The gentle art of whittling

Ash shawl pinI don’t normally post about my dear husband’s crafting efforts rather than my own, but I have something I need to share. He has taken up whittling wood and wanted suggestions for what to make as his first project. “How about a shawl pin?”, said I, with no real expectation of a successful outcome. And then, being the fussy person that I am, I gave him a specification as to length, thickness and wiggliness of the pointy bit and dimensions of the knobby end. He gave me a look that said, “You’ll be lucky! You do know I’m a complete beginner, don’t you?”, but picked up an ash twig from last winter’s tree pruning efforts and set to work with a penknife. And just look what the result was.

It certainly beats the shawl pins I have made from bamboo skewers with beads on the top, like this amethyst one.

Amethyst shawl pinI have been wearing this delicate ash pin with pride in various shawls and to close my Nanook cardi, which is buttonless. Mind you, I did have to sand it to a flawless finish myself with 420-grade paper, dear husband had no idea what degree of smoothness is needed if a shawl pin is not to snag on fine yarn. I was thinking about staining it a bright colour with some ink or fabric dye, but then I realised that the off-white shade will go perfectly with the scarf I’ve been knitting. (See below for an update on that project.)

Since making this pin, dear husband has begun whittling a corkscrew-like object, for reasons best known to himself. (Because it was difficult, presumably – he’s never been one for the easy way.)

Wooden corkscrewI will probably use it as a shawl pin too, when it’s finished. Although it is only suitable for chunky knitwear and does look rather odd when screwed into the fabric, there’s no way it will ever drop out.

Yippee! I can have an endless supply of shawl pins to suit my knitting projects. Until he gets tired of whittling and moves on to something else, at least.

The swingy silk scarf

My scarf is finished and, although I know I ought to have blocked it before wearing, I haven’t. Or maybe it doesn’t need it, being 100% silk and garter stitch. I’ll think about it when I wash it for the first time. I just couldn’t resist wearing it straight away, given all the windy, snowy weather we’ve been “enjoying” lately.

Short rows scarfWool next to my skin makes me itch so my winter scarves and cowls are mostly cashmere (for when I want to look smart) or acrylic (for when I want something I can sling in the washing machine and that can stand getting snagged on a twig while I’m gardening). This silk one falls in the former category – it will need hand washing and keeping away from anything that might catch on it, but it it’s worth the effort because it feels so luxuriously cosy around my neck.

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Sod’s Law

2018 isn’t working out well so far. Domestically speaking, pretty much everything that could go wrong has. And that’s the definition of Sod’s Law.

First of all the kettle gave up the ghost, then the microwave. As if this conspiracy of kitchen appliances wasn’t enough (and only a few weeks after we’d had to obtain and fit two different spare parts to the breadmaker within the space of a couple of months), the drains blocked. And while repairing the blockage, the gas company sawed through our gas supply. Which is why, for several hours on Tuesday in very cold weather, we had the windows wide open, no working drains, no means of cooking (we use gas, apart from the microwave) or even boiling water, and were unable to light a fire because of the explosion risk.

Cracked drain pipe

The damaged drain

You may well be asking why a gas company was fixing the drains. Well, we had discovered that its workmen caused the blockage by cracking the ceramic soil pipe while digging holes all over our property to renew our gas service pipe back in 2016, and the drain eventually collapsed. Thankfully, the company took full responsibility, as the area in question was one of the excavated zones and there was 6” of concrete and tarmac overlying the drain. The damage could only have been done when that protective layer was removed, or while the hole was being backfilled before replacing it. Sure enough, when they re-excavated it last week they found a yellow gas pipe running right through where the top half of the drain pipe ought to have been. You can see the gas pipe, and the lower half of the broken drain, in this photo.

Gas pipe running through drain

Gas pipe running through drain

Unfortunately, the workmen then cut through this yellow pipe to make space for a new section of drain, thinking that it was old and disused, when in fact the same company had inserted a new plastic pipe down the middle of it less than two years ago. There was an immediate and overwhelming smell of gas inside the house. I’m guessing that these guys are no strangers to this sort of mishap because they had a temporary repair kit with them, which basically consisted of a sticky bandage. It slowed the leak without actually stopping it and we all waited – cold, tea-less and trying to avoid doing anything that might cause a spark – for a couple of hours while a gas fitter colleague was called to splice in a new length of plastic pipe.

I’m pleased to say that by Tuesday evening we had the gas back on, working drains and a backfilled hole. A chap turned up to do the concreting on Wednesday, followed by a tarmac crew on Thursday and then yesterday a man with a pressure washer to get rid of all the mud.

So take a brownie point, Northern Gas Networks, for getting it all sorted pretty swiftly.  I just wish you hadn’t damaged the drain in the first place, nor made a pig’s ear of repairing it.

Oh, and in the meantime we’ve received a replacement microwave from the original supplier (it was still under guarantee) and bought a new kettle. But this morning my dear husband dropped his phone and broke the screen, so Sod still seems to have us in his grip.

Swingy scarf

I’m half way through this short-rows scarf now and it’s working out well – much easier going that trying to knit it on the diagonal. I reckon it should be about 36” long when I run out of yarn, which will certainly be enough to pin at the neck with a brooch, and maybe even enough to tie.

Half completed swing scarfThe mulberry silk yarn really is gorgeous to knit with, and the lustrous colours are beautiful. I wonder why Debbie Bliss discontinued it? Cost perhaps, it was originally well over £10 for a 50g ball, and with a DK yarn 50g doesn’t go very far. Fortunately, I bought mine at a show and it was discounted.

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Knitting swing for real

Swing knitting experimentLast March I carried out some experiments in the style of short-row knitting that is variously called tapestry knitting or swing knitting. I modelled a lot of swatches on spreadsheets and then knitted a few of them to prove to myself I understood what I was doing, but I didn’t actually knit anything for real.  But at New Year I decided to give myself a treat by making a little scarf from 2 balls of Debbie Bliss pure silk DK that I’ve had for over a year. It’s a self-striping yarn, and knitting plain stripes with it seemed too boring. I was waiting for the right pattern to catch my eye, but I’ve waited long enough and a self-designed swingy project should fit the bill instead.

Never one to perfect walking before attempting to run, I started out knitting on the bias to make things a little more interesting. I swatched in garter stitch with some multi-coloured sock yarn, starting with 2 stitches and increasing at each side until I had enough stitches, then working increases at one side and decreases at the other, all the while swinging away with short rows. Amazingly, it seemed to work.

Sock yarn test for swingSo I started afresh with the silk DK, and all was going well to start with. But when I got to the end of the increases as both sides and weighed the remaining yarn I realised I wasn’t really going to have enough to make a usable scarf. I kept going anyway, to see how the swinging would work out with a constant number of stitches. It proved tricky to keep the number of stitches (more or less) constant, given that short-row “fields” that impinge on an edge result in a large number of increases or decreases that aren’t balanced by decreases or increases on the opposite edge until some time later. Result: potential edge distortion. If any of the swatches I knitted last Spring had been anything other than rectangular, I’d have realised this a lot sooner. Clearly, the standard rhythm of short rows, and/or the choice of which type of field to knit next, needs to be adjusted when knitting anything with an increasing or decreasing edge.

Another, related issue I have discovered is that some forethought is needed with regard to field choice when there is a decreasing edge. Rather like playing chess, it’s necessary to look a few moves (fields) ahead to ensure that short row ends of a particular type (say right side to wrong side turns) get cancelled by the opposite variety before they reach the edge. In other words, when using safety pins of different colours to mark each type of turn, all the pins beneath a particular pair of stitches need to be removed before that inter-stitch gap becomes the edge of the work. Actually, I doubt it is strictly necessary to achieve this every time, but it seems logical that short rows ought to be completed, as far as possible, if fabric distortion is to be avoided.

Having a discrepancy in the number of stitches after some fields, compared with the number there would be for a non-swing version, is inevitable when one side or both is increasing or decreasing. For a swing-beginner such as myself, it was proving too difficult to count stitches and pin positions with all that going on as well as everything else. By the time I’d reached this stage, an inch or so beyond where the constant stitch section of the scarf started, I concluded I was fighting a losing battle.

Swingy diagonal scarfI pulled it all out and cast on again for a narrower scarf knitted straight. I did a few calculations first to find out what number of stitches best worked with the formula or rhythm I’d chosen (7 / 1, 2, 3, 4 and 2-row furrows between the fields) to produce fields of different colours with this self-striping yarn. Answer: 32 stitches. It’s working out so far anyway.

With the bias version I was having to put in a lifeline after every field just so I could see at a glance where one ended and the next one started – you need to be able to see which field a pin is in for this technique. Now I don’t need to, the colour changes tell me all I need to know. Let’s hope that continues up the scarf.

Gansey cowl

I finished the cowl last weekend and sent it off on 2nd January, after I’d blocked it. I got an excited call a couple of days later – suffice to say, my friend is very pleased with her present. (And too polite to complain that it didn’t arrive until after Christmas.) I’m pleased with how it turned out too, to the extent that I’m planning to submit the design to a magazine for publication later in the year – they won’t be soliciting winter woollies patterns until the summer.  Which is, I’m afraid, why I’m keeping the photos of the finished object under wraps for now.

 

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LED light strips

I love LED lighting. It’s energy efficient, comes in various shades of white or a red-green-blue version that can give you any colour you choose, reaches full brightness immediately, lasts for years, copes with a wide range of temperatures and, unlike fluorescents, doesn’t contain mercury and can be switched on and off repeatedly without shortening its life.

Corn bulb

For several years now, we’ve been replacing all the mains voltage compact fluorescent bulbs in the house with LEDs as they fail. When we installed a new outside light in 2014 we made sure the fitting was suitable for use with an LED “corn bulb”, and it’s worked faultlessly ever since.

I’m also really happy with the retro-look bulb I built a wooden base for the year before last. It throws out a lot of light for its meagre 3W consumption.

Edison-style table lampChanging to LEDs has meant improved light levels and lower electricity consumption, without the annoying pause while the light warms up when you switch it on. The price has now reached the point where most LED bulbs are only slightly more expensive than their compact fluorescent equivalents, but their higher lumens/Watt ratio and longer life makes them a much more cost-effective purchase.

Low voltage LED lighting has taken a while to catch up, but it’s now at quite an exciting stage. I’m using 12V LEDs as direct replacements for the halogen MR16 bulbs we fitted in our bathroom ceiling when we refurbished the room in 2003. Recessed, low voltage halogens were the in thing back then, but they are quite energy intensive. The LED MR16s I’ve bought recently are a mere 4W compared with the 20W halogens that provide the same lumen output, and so far they work quite happily with the 12V DC power supply I installed for the halogens, which is hidden away above the false ceiling.

But, far more interesting than direct replacements are the new format low voltage LED lights, like LED “neon” tubes and the flexible, self-adhesive strips covered with SMDs (surface mounted diodes).  Bendy LED “neon” allows anyone with a modicum of electrical knowledge to build themselves something that looks very like a true neon display or picture, but without all the glass-blowing, messing around with neon gas and tricky electrical connections. Inspired by Bag and Bones’ wonderful slogans and artwork, I am very tempted to buy a few metres of tube in different colours on eBay, plus the necessary connectors, power supply, cable, end caps, etc, and just have a go.

USB socketI have restrained myself though, and opted instead to start with some flexible LED tape. Most of the tape/strip you can buy is 12V, which is great if you want to pimp your car or try and run it off an existing power supply meant for low voltage halogen lights, but I have several unused 5V power supplies lying around and a second USB charger socket I haven’t yet got around to fitting. (See my post from August 2016 for more on the one I did get around to installing – it’s really convenient for charging phones and other gadgets, which is why I bought a second one for upstairs.) So I bought a 2m length of 5V SMD tape fitted with a USB socket, all the way from China for less than £3.

It arrived the other day and I excitedly snatched it from the postie’s hands and unwrapped it. It was almost as good as getting a yarn delivery.

LED strip out of the packetThis strip has 60 LEDs per metre, ie 120 in all, and its total power rating is 4W.  Yes, 4W.  Left on all the time it would only consume one unit of electricity every 10 days. I won’t leave it on all the time of course, that would be wasteful, but it’s nice to know it would cost me peanuts if I did.

Gas cylinder woodburner

The plan is to stick this strip on the underside of the mantelpiece that is at one end of our sitting room. On cold days at the weekend we huddle together on the sofa in front of the fireplace, but by doing so we have our backs to the ceiling light in the centre of the room. That makes reading difficult, not to mention knitting. Sometimes we move a standard lamp over to the sofa, but it’s in the way and what’s needed is light coming from the fireplace. (The gas cylinder wood-burning stove I made is more efficient than the open fire we used to have in that hearth, but it lets out almost no light.)

Fortunately, there’s a built-in cupboard at one end of the mantelpiece, which happens to be the cupboard where I installed a couple of extra 13A sockets not long ago. They are surface mounted and it should be an easy matter to replace one of the double socket plates with the spare USB-charging one I have. (If only I can remember where I put it…)  Then I’ll only have to run the cable from the end of the LED strip through a hole in the frame of the cupboard to power it.

Before I install this tape though, I’ve been trying it out temporarily in a few other places around the house by attaching it loosely to a 6ft carbon fibre rod with twist ties.  Places like along a beam that shades part of a ceiling from the south-facing window at the other end of the room,

LED strip along beam 3around the edges of the ceiling in a dark spot on the landing, in the bathroom to replace recessed halogens, up the staircase,

LED strip up stairsand on top of the cornice or under the worktop of my newly-painted kitchen units.

LED strip under worktopFor those applications I may go with 12V strip (it’s brighter), and anywhere where the strip is directly visible – like along the beam and on the ceiling – it will have to be hidden in recessed aluminium channel that comes with a clip-on diffuser.

LED strip used in a kitchen or bathroom needs to be water resistant. That makes it a little more expensive, but not much, and the connections have to be sealed with heat-shrink tubing. (Fun! I love heat-shrink tubing.)

I quite fancy using programmable, colour-changing LED strip in the kitchen. It would be great to run a strip under the edge of the worktop overhang so that the lights colour-washed the white doors. Unfortunately, our current worktops don’t have an overhang, but we are planning to replace all the laminate ones with beech block next year, assuming we can find a good match for the existing beech block surface along one run of units.

So, that lot sounds like a bit of a plan for 2018, DIY-wise.

A me-knit for 2018

Lia jumper finishedAs well as tinkering with LED strip, I found time to start a new knitting project over the Christmas break.  Something for myself, and about time too – I was suprised to find on checking my Ravelry projects to see what I’d made in 2017 that there was only one item for myself, this Lia jumper that was finished in February and has had a lot of wear since.  Everything else from my needles was destined for friends, family or charity, which is fine, but I do think I deserve a me-knit once in a while.

To that end, I’ve broken out some Debbie Bliss pure silk DK that’s been in my stash for a year.

Debbie Bliss silk DK

 

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Christmas star

Origami starChristmas Eve and I’m too busy trying to finish the gansey cowl I’m knitting as a present to write a long post.  Suffice to say, I’ve been inspired by the season to make my first origami creation since I was seven or eight and used to rush home from school to watch Robert Harbin’s TV programme – in black and white.  Those were the days.

I found the instructions on the Homemade Gifts Made Easy website, which has lots of other crafting ideas too.  These stars would make great Christmas bunting, and that was my plan, but I have to confess that I struggled so much with the first one that I lost all enthusiasm for making any more.

I’ve also been experimenting with stick-on LED tape, which doubles as fairy lights at this time of year.  More next time.

LED tape

Until then, a very Merry Christmas to all my readers.

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Designing a gansey cowl – Part 2

I’ve been swatching in the last few days to work out how to make a gansey-style cowl. You can think all you like about knitting, and sketch, and put figures into spreadsheets – I do all of that – but sooner or later you have to take up needles and yarn to see if all your planning is actually going to turn out as you want.

Having already decided that the centre of the cowl needs to be knitted longitudinally and then joined (the better to show off the stitch patterns), with garter stitch edge bands knitted in the round (that is, perpendicular to the centre section), the big decision that remains is:

  • do I pick up stitches from around each side of the finished centre piece and knit the edge bands outwards, or
  • knit the edges first and somehow join one to each side of the finished centre section?

The first option would be easiest – no need to calculate how many edge stitches are required first, picking up stitches is simple and neat, something most knitters do all the time without a moment’s thought, etc, etc.  But I have set my heart on having a Channel Island picot edge around each side of this cowl, which means the edge bands will need to start with the cast-on and be knitted inwards.

Gansey 14Which brings me back to the shoulder strap idea I floated last week, because if I knit the centre portion of the cowl between the two pre-knitted edge bands, picking up live stitches from those bands as I go, I should get a nice join which is even smoother and neater than picking up stitches and working outwards.  Instead of a shoulder strap that’s 3” wide and stretches from neck to shoulder, like the one on my gansey, I will be creating one that’s about 8”-10” wide and perhaps 45” long – a shoulder strap suitable for a misshapen giant.

Before I committed myself to this rather unconventional method of making a cowl (or indeed, of making anything other than a jumper with saddle shoulders) I swatched a “Channel Island bind off”.  This cast-off was unvented (an Elizabeth Zimmermann term) by Courtney Kelley, who like me wasn’t satisfied with a normal picot cast-off as a match for the beautiful, practical, 3-strand Channel Island cast-on.

While it would make life SO much easier to work the cowl’s edges outwards and then cast off using this knobbly technique, and it certainly looks a better than a picot cast-off, I’m not satisfied with it as an alternative to the Channel Island cast-on.  Let’s look at them side by side.

Channel Island cast-on

Channel Island cast-on

Channel Island cast-off

Channel Island bind off

No, it won’t do. So, next step, swatching a circular shoulder strap.

I knitted the edges first in yellow yarn, in the round – with an ordinary cast-on, life is too short to produce unnecessary picots. Then I knitted a stocking stitch tension square, working to and fro. My ratio of edge (garter stitch) stitches per inch to stocking stitch rows per inch was exactly 2:3, which made the maths a lot simpler than it might have been. I posted on how to design a shoulder strap when I was knitting my gansey – with a 2:3 ratio, you need to incorporate 4 stitches from each edge band per 6 rows row of the strap.  For the gansey, I made things simple by decreasing the “excess” stitches across each shoulder first, so that I could just work in one shoulder stitch at the end of every strap row (ie 1 stitch from each shoulder per 2 rows). I thought I’d try doing the decreases while working the strap this time around, by incorporating two shoulder stitches at the end of every third and fourth row of a 4-row sequence.

I knitted the strap in red yarn, after a provisional cast-on, so I could see what was what.  When I got back to the beginning, I was faced with this gap that needed to be Kitchener-grafted closed.

Gap needing graftingIt worked!

The gap grafted closedYou can see where I’ve worked the graft across the red section, but I’ve persuaded myself that’s because the trial cowl is knitted in unyielding acrylic that hasn’t been blocked, and I didn’t spend long tweaking the tension to perfection.

Close up of cowl join

A close-up of that join (and the in-the-round edge band)

I think the last few edge stitches on each side got a bit stretched when I was knitting the final rows of the strap, hence the small holes. I should be able to eliminate them when I come to make the gansey cowl by using an extra needle instead of dragging on the stitches waiting to be brought into play.  (Or I could just darn them closed, of course.)

I’m heartened by the fact that the edges lie smoothly without rippling and the join is not very obvious, even on this 2-colour, acrylic prototype.  A cowl made in one shade of pure wool, blockable yarn should look even better.

Right, now that I have proof of concept, I need to work out how many stitches I need and what patterns to work with them. A rough calc indicates that each edge band will be worked on over 250 stitches, which will take me forever to cast on if I remember my struggle with the Channel Island technique before. Better get going. Now, where was that YouTube video?

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