Alison Crowther-Smith

Archive for September, 2016

Swatchety Swatch

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

I recently read this.  It is about swatching.

I know many knitters really hate swatching.  What I don’t really know is why.   It’s true that taking a bit of time to make a little sample is time you could have spent making The Real Thing.  But if The Real Thing will be too big or too small, or too complex, or too simple – what is the point of swatch-dodging?

So in that blog post, with which I heartily agree, you will learn about why swatching for tension is a good idea – and how it can vary.  In my world, where I design a lot of things, the swatching is all that and also a crucial part of the design process.  It not only gives me data that I will need for The Real Thing, it also tells me how much I am going to like knitting it. And/or how much I think you may like knitting it.

Many many of my swatches never get made into grown-up knits.  This may be because of several things, such as:  I can’t really do it/make it work; I can do it/make it work, but it is ugly; I thought I’d like it when I designed it in my head and then wrote it down or drew it – but it turns out I really do not like it; my calculations reveal The Real Thing will consume eleventy nine skeins of yarn and about a year of my/your life and you will hate me. That kind of thing.  These hapless swatches get filed in the ‘hopeless’ file.

I was once called, to my face, a ‘weirdo’ for not only swatching but saying (truthfully) that I like swatching.  To be fair, I am a weirdo, but not because of the swatching.  You know me, kind of, and the weirdness is fine and mainly not the dangerous sort.  But I really did get all huffy about that. Because swatching, whilst it may not be for everyone, is essential.  Someone has to do it.

And sometimes, that someone is you.  Why?  Because swatching is also an invaluable teaching aid.  I may design an item, let’s go with a Fairisle cowl, knitted in the round, and this item may form the basis of a workshop.  To make the design really work, I had to begin that cowl with a fairly long and dull stretch of rib.  One-by-one twisted rib which no-one needs a workshop for.  So I thought:  if I just rock up with a pattern and they all go right ahead and make the item with no practice, no-one will be further than line 2 of the chart by tea-time – the entire day will be spent knitting rib.  So I did two things:  1)  I designed a small swatch so that the pattern which was beaded Fairisle, could be knitted as a little practice; and 2) because I knew that almost no-one would be keen on that, I sent out the pattern up to the point where the rib ended so that anyone who was a swatch-dodger could prit* that part and then dive right into the main charted bits.

*prit: to pre-knit something before a workshop for the sole purpose of avoiding swatching.  I have that term copyrighted, OK?

I don’t mind doing that.  If it makes you happy.  In fact for my Smoke and Mirrors Felted Bag, I designed the inner pockets as swatches – stealth swatching.  Totes worked.

But given that hand knitting, which we all love, is by its very nature a steady, rhythmic and repetitive process that takes time, I really do not understand the reckless – yes, indeed, sir, I go so far as reckless – avoidance of a little practice for the purpose of mastering the stitches and gaining the assurance that The Real Thing will be good.  I am also, as you know very well, a big fan of instant or fairly rapid knitting gratification so I do get the urge to rush ahead and get started – because then you will be finished sooner, right?  But take a little time to swatch, especially if the item is a size critical thing, or the stitch(es)/techniques are unusual or new to you.  In my patterns, I usually mention the stitch/row repeat in the notes and add a note about what to cast on if you want to swatch.  This is because I don’t design a lot of stocking stitch things.  I’m not stitch-ist by the way, I love a bit of stocking stitch soothing as much as the next weirdo, but I also like a bit of adventure!

Embrace the swatch.  Be a swatch-ninja.  Like me.  (I can just hear Lily’s eyeballs rolling about if she read or heard me say that.  I think I will say it to her as soon as she gets in.  I’ll let you know how that goes).

Designer Notes: The Landscape Throw

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

2017 Workshop Schedule

Monday, September 12th, 2016

This is shaping up nicely.

First, I am repeating Steeking and the knitting of the Bee Blanket and Cushion, probably in April or May as the new date (February 2017) is also already full.  Contact me to ensure a place, I think at the moment I have four places not filled, subject to dates.

I am also repeating the New Moebius event which is happning first this November.  I am happy to take a mix of those who can knit a Moebius (refresher given anyway) and anyone who has not done this as I can teach one group and Kath the other.  Let me know if you fancy this.

Then the rest of the year so far is looking like:

  • New Fairisle in the round (a cowl, not steeked).
  • New Fairisle in the round for steeking (throw and cushion).
  • Kidsilk Haze Day: brand new designs for this heavenly yarn, ranging from 2 – 6 balls, and from easy to slightly more technical. Great for anyone who hasn’t yet ventured into this magical land with me, and for devotees alike.
  • Textured Knits:  combining beading, cables and textured stitches.
  • Brioche Knitting in Two Colours:  an introduction.  Your entry-level event, but we’re going straight in with two shades because that is really half the point of this amazing and cool stitch.
  • Brioche Knitting in Two Colours in The Round.  Your ‘moving on’ event!
  • Christmas Gifts.
  • Christmas at Court Cottage.  If, that is, there are still some little decorations I can design and pass on!

Now one or maybe two of these may not make the final cut or might get bumped forward.  But I think most of this will be on your menu for 2017.

I do get asked if the courses are only put onto the site once they are full.  No, but I do operate am email alert system which means that those people know about them straight away.  You probably know if you are on it as I also use this list to tell folks about last-minute cancellations, but if you think you want to be on it, please let me know.

I am hoping to get the main batch of courses for 2017 live in October.

The Afternoon Tea Club will not be back in 2017.  They have all been busy but having them before a workshop, which was the idea – and a very good one – is just too hectic for me.  However, I plan some (probably two) get-togethers for a full afternoon of knitting with tea and cakes, which I will charge for and then donate the fees less my costs to Macmillan Cancer Care, a charity very dear to my heart.  I think I will hold one in the summer and one really festive one in early December.

Hope to see you here for some knitting next year. Everyone is very welcome.


Designer Notes: The Smoke and Mirrors Felted Bag

Friday, September 9th, 2016

I have now taught this design a fair bit and I have also released the pattern which is here, for anyone who has not attended the course.  So I think now is a good time to also set out some Designer Notes.

This is a felted bag, washed in your washing machine.  I have done a great deal of hand-knitted felt including Shibori Felt but this my first big venture into non-Shibori texture.

The concept is for a large, sturdy project bag which is knitted in three pieces excluding the pockets.  The stitches I use create a significant depth of texture after felting and so the bag does not need lining.  But you can of course, if you wish.

Here are the basics:

  • Knitted in Rowan Felted Tweed in 2 shades; you will need 3 of A and 6 of B.
  • It has been designed to fit well with handles from here.  But if you find other handles you prefer, use these approximate dimensions.
  • There are beads, placed traditionally, i.e. not with a crochet hook, but in clusters of 3 rather than singly.
  • You will need 4 mm needles.  For the sides which are quite hefty, I used a fixed cable circular needle about 80 cm long.
  • Felted at 60 degrees for between 80 and 90 minutes in a standard wash programme.
  • There are two interesting but not difficult stitches in use, all fully explained and I will set some notes out here too.
  • Suitable for an average knitter – it is easy to moderate.

The bag begins, inevitably, with some stocking stitch.  There are few centimeters of this because we are knitting a wide flap which, once the bag is felted and dry, will be fed through the slots in the handles and then sewn down.  There is a fold line half way.  Once you complete this bit of knitting, I suggest in the pattern that you mark the beginning and end of the last row.  This is because that marked row is the row where the sewing up of the sides to the gusset will also begin and end.  There is also a visual clue in that you also, at this point, start the folded beaded pattern.

The beads are placed in clusters of three – just as easy as placing them singly.  This section has deep folds which are formed by literally picking up the back of the stitch from the wrong side, so it is easy to see, some rows down, and purling this ‘stitch’ along with the next real stitch on the left hand needle.  You do this four times, then purl four stitches normally, all along these fold rows.  The row you are picking from is seven  rows down – you count the bumps.  My top tips for this are:

  • Slightly stretch/pull your work down to expose the ‘ladder’ of bumps.
  • You know you are in the right area if, when you look at the right side, the clusters of beads are about in the middle of the fold.
  • Once you have the first of your four pick-ups right, you just pick the stitch next door for the following three pick-ups.

The stitch is a multiple of eight.  But, both the beads and the folds are off-set, so for the first part where the bag is also being shaped with increases, the numbers have been adjusted to make sure they remain off-set.

The second part of the side uses two shades together, but never on the same row.  The shade not in use is carried up the side.  This part is based on garter stitch and slipping stitches in between.  The garter stitch element essentially forms the ‘framer’ of colour around the contrast shade.  I held this double, but the other yarn is held single.

My top tips for this are:

  • Do not pull the yarn tight as you carry it up the sides.
  • There are slipped stitches so there is yarn ‘carried’ across the back.  You don’t have to do anything, it just happens, but again, make sure you do not pull this tight.
  • Do not worry that this part looks rather distorted and puckered.  All will be well after felting, but I have added extra rows to take account of the loss of height that will happen when you wash it.

The two sides are made the same, then you knit the gusset which you will pin and then sew all round the sides, along the bottom and back up the other side.  Use a firm back-stitch to sew these seams.

You can knit the pockets first to practice the stitches, then also felt them first to test your machine.  The wash is about 80 – 90 minutes at 60 degrees.

Once the bag is sewn up, but the flaps are NOT sewn down until you sew in the handle later, you wash it and then dry and de-fluff it.  This yarn used to be very fluffy after felting and some knitters have said their bags were fluffy, but none of my samples or the two full bags I have knitted have been bad at all.  But anyway, this just needs you to use a damp hand and stroke the bag firmly inside and out to get the fluff off.  I do this outside!  Once de-fluffed, that’s it, it never happens again.

I really enjoyed designing this bag and knitting it is not boring at all.  Yes it is a longish knit but the results are worthwhile.  A bag that is unique and will last you a life-time of knitting.

You can buy the pattern here. 



Allotment Soup and Upside Down Rhubarb Fool Cheesecake

Monday, September 5th, 2016

Squah and Courgettes for soup

This soup is really yummy and I have been serving it at workshops last weekend.  Everything in it was grown on the allotment! It contains no brassica which I know some people don’t like and it has gone down very well.  Here is the recipe which made enough for 8 so you could freeze some. I serve it with bread and sometimes warm buttered toasted crumpets, pickles and several cheeses:

  • 3 or 4 squash (I used Japanese squash that are orange and quite like small pumpkins, and Patti-Pan squash which look like yellow, fat flying saucers)
  • 5 or 6 large courgettes (I used mainly yellow and two large dark green ones).  A marrow would also do nicely though you might de-seed it.
  • 3 large brown or white onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic (I made one lot with garlic and one lot without)
  • 3 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • Vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds
  • Black pepper (lots) and some sea-salt flakes
  • Rape seed oil

De-seed the squash but do not peel.  Chop into smallish chunks and add larger chunks of the courgettes and the sliced onions and garlic, peeled and whole.  Pop them into a large roasting tin and douse with a good slug of good quality rape seed oil.  Add the spices, salt and pepper, mix it all up and roast it for ages.  I start mine slow and then move it up for the last hour or so.  Eventually, it will start to caramelize a bit and will all be very tender. Transfer to a huge stock pot.  Add enough veg stock to cover well and simmer for a few minutes.  Cool.  Blend. It will go velvety thick.  Too thick probably, so if you want to eat it now, add more water or stock, re-heat and serve.  If you want to freeze it, as I did, freeze it now and then once it has de-frosted and you have re-heated it, let it down a bit more then.  it looks odd at first when you de-frost it but just heat well and stir a lot, then add more water or stock to get it how thick you want it.

Another crop that has been abundant is rhubarb.  Here is upside down rhubarb fool cheesecake pots and this makes about 8 – 10 small pots:

Rhubarb fool cheesecake pots

  • Lots of rhubarb washed, trimmed and chopped
  • Some fresh grated ginger
  • 6 slightly crushed whole cardamon pods
  • Caster sugar to taste
  • A large pot of double cream (and optional, I am doing this next time, substutute half the cream for a full pack of cream cheese)
  • About 4 oz of butter
  • About half a pack of digestive biscuits

Put the rhubarb, sugar, ginger and cardamon in a shallow roasting tin and roast for as long as it takes for the fruit to be very soft and deepening in colour.  It should still be quite syrupy.  Fish out the pods and squeeze the black cardamon seeds back into the mixture, chuck away the skins.  Mash or blend it – I mash so it is still textured.  Cool and chill.  Whip the cream to a soft peak consistency.  Add about 2/3rds of the chilled rhubarb mix and stir it all in well.  Crush the biscuits to a coarse powder and add the melted butter.  Mix well.  Cool and chill.  Spoon the rhubarb/cream mix into your pots and on top of each add a generous dollop of the rhubarb compote that has no cream in it.  These can now be covered tight and chilled and will keep fine for 24 – 48 hours.   The biscuit mix can be put in a food bag, air pushed out, sealed and chilled for up to 24 – 48 hours too. When you want to serve them, make sure the biscuit mix is back to room temp and sprinkle a generous layer on the top of the rhubarb.  To make it even more cheesecake-ish next time I am going to blend the rhubarb compote with half cream, half cream cheese.  I will let you know how that goes.