March 2012

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Nearing summer

Now that the winter looks like it’s over, we’ve been able to think less abut warm snuggly things and more about light versatile knits. We’ve two to show you today, one lovely accessory and one charming jumper.

The accessory’s in the photo above. It’s the Flukra shawl, designed by Gudrun Johnson using traditional Shetland lace patterns. Since the lace is garter stitch based as well as the solid centre, this is a surprisingly easy pattern. Jacqui used Malabrigo Silkpaca to make it, and it used just over one skein (the remainder of the second was enough to make a Swallowtail as well!).

The garment’s below: it’s a Folded jumper, made by Lisa out of Malabrigo Sock. This took just over two skeins, which she alternated a couple of rounds each at a time to avoid any dye-lot issues. Knitted at quite a loose tension on largish needles, it’s a fast and satisfying knit, and because of the yarn it’s even machine washable, so it’ll quickly become a wardrobe staple.

While Lisa was knitting it, something interesting happened, though. If you compare it to the pattern original, you’ll notice that the sweet gathered detail at the bust is off centre in her version. This is entirely due to Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker – distracted by and old episode of Yes, Minister, she made the gathers elsewhere than suggested by the pattern. What followed may shock many knitters: she decided to keep going. And we think the result is even nicer than the original.

So there’s a moral to today’s blog: if you do something that’s not in the pattern, maybe it’ll turn out to be even better. If you’ve ever gone offroad in your knitting and crochet and decided to stay there, tell us about it in the comments – we love to hear about modifications, planned or unplanned!

Need yarn?

Drumroll, please!

We’re thrilled to announce that our new online shop is now open. There’s so many new and exciting things to tell you about it that one blog post won’t be enough, but here’s just a couple of them.

When you create an account, you can set up a wishlist for things you really love the look of. This is, of course, awfully useful for making sure you get the perfect present in the future, but it’s also good for reminding yourself!

We’re very happy that we have so many customers who live outside Ireland, and now we’ve made things a bit easier for them by pricing in three different currencies. At the top of the screen, just to the right of the This Is Knit logo, you can choose whether you want to see prices in euros, sterling or US dollars – just click on the currency you want displayed.

If you’re shopping from outside the EU, you don’t have to pay sales tax (VAT) on purchases here. In the past the VAT could be deducted after an order was placed, but we have now made the process simpler and easier by showing only VAT free prices for customers who register an account with a non-EU shipping address.

There’s an awful lot more to share with you yet, but right now we’re in a mood to celebrate. So if you live in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland and place an order before midnight on March 31st, we’ll pay your shipping for you. Simply enter the coupon code “SendMeYarn” to avail of this promotion.

So if you fancy an exciting parcel in the post (or want to send a gift to a yarn-loving loved one), come have a look round.

Knitting along

Our Spring Knit-a-Long is now well underway, with a dedicated Ravelry thread going on right here. We’ve got lots of cardigans underway, in at least four countries and three continents.

We’re very happy to report that knitting along has helped several people with various parts of the patterns – having fellow knitters to ask about something in common makes a huge difference. For example, the buttonhole placement in the Debbie Bliss Fan pattern raised some questions, and these got quickly resolved. The frequency of the raglan and neckline increases in Sandrine was helped by our blog post on keeping track of increases back in December.

If you’d like to do some live knitting along with us, we’re having a dedicated help session for the Knit-a-Long this coming Saturday, March 24th, at 11.00am. If anything in Fan or Sandrine needs clarification, or if you want to proudly show off your progress, it would be great to see you.

If you’d like to join us, there’s loads of time – if you want to be eligible for the super prize, the deadline’s the 6th of June, though there were still people working on last year’s KAL months after the draw had been made. The post giving full details is at this link – we’d love to have you with us.

Following on from last week’s review of Jean Moss’s lovely Sweet Shawlettes, we’re delighted to announce that the Random Number Generator picked Susie Hewer to receive a copy of the book. We’ll be in touch, Susie, to talk about getting the book to you, and we hope you love knitting from it.

Traditional

For a bit of novelty for the weekend, we thought we’d pass on a family recipe. This porter cake, made with Guinness (or other stout of your choice), turns out moist and not too sweet – rather grown up, in fact. A generous slice and a cup of tea makes most days better.

The fact that it’s called porter cake might mean that it’s a rather old recipe – Guinness Extra Stout was called Extra Superior Porter prior to 1840, though the word has been colloquially used for stout, especially in Dublin, much later than that. It’s a cake that keeps very well, though in practice this is hard to test empirically.

The recipe’s been passed down through a couple of generations (using lined copybooks, letter paper, obsolete word-processors and now WordPress); due to its provenance it’s unapologetically unmetrificated. If you like it, leave us a comment to tell us, and pass it on.

Porter Cake

½ lb butter or margarine
½ lb brown sugar
1 lb flour
3 eggs
½ pint stout
1 teaspoon mixed spice
4 oz glacé cherries, halved
grated rind of 1 lemon
½ lb currants
½ lb sultanas
½ lb seedless raisins
4 oz mixed peel
1 level teaspoon baking soda

Cream fat and sugar, add flour and well-beaten egg alternately till all the egg is added, then add remaining flour and enough stout to make a soft dropping consistency which shakes easily off spoon. Stir in other dry ingredients and lastly add soda dissolved in a teaspoon of milk. Mix well after adding soda. Put in a lined tin and bake in a moderate oven for 2½ hours.

We’d all like to wish you a very happy St Patrick’s Day weekend. The shop will be closed over the weekend, but we’ll be open again at 10.30 on Tuesday March 20th.

This is a rather special post, because This Is Knit has been asked to review Jean Moss’s new book, Sweet Shawlettes. We’ve been chosen by the Taunton Press to take part in a worldwide blog tour, and we’re delighted to participate.

Jean Moss is a legend among knitters: she’s renowned as a designer and teacher, and she’s perhaps best known for her clever couture work. This book is unabashedly frivolous in the very best sense – there’s frothy lace and vibrant intarsia in here, cunning techniques and lovely embellishments.

The patterns, of which there are twenty five in total, are divided into four sections: Country, Couture, Folk and Vintage, each reflecting the inspiration behind the designs. If you’re looking to learn new techniques, this collection would be a very good place to start: there’s a wealth of them, from intarsia to lace to entrelac, and most of the patterns require just a skein or two of yarn.

Some of the patterns are truly spectacular, like the Ceilidh Shawlette, which combines snuggly softness with surprisingly simple colourwork.

As you’d expect, the quality of the pattern information is high: clear instructions, including a guide to possibly less familiar techniques at the back of the book, good schematics and a very comprehensive index. Charts are given as well as written instructions in most cases where it would be useful.

When asked to review the book, we decided that the best option was to knit up one of the patterns, and we weren’t disappointed. The Arabesque Scarf comes in two lengths, one 50″ around, the other 36″. We knitted the smaller, in Malabrigo Silky Merino (the colourway was Amoroso), which took less than one 137m skein.

This is a Möbius scarf, with an intrinsic twist achieved by picking up stitches from the bottom of the cast on. This makes for long rounds, but this scarf was a fast knit, taking only a couple of evenings. The feather and fan pattern, worked over twelve stitches instead of the more familiar eighteen, is just interesting and just relaxing enough. At about 4″ wide, this small version would make a lovely splash of colour at your neck. The pattern’s easy to follow and the pictures are clear and helpful.

In fact, one of the chief attractions of Sweet Shawlettes is the quality of Alexandra Grablewski’s photography. The pictures are beautifully shot and illustrate the patterns very well. It’s so useful to be able to see what your knitting’s supposed to look like by examining the pictures, and this is consistently the case here. You can see other images of all the designs at Jean’s own project gallery at this link, as well as over on Ravelry.

But don’t take our word for it – the great thing about a blog tour is that you can easily find out what other knitting bloggers think! You’ll find the entire schedule at the link in the first paragraph above; yesterday’s review was by Amanda France over at Joli House, where you can read an interview with Jean Moss, and you’ll find tomorrow’s at The Knitting Institute.

Finally, would you like to win a copy of Sweet Shawlettes? Just leave us a comment, telling us whether your own knitting is most Country, Couture, Folk or Vintage, and why you’re thus inspired. Since it’s a Bank Holiday weekend, you can take a bit of time to think – any time before 1.00am on Tuesday 20th March will do. We’re really intrigued to hear…!

We talk a lot about shawls here – lovely things like Swallowtail and Aeolian and Ishbel. When you first come to knit one, though, the very start can seem puzzling. So we thought it would be a good idea to do a post on how to do the garter stitch tab start that so many of them share.

To begin with, you cast on a very small number of stitches. We’re going to be working on a garter stitch tab three stitches wide, which would turn into a three-stitch garter border on a shawl, with five stitches in between the two garter bits. Of course, the number of stitches and rows that you work here may differ in any particular pattern, but the principle will be the same.

The very start is provisional, which just means that you’re going to set things up so that you can knit away in one direction and then come back later and knit away from the same place in the other direction. Any provisional cast on will do (they’re really all the same), but one we like is this one.

Take some waste yarn – something non-sticky and non-hairy, like cotton – and tie a knot in the very end (we’ll explain why in a moment). Crochet a small number of chain (seven is easily enough), cut the waste yarn and fasten off the chain.

Now let’s consider the shape of a crochet chain. One side of it has a line of interlocking loops, just like a cast off edge in knitting – we’re not interested in this side.

The other side (the one we’re interested in) has a line of little bumps running along it.

Starting with the end of the crochet chain closest to the knot, poke your knitting needle under one of those bumps, a stitch or two in from the end.

Wrap the working yarn around the needle, and pull a loop of it back under the crochet chain bump:

Continue like this – needle under the bump, wrap the working yarn, pull a loop back through the bump – until you have four new working yarn stitches on the needle:

Then knit along your new row of stitches, knitting the second and third stitches together (casting on one stitch more than you need and decreasing it away immediately ensures that you have the right number of loops to pick up later on):

Work ten rows of garter stitch in total, which will give you a little strip of garter stitch like the one below. Knit the first stitch of every row rather than slipping it if that’s your usual habit – you want the little bumps along the edge that you get when you knit the edges.

Turn your little garter stitch strip so that you’re facing along its long edge, and poke the tip of your needle under the first edge bump you encounter…

…wrap the yarn around the needle and pull a loop through under the bump. You now have a new stitch on your needle, bringing the total up to four:

Repeat this procedure at each edge bump along the garter stitch strip, getting five new stitches in total (one for every two rows of garter stitch that you worked earlier):

Now you’re back down at the provisional cast on, and you need to retrieve the stitches from it. The easiest way to do this is to take another needle and poke it through the loops at the cast on:

Then knit these stitches.

At this point you’ve completed your garter tab cast on, and all you have to do is remove the crochet chain. The chain will rip back only in one direction, towards its beginning – this is the reason for the knot right back at the start, because the knot tells you which is the beginning of the chain. If the chain sticks at any point, though, you can just snip it. Because you’ve already knit the stitches from the provisional, nothing bad can happen if you do need to snip the chain.

And when you’ve removed the crochet chain, you’re left with a cast on like this:

You’ve got three stitches from the top end of the garter stitch strip, five picked up from the side, and three retrieved from the provisional cast on: in other words, you’ve got stitches emerging from three sides of your little garter triangle. It’s clever, it’s easy to do, and when you knit away from it, you won’t even be able to see where it happened!

And then you can start literally thousands of neck-down shawls. Can we see, please?

Repose

May we introduce some very new arrivals to This Is Knit? Just last week, we started stocking MillaMia yarn, a lovely Scandinavian-inspired yarn. It’s a sportweight, so it’s a little finer than double knitting. It comes in a vibrant palete of seventeen colours, and we’re rather pleased with it.

The main focus of the MillaMia pattern range is on lovely children’s clothes in those sparkling colours, and we’ll be featuring these in the future. But today we thought we’d show you another part of what they offer.

These are the loveliest kits, each making a cushion cover like the one in the picture at the start of this post. We’ve got two varieties: the cabled cushion in a number of colours, and a charming colourwork kit featuring traditional Scandinavian motifs like hearts and little hand-holding figures and elk (it was the elk that did it for us).

One of these would make the perfect present for a knitter, and it’s hard to think of a chair that wouldn’t be enhanced by the finished article. What a comfortable place for a cup of tea and a few soothing rows of knitting!

Last year, we started stocking Botany Lace, Araucania’s lovely merino lace yarn, and the new colours have just come into stock. There’s some beautiful pinks and purples among them, as well as subtle greys and greens.

It’s a very versatile yarn. It’s quite a heavy laceweight: we reckon that it would be possible to make a pair of very luxurious socks out of it (though just as with Malabrigo Sock, the lack of any nylon content might mean they wouldn’t stand up to very hard wear). With the season for light garments coming up, a couple of hanks would make a very lovely cardigan or wrap – at 410 metres, a hank is a generous affair.

Or you could do what Jacqui did as soon as she got her hands on some.

This is an Ishbel shawl, Ysolda Teague’s terribly popular pattern, and it takes just one hank. If you’re looking for a first lace triangle, this has tempted many knitters into shawl knitting. The easy stocking stitch start and the straightforward lace border make it the ideal introduction – after all, 11,000 knitters can’t be wrong!

What’s more, we’ve recently started stocking Ysolda’s books, including Whimsical Little Knits, the one that contains Ishbel.

Sadly, Jacqui’s stunning colourway isn’t part of this year’s offering, but we have many others just as lovely. Why not drop in for a look?