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UNLESS

UNLESS

My little boy has a lot of favourite books, but the book that he keeps coming back to as a favourite and which has worked its way into being part of our household and part of our lives is The Lorax. Last year, for World […]

In Defence Of Cake

In Defence Of Cake

Every year for Darwin’s birthday I have asked him what birthday cake he would like. He needed a bit of guidance the first couple of years, so I gave him a few of his favourite CeeBeebies characters to choose from. This year his imagination and […]

The Skystone Tank Top

The Skystone Tank Top

Looking out of my window here at Castle Codd, it is plainly obvious in the breezy golden light that Autumn is here. The crunch through the first few crisp leaves has been a feature of our walks to nursery on this first week back. These past two days I have worn an extra layer to acknowledge that slight chill.

My little boy has a favourite form of garment that he enjoys wearing to keep him snug: a tank top. Since he was only five days old he has mastered the art of looking cute in a tank top, and they really are perfect for keeping the chill off your chest, which, my Nan would always tell me, was essential in keeping well.

Tank Top vs Armwarmers

So, when August began, I had been considering a new toddler tank top anyway, but also really wanted to get on and join in the August Boost Your Knitting knitalong, which was revealed to be the glorious Skystone Armwarmers. Talk about being stuck between a ball of wool and a soft place… How do you choose? So, I knit both. At once. Kind of.

The technique for Boost Your Knitting’s August’s Knitalong and accompanying pattern was the selection of colours for colourwork, led by stranded knitting design genius Felicity Ford (AKA Knitsonik).

Images © Jesse Wild and used with permission of Arnall-Culliford Knitwear

I had the yarn for the beautiful Sky colourway, and the chart which you can use to plan your colour options. I can pretty much knit a tank top in my sleep now, so I decided to combine the two into one project. And thus, the Skystone Tank Top was born.

Lots Of Techniques

As hinted above, I can practically knit tank tops with my eyes closed. I’ve been knitting them for a good few years, even before my little boy was born, though my earliest ones were not so standard in shape, made to fit a chum of very different proportions. Since then, however, I have acquired some new techniques into my circus skills of knitting, and the ones I leant on here were all from past (and, it turns out, future) A Year Of Techniques and Boost Your Knitting projects and technique tutorials. This post may be a bit link-heavy, because I have revisited so many past tutorials and projects to make this. Click any links that spark your curiosity, or carry on reading along.

So, let me take you on a grand tour of this project (screen goes wibbly as we take you back to a few weeks ago… Mimi is sitting on the sofa, trying to corral a toddler into being measured…)

Cast On

The first challenge was measuring the child. It was the hottest day of the year and though my boy was quite happy to play measuring, he did absolutely not have any desire to put a tshirt on to do so. Any wise person would wait until a cooler day or a time when said child was dressed. I measured him anyway. 55cm chest measurement. Add a bit for the missing layer he’d be wearing. Add a bit more for ease. Add a tiny bit more for room to grow (because I want it to fit him for more than a fortnight). Let’s say 70cm. I had a gauge of 28sts per 10cm, so 2.8sts per cm on my size 3.25mm needles; so 2.8 x 70 = 196sts. The Skystone Armwarmers chart is 6 stitches wide, so the closest multiple of 6 would give 198sts to cast on, with a final measurement of about 71cm. That’ll do. I have mathsed.

I wanted a neat, firm but elastic edge, because those are the best kind, so I went back to a previous Boost Your Knitting lesson and used the Tubular Cast on taught alongside the Totally Tubular mittens pattern.

Pattern On

Once I got past the ribbing section and onto the main pattern, I was enjoying myself greatly. I love the rhythm of simple colourwork, and happily knit my way through the rows of the chart. Yes, technically I made a mistake – a mere deviation from the original where I knit an extra row of one of the pattern lines, but you can’t see it and I won’t look for it. A few people asked on Instagram how my pre-blocked colourwork was so neat, and I didn’t truthfully think it was so neat on this project, but what neatness I did achieve is mostly down to a very obedient woolly yarn, and good yarn management through colour dominance (which, if you wanted to learn the secrets behind, is very well taught in the Shaila Mittens tutorial from A Year Of Techniques.

Join Us

One of the other techniques I used to make my life a bit easier whilst knitting, was to splice the yarn joins when shifting between colours. As the background and foreground colours all shift only in their own colour groups, and to their nearest neighbour, I spliced them to avoid having any ends to weave in after the project. Good thinking, Past Mimi; looking after Future Mimi – I appreciate you.

What I did not realise was that how to splice yarns properly and elegantly is the subject of one of the future patterns and accompanying lessons in Boost Your Knitting: The Marangoni Hat. As the pattern and tutorials have all been released to subscribers now I can see that splicing is covered with another ingenious technique for joining in a new length of yarn with, and here’s the exciting bit, not having to weave your yarn tails in afterwards. Learn these techniques. Future you will love you for it, and Jen’s photo tutorials will show you the absolute best way of doing it.

Do The Splits

And the next technique we have up is the steeeeeeeeeeeeeks! Oh, to steek. What divides knitters more than the idea that cutting your knitting is genius/ridiculous. I’m on Team Genius. The first time that I used steeks in a project was for a previous tank top project: Oorik.

This darling little tank top and the tutorials on knitting, securing and cutting steeks was one of my favourite project from A Year of Techniques. It was just so freeing and made way for so many possibilities, and I have used it for a few projects since (most notably the Trilobite Tank Top)

So, I was well prepared for my next adventure in steeking and can’t imagine looking back to splitting and knitting the back and front shoulders side to side ever again. Instead, I put a steek in for each sleeve and after working another inch started one for the neck, also.

As the decreases at the sides of the neck and armholes are made, the steeked tank top begins to represent nothing more than a malformed bag with the bottom cut out. At this point it is common for me to ask myself ‘am I doing this right?’ I am, it just looks so weird.

As the neck decreases rise to almost the full intended length of the tank top there is one more steek to put in: one of the back-of-neck and shoulder shaping. I have found that, where possible, it is better to hold the back of neck stitches on a stitch holder/waste yarn and to knit the neck edging from them, rather than bind then off and pick up edging stitches, as it makes the edge more elastic and easy to put on. Anyone who is in charge of a toddler knows that their heads are disproportionately large, and that they really don’t like having tight necklines squeezed over them. If you don’t have a toddler, borrow a friend’s to look at. Look at that giant head. It has to be big to hold all of the cuteness in.

Cut!

The shoulders were joined using a three needle bind off. I find that this gives a nice, stable seam in this area that takes a lot of the garment’s weight. Also, it’s very quick. (Yeah, that’s the main reason.)

The steeks are then reinforced with crochet either side of the cutting line, before the big scissors come out. Except, don’t use big scissors. Use some nice little accurate ones.

And suddenly there’s a neck hole where the neck hole should be. And space for a couple of little arms follows soon after.

Stitches are picked up for the neckline and around the arms. To try and maintain as much space for giant toddler heads as possible I knit a classic V neck but knit the ribbing back and forth in a strip without a front central decrease, letting the two ends of this strip overlap in the very centre of the V before sewing the ends discretely into place. This again maximises the elasticity and roominess of the neckline, making getting dressed easier on every single person in the vicinity.

Ready To Wear

After a quick soak in the sink and a very light blocking, the tank top was complete.

A quick check of both the front and the back, and I felt happy with what I had made. Looking over the colourwork on the back was very pleasing.

Once the wool was cleaned and fully dry, any remaining ends were trimmed and a label sewn in as a finishing touch.

I think a lot of the time we hope that our handknits for children might one day be handed down. I keep the ones that my little boy grows out of, just in case he should want them when he is older, either to look back on, or to hand down to someone else. I sew a little label in and write a little tag when I pack his hand knits away. I don’t know if he will feel it when he is older, but I want him to know that there was once love knit into every single stitch. I do not take my knitting too seriously (she says, with a website dedicated to this kind of thing), but I do find a meditation in my knitting, of loving the person I am knitting for (including those projects I am knitting for myself), so each of these projects is special.

The entire knitting of this tank top was a joy. The yarn, the colours, the item itself and the love I have for the little person it is for. He turns four next week, and this was a present for his birthday, but he watched me knit it, and asked about it every day. He loves a tank top.

I had to give it to him immediately.

He loves it.

I love it.

There’s so much joy wrapped up in this simple little tank top. I know that it’s something that he loves. I love that he chooses to wear tank tops and that they are so warm, and practical, and can be so full of fun and colour, and that these are also all qualities that I feel about my child. Maybe that’s why they are his perfect garment.

Trying Something New – Stamp Carving

Trying Something New – Stamp Carving

There’s an account I follow on Instagram, ViktoriaAstrom, where I have seen the most wonderful little illustrations turned into large carved stamps and used to print wonderful and whimsical pieces of art. I always fancied a go at making one, but like many crafts it […]

St Mary’s Lighthouse Embroidery

St Mary’s Lighthouse Embroidery

Though I wrote about my Self Portrait embroidery first, because it was such an important piece of work for me, I actually made another embroidery piece before that one. This embroidery piece was made to mark my fifth wedding anniversary in July. When I first […]

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

I have made something important to me that I have spent some time wondering if I should share. I have decided that I should, that I want to, because my most recent project has been all about self-acceptance, and I think a large part of that is acknowledging that when I go out into the world other people will see me.

I have a skin condition. I don’t know what it is, because the doctors do not know what it is. I have dark red patches on my skin. They can appear in under two minutes, and move around just as quickly. Until the last few weeks they were always on my face, but they would move from one area to another without a moment’s notice. Here my forehead and one cheek, now both cheeks and my jaw. As time has progressed they have got steadily darker, now resembling a dark red birth mark that just doesn’t know where to rest.

People are generally kind about it. They know it bothers me and so tell me that they don’t really notice it, or that it doesn’t look that bad, but I know from the reactions of doctors and other people that it really is the first thing that a lot of people see when they meet me. And I have had occasional cruel or unkind comments. When a patch moved quickly to my nose recently two people independently made ‘Rudolph’ jokes at my expense. And so it was the day after those remarks that I decided upon this project. And, honestly, I love it.

Stitching

I found the planning and stitching of this embroidery piece incredibly cathartic. I’ve found it so incredibly difficult to find any body positivity in my own reflection since my skin started changing. I have found it difficult to see this face as ‘mine’, partly because it is always changing. Not at the slow and steady pace of ageing, or even of a sudden change that I might slowly come to terms with, but something where each time I look in the mirror a different stranger looks back at me. I wanted to find some familiarity in the lines of my face and to reclaim my own reflection by getting to know me again.

I stitched the lines of my face and features first, because they were what came first. They are the bits of me that have always been, and that have been hidden behind the blemishes that my eyes fall on first.

Following my sketch on the 100% linen fabric, I used mostly stem stitch with small areas of back stitch for most of the outline work and got to remember my nose, my uneven eyebrows, the tilt of my eyes, my lips that were always a bit too thin, but that I now love a little more.

I used a series of small, straight stitches close together like satin stitch to make the irises, with a variegated blue embroidery thread, and made the pupils from three strand lazy daisies, each with seven petals to give a decent amount of fill. I put a bit more detail into my eyes than I did the rest of my features as I didn’t want the exploration and recognition of my face to be only about the marks on my skin. As witness to my past and present, my eyes are important to the person that experience has formed, as well as being a link (through strong familiar characteristics) to my child.

In contrast to my eyes I enjoyed making the slightly more haphazard stitches of the eyebrows, to add a bit of texture and character. They are not identical, because my own eyebrows are naturally uneven.

Blooms

Once all of the outlining and features were complete I started making the feature stitches of my facial markings. As they are constantly changing I picked a moment in time when I finally had my project idea and had gathered all of my materials and felt that I was ready to begin this journey of acceptance.

This is me on July 30th 2019, at 11am.

I decided to use a lazy daisy stitch for the facial markings as I wanted something that wasn’t as solid and permanent as satin stitch for the fill, but that would also not be too bold in texture (as French knots and some other feature stitches can be), as my skin condition has not affected the texture of my skin. I used a variegated thread again because my colourisation is not uniform, and I thought it would add a bit of lightness and a sense of change to the stitching. I also chose the daisy stitch as when I’ve spoken to people about my face (when they’ve noticed red patches appear whilst we sit and talk) I’ve instinctively explained that patches ‘bloom’ and then fade away, seemingly at random. This word, to bloom, usually means something positive, I know, but for some reason it has been the vocabulary I have developed to cope with discussing it with others. The areas of my skin that go dark red are also described by my doctor and others as florid, from the latin for flower, so a floral stitch added to my need for a sense of wordplay and whimsy to lighten the subject.

And so, after many stitches, and many carefully placed little blooms of colour, here I am.


Coddswallop

Our First Two Years Together

Our First Two Years Together

It’s been two years since our family grew by one. I think we were always a family, Russell and I. From, perhaps, the day that I felt like I trusted in his goodness to let go of that little bit of certainty and security of the path I was on, soon to have my own little place to live, and took the leap that I could trust in this human to be good and to care and love enough that I could uproot once more and move in with him to a pokey little cold flat in Whitley Bay. Boy it was cold. And it was so tiny! But perhaps it was my favourite of all the places that I have lived due to it being where our story began and the first place in which I had felt safe in a very, very long time.

But my favourite chapters of the story so far all burst into colour two years ago when a tiny human popped into our world, a mixture of Russell and I. This whopping great blackcurrant stained baby shot into the world at a faster rate than I could really handle it. But after all the worry and panic there lay this 9lb bruise with a wrinkle for a nose and Russell and I cradled pure love in our arms. It had not been so very long previously that I did not think that I could trust anyone to truly love in my lifetime, and now I had these two pillars of love, one huge and protecting and one (not so very) tiny, heartbeat fluttering fast upon my chest, and I knew that I would never feel the same again. And our family was strong.

I truly love being a parent, but as so many people will tell you, parenthood is tough. Gosh, yes we have our off days. Tired, grumpy days, days of illness and the mystery maladies of baby and toddlerhood, sometimes that write themselves apparent three days after the screams and sobs with a scarlet rash and sometimes which manifest on no physical symptoms that you will ever detect and are put down to some mystical condition which may or may not have existed. And you are always, always doing it wrong. So says that lady in the supermarket, or the health visitor who you’ve known for four minutes of your life, or that relation who’d do that differently, or the neighbour who is old enough to remember when babies did not cry because in those days 10 month old babies did as they were instructed, and probably earned their keep down the mines at the same time.

If my little boy knows or feels anything I would hope it is just how perfectly I love him and that I love learning from him more than from any of those people. I hope that Russell and I can teach him, above all else, how to be kind, how to be thoughtful and how to have empathy for all the people whose lives touch on his. I do not expect that as he grows and natually makes mistakes for him to always be good, or that he will always make the right choice, but I do so hope that we will always have time to put three chairs around the table and to talk about how we feel and how others might feel, and the effect of our actions on others. And from him I am learning how to best see the world anew. How the most basic and fundamental feelings that I have can be best nurtured and put to use. I am tougher in my resolve to surround myself with good and kind people and to not let damaging influences into our lives without guard, and to that end I have a strong determination to stand up for my family and to know when to say ‘no more’.

I hope that our third year together will be one of greater learning and growth. I hope it will be full of rainbows and colour, but when there are grey days that we can make things better with love and understanding. I hope that that there will be laughter, kindness, and, importantly, dinosaurs.

 

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