do not rejoice in the UK climate) that makes me want to sleep all. the. time. It's also a Monday, the holy grail of groggy, so I'm surfing the deluded waves of sleepiness to the power of two. I stumbled out of bed this morning looking like I could have done with another week of really good-quality sleep, into the bathroom, managed to scrape the worst of the dirt off, and staggered hopefully into the kitchen.

Carefully, though the haze of sleepy, I prepared the coffee pot. I got the spoon. I filled the kettle. Through the haze, I located the fridge, reached inside and....remembered we had run out of coffee. The shock and distress were almost enough to make me wake up - but not quite!

As I speak right now, I'm a good three cups behind my daily recommended coffee level, and struggling to catch up.

Instead, I will lazily point out for those in the UK there is a sale at the excellent Kemp's wool shop ( http://kempswoolshop.com/) and I may have ordered Rowan Silk Aran for 99pence a ball. Photos and more information when it arrives!

I'm also working my way through a sleeve-to-sleeve long line cardigan for my autumn e-book, pictures and further updates tomorrow : )