Our knitted patchwork blanket

When Stephen and I married in 1991, we each brought to the marriage a stash (a dowry, so to speak) of  children, books and knitted swatches.

Children and books both found their places, respectively settling into a pecking order and a merger.  But the swatches – what to do with the swatches?  What about a patchwork blanket?!knitted blanketWe come from different knitting traditions.  Stephen is a whizz at the knitting machine, which allows full expression of his sophisticated designing skills.  He’s a mathematician and is never happier than when with a notebook or computer, calculating patterns, repeats, algorithms.  Stephen works with coned, oiled yarns, preferably 2-ply Shetland wool.

I’m a spinner, and a hand knitter.  I’d knitted on and off from my teenage years, but what really sparked for me in the early 1980s was the combination of learning to spin and the multi-coloured knit designs by Kaffe Fassett. My chunky, wildly-coloured, homespun yarns worked perfectly with his garments.Katherine knittingBoth Stephen and I swatched – and we still do.  I’m always hearing of people who skip this essential step.  But how do you test colour mixes, patterns, designs – let alone tension – if you don’t swatch?

These old swatches now tell stories.  They are reminders of garments we have made, perhaps for others, possibly for ourselves, – and some, for one reason or another, never got made at all.

Let’s start with one of the most popular Kaffe Fassett patterns, and definitely one of my favourites: Poppies.  PoppiesI’ve knitted it again and again.red and white poppiesBoth the two swatches above became cardigans for good friends of mine. My old photographs leave a lot to be desired, but they still give some idea of one of the finished knits.  Odd buttons are the perfect finishing touch to this riot of colour.SJK cardiganSmall swatches in the blanket remind me of other colourways I’ve experimented with.pink and yellow poppiesEventually I made an orange version for myself.K's poppy cardiganPoppy cardiganI still have it – little worn, alas, these days because it is huge affair, with massive square shoulders (so fashionable at the time).  You can make out quite clearly the mix of yarns I’ve included – somewhere in there is my own handspun hair!

These were my first attempts at rainbow dyeing.  I had some beautiful yarns to work with, notably the fleece of a local Shetland sheep called Charity.  My sister brought the long lustrous mohair back from Turkey for me  – it caused great alarum among my fellow spinners at the Devon Guild – ooh, it might have anthrax, scrapie ….!  I survived.

There are all sorts of other interesting bits and pieces of yarn included as well that I used to pick up in charity shops or was gifted by friends.Orange poppy cardigan (details)Kaffe Fassett aficionados will recognise the patterns in these swatches below.  They were experiments that never took off – I forget why now. In some places the yarns have faded very badly.  Those are yarns I dyed with natural dyes, and this explains why I am so reluctant to dye with plants nowadays. The fade completely changes the pattern.Kaffe Fassett pattern IrisesLet’s move on now to one of Stephen’s swatches.  Here are two examples of the same interlocking pattern. He writes:

This is based on a tessellating design trying to interlock the shapes with a variety of different colours – alas, some of them did not have enough contrast to bring it out.Interlocking patternsmall interlocking pattern swatchThese are wave patterns he was experimenting with.  Over to you Stephen:

Trying to do 2 things here – firstly a pattern that moved sideways, and secondly trying to capture a wavy design so that the finished fabric looked as though is was rucked up or creased. Alas this version was not particularly successful.Wave experiment patternHe continued to experiment with wave patterns and came up with this fantastic wave pattern which is part of another blanket we made.

A much better version. This blanket looks even better when lying down under it in bed after a drink or two – certainly brings out the wavy effect.wave patternI too have worked with wave patterns.  My inspiration came from this small saddle bag.Saddlebag for inspirationIf you change the colours, replace the reds, browns and oranges with sea colours, you come up with something like this.blue wave swatchOr Or try the blues and greens in a slightly different arrangement, and you get this.blue & green wave swatchI used the design and colour plan from the first swatch to knit a Kaffe Fassett-style cardigan.  A beachside cardigan that I still have.  It’s huge and bulky but such a good friend.Blue sea cardiganWe could not be more of a contrast, Stephen and I!  While his knits are all about calculation and accuracy, mine are wildly colourful  – and remarkably inaccurate.  I have two pieces in this blanket which are testament to how very bad my calculations can be – perhaps the reason is I never swatched, because I can not find the swatch I might have knitted for this particular cardigan.  Instead, I have the two side panels I had to cut out of the finished cardigan because it was so huge!  I’d even gone so far as to knit pockets into the cardigan, so the blanket has the rare distinction of have two pocketed swatches!

Here is one of the pieces.  You can see the rib at the bottom, and the slit for the pocket in the centre.striped cardigan swatchAnd here is the finished cardigan – before the side panels had been removed.K's huge stripey cardigan - frontK's huge stripey cardigan - backIt was so huge that I had to run elastic round the neck to draw it in before casting on the enormous collar. It’s very 80s, isn’t it?  Actually, I still have it, and it is a great cardigan to wrap myself into on bitterly cold winter days.  None of this is handspun so it’s much lighter to wear than the Kaffe Fassett cardigans I have.  It’s a happy joke to myself of my terrible calculation skills.

Back to Kaffe Fassett and this lovely pattern, a sort of variant of the poppy pattern earlier.Aunty Jilly swatchI used this pattern for a pullover for my aunt – and I believe she still has it.  I love the colourway – her choice.  It was knitted predominantly in Colinette hand-dyed yarns which are very soft and comfortable to wear.Aunty Jilly's pulloverThis little snippet is a another variant of one of Kaffe Fassett’s patterns.swatch for stephen's sweaterI knitted it into a vast sweater for Stephen.  Occasionally, I would wear it, but was soon banned because I turned the sleeves up! It doesn’t get worn very much because it is just so bulky.Stephen modelling sweaterI don’t know how to describe this colour change pattern that Stephen came up with – so I will leave it to him:

In this pattern I used the random function on my computer program to select the stitch colour at random, the probability of a particular colour being chosen changing from 1 stich in 12 to 11 stiches in 12 over 120 rows – the idea being that the colours should seem to merge from one to the other, From these designs you can see that some give a better effect than others.
blue through yellow swatchThe colours in the swatch are very strident, but the design was used to much better effect in this panel that Stephen knitted for another blanket.colour change patternThis is another Kaffe Fassett motif that I am very fond of.yellow gold swatchI knitted it up several times, and eventually came up with this.blue gilet swatchWhich became a gilet (which I still have, and still wear).giletThere are some more interesting swatches in the blanket which Stephen made. Here is his Briget Riley piece. Eye-boggling, isn’t it?! Tell us about it, please, Stephen:

I was just playing about with trying to capture some of Briget Riley’s op art designs and this just seemed to work. Very effective as the shapes seem to swirl and catch the eye.Bridget Riley swatchThis stridently green and orange swatch went on to become something much nicer!

Not my own pattern, and the swatch was done with some spare bits of yarn to see what it turned out like.  Pleased with the design, but not these colours!
star swatchA beautiful, softly-toned jersey. Alas, very little worn these days.  It was knitted cuff to cuff making it quite short and bulky. But it is such a beautiful work that I have felted it in the washing machine, and plan to cut it up for another life, one day …. Perhaps make bags, hot-water bottle covers …

Much better colours – but making garments with ribbing like this takes an awful lot of work. Anyway at present I no longer have my ribber.cuff to cuff pulloverSome kind friends, thinking I was lacking inspiration, brought me back this wonderful print of the golden altarpiece in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.Gold altar, St Mark's, VeniceI did have a go at knitting it  – honest!  but it was a nightmare to knit … so never went any further.Venetian swatchThe same was true of this cat swatch.brown and white catsIt’s interesting to me looking back on all this knitting to see how very little of my knitting was textured.  The emphasis is almost all on colour and pattern.  However, there is one swatch that indicates that I was toying with textures.green homespun swatchAnd then I reverted to pattern!  This is another disappointing 80s knit (with the same homespun yarn), with enormous upper sleeves (you can just see at the join on the right side how big the sleeve setting is).  Consequently, the jersey has been little worn, but I do love the pattern and have it in mind one day to re-knit it.green tree pulloverSo here we are some twenty five years on, and what do we have?  There is still knitting going on … a new knitting machine, no less ..Stephen knittingnew swatches …

Based on a medieval tile we saw at Fountains Abbey on our recent Yorkshire trip.brick pattern

In fact, there’s a whole new pile of swatches waiting to be made into a blanket … perhaps one day …a new crop of swatchesI guess you could say these blankets are a metaphor for our marriage.  A mixture of talents and skills, many of which you wouldn’t think would work well together, but amazingly they do.

(Should you wish to make a blanket of your swatches, this is what I did: I crocheted round each swatch, sometimes several times to enlarge the swatch to fit the space available.  The crocheted pieces were then sewn together, and I crocheted round the entire blanket several times to finish it off.)

Christmas gifts – and wintry weather!

December knocked me flat.  I feel quite ashamed to admit this because in retirement we enjoy a leisurely and simple Christmas.  No longer are there small children to delight and exhaust, no longer are we heavily involved with parish church festivities, and no longer do we have working schedules that get more and more chaotic as Christmas approaches.  I look back on those times with amazement – and wonder how we did it all?

This year, it is only now – as Twelfth Night, Epiphany, the end of the Christmas festival, approaches – that I have recovered sufficient mojo to look back on December reflectively.

Of course lots happened.  But for the purposes of this blogpost, I’m going to concentrate on homemade Christmas gifts.  These made me very happy – and I hope they gave the recipients pleasure too.

I just love the small furry animals devised by Kerry Lord, the talented brains behind the Toft alpaca story. They are so cute – so quirky – with so much character – surely, I thought,  they would be acceptable gifts to our very grown-up children?

The first Toft creature I made – a bunny – was crocheted using Toft’s own alpaca yarn.  I’m not a crocheter and found the pattern very hard to master so I was just pleased as punch when I finished her.  Isn’t she a sweetie-pie?Toft BunnyA wintry day in December found me up in my woolly workroom, with Poe, our cat, putting together some more Toft creatures.  I didn’t have enough of the Toft yarn to crochet more creatures, so dug into my stash for some hand-dyed homespun. A single strand of Rowan Kidsilk Haze added to homespun  gave the Toft creatures a soft furry finish.

The trickiest part to making these Toft creatures is the stuffing – they need to be tactically understuffed. I’m getting better at this – not easy.   But it is the sagginess that adds to the character. Each creature also has a little bag of “ballast” sewn into their belly to help provide core stability.working on Toft animalsThese two were meant to be Siamese cats but they do not look at all feline to me. No, they are foxes, surely – little Fennec Foxes, I think!Toft Fennec FoxesHere’s my Toft gang before they set off bearing Christmas love and good wishes. Most of them went to new homes, but three little ones (the darker ones – my earlier attempts) keep me company and stay here.  As it is cold and wintry, they all got stripey scarves to keep them warm on their travels.Toft animal collectionSome Toft creatures found themselves making new furry friends in their new homes … Others got Christmas cuddles when they arrived …Hats were my other focus this Christmas.  Browsing through old Designer Knitting magazines, I found this two-colour cabled hat designed by Cully Swansen in the Winter 2009/10 issue.   Just a great pattern – and excellent for using up smaller amounts of yarn.  I changed the pattern slightly, adding a wide-ribbed headband in place of the garter stitch of the original pattern.  All the pompoms are alpaca and were purchased from the Toft alpaca shop – I can’t tell you how lovely they are: soft and furry and very fluffy.Cully Swansen's hat patternMy first attempt was this green and white hat. The white is the leftover yarn from the Toft bunny above, and the green is homespun mixed fibres yarn (wool, silk, and mohair).  I picked up a small ball of what I think is Noro Silk Garden in a charity shop and put a strand of that with my homespun.  This added to the variegated effect and the softness.Hat for BarbaraI was really pleased with the green and white hat – so made another. It took me a long time to work out the colours. I knew I wanted grey – but what to put with it. I tried red – no, too obvious. But khaki golden yellow? Hmm – yes, that looks very promising.  I think its what is called Grellow in knitting circles these days.  The yellow is left over Rowan alpaca colour (a gorgeous soft silky yarn) and the grey is two strands made up of Lang Donegal and another grey yarn (name and details lost – oh dear, system slipping).Jam's Christmas hatWe had perfect weather over the Christmas period for the wearing – and modelling – of the new hats.Jam & Barbara in hatsI made three of these hats as Christmas presents. This last is more a beanie because that’s what my husband wanted.  He didn’t think a pompom was for him …   (The black is Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal combined with my own homespun, and the name and origins of the red scrap is lost in history – but it is a lovely thick flecked yarn.)Stephen's cabled beanieAnd now I’m making one for myself. I found it very difficult to restrict myself to two colours so with my own hat, I’ve allowed myself to use three colours. I know it doesn’t show off the clean lines of the cabling, but the colours work well together. One of the yarns is a beautiful hand spun merino yarn my husband brought back from South Uist.  It’s red and orange and brown and yellow – Uist Landscapes – Peat Stack is the name the spinner, Denise Bridge, has given it.  So evocative.  The variegation confuses the cable pattern further, of course, but I don’t think that matters.  The homespun merino is like little flames in the green and brown, isn’t it?  (The green is a Rowan Tweed, and the brown is my own homespun combined with a strand of dark purple Rowan Kidsilk Haze.)Katherine's cabled hatMy son asked for the present we all want – more time.   And this is what my clever Stephen gave him – why, of course, let’s up the hours in a day from twelve to thirteen!  That’s 8.3% more time a day … Look how pleased my Jammy is!  The secret of this time cook-up lies with Stephen, but I can let you know that there were cheap Homebase clocks and Excel broadsheets involved …13 hour clockThere were a couple of new GiveWraps for these presents.  Both went to cat-loving ladies. I think these Japanese ladies work very well with the cats – for some reason …Japanese ladies and cats GiveWrapAnd this GiveWrap went to a lady who loves cats and Mexican Day of the Dead images  and Moomins – and those scratchy cats of Alexander Henry’s keep up on cropping up everywhere …Even an old child’s pillowcase has started a new life as a GiveWrap … happy memories …  Mr men GiveWrapI was given the most generous of gifts – gifts to feed inspiration.  There were books and fabrics and yarns ….

Perhaps you read my blogpost about dyeing fleece, and my undisciplined methods?  This year I am going to learn how to dye properly – thank you, Gail Callahan!Hand dyeing bookThese wonderful Japanese fabrics were a gift from my daughter.  They are such an amazing vibrant colour – and the patterns!  I sort of have the seeds of an idea for another quilt – and perhaps these would be part of that …Christmas fabrics from HelenMore fabrics from Stephen. This is an entire sari – silk, of course.  It is vintage – I guess that means somebody threw it out?  It is very soft, both in texture and in colour, and I will not be throwing it out any time soon.  There is enough material to make a full length dress, but my seventies days are over, and I’ll probably be making a tunic to wear over leggings.  Gorgeous to wear in the summer.recycled sariFrom another Ebay website, Stephen got these silk sari scraps.  These are the good parts from old, damaged and worn-out saris.  They will make some beautiful GiveWraps.recycled sari piecesLots and lots of inspiration there.  Now the days are grey and dark, windy (very) and miserable.  I learn from a Brittany instagrammer that the Celts call this time Les Mois Noirs.  Apt description indeed.  We look out on wet puddled fields …view from window and wild seas …Spittal beach promenadeOnly the seagulls seem not to care …Seagull soaring over wavesOur lane is eroding as water forces new pathways …View down our laneTime to put all the lights on so that I can actually see some colour, and get playing with all this gorgeous new stuff!

(I must add that although the weather here is very wet and windy and generally horrible, we have not been flooded.  Many homes in the UK have experienced awful flooding troubles over the last few weeks.  There are some poor souls watching and waiting as I write, fearing they will be flooded soon with this continuing rain. It’s been a heartbreaking Christmas for many.)