26 Feb 2015

The village of Chalfont St Giles

Some years ago we lived in a small village in Buckinghamshire with distant views across waving fields of wheat. It was wonderful to sit on the deck at the end of the day and watch the sun go down behind the large manor house on the far hillside.

Well, that and the London express trains on the nearby railway line! Yes, it wasn't completely the rural idyll that you might read about in a story-book, but it was beautiful none the less.

It was an interesting area to live in, with a yarn store only a few miles away (let's get our priorities right about local attractions shall we), a network of canals nearby and rolling countryside courtesy of the Chiltern Hills.

One of our favourite Sunday pastimes would be to drive through the Chilterns and then walk for a few miles, ending up at a scenic pub for lunch. One such excursion took us to a delightful village called Chalfont St Giles, complete with a duck pond right in the centre.

This is an old village and was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1068. The Feathers pub there was established in about 1580 and there are many wisteria-clad cottages dating from the 16th and 17th century.

The church in Chalfont St Giles is Norman with a large square tower and an old wooden lychgate. It has some wonderful mediaeval wall paintings and wood carvings inside.

John Milton retired here in 1665 and his house is now open to the public. It is said that he completed his epic poem "Paradise Lost" in this cottage.

Another local celebrity is William Penn who was buried in a Quaker cemetery nearby after his return to the UK from the colonies, as they then were. There is a town called Chalfont in Pennsylvania named after Chalfont St Giles and by co-incidence, we ended up living close to that town when we moved to the USA.

There are several other places with the "Chalfont" name in the area, including the old village of Chalfont St Peter and the newer town of Little Chalfont, which arose with the coming of the railways.

We visited the area around the Chalfonts a number of times and always enjoyed walking in the hills in all seasons - through the colourful shades of autumn, then walking in our wellingtons through the dusty snows of winter. The following year we could stand, leaning on a fence rail, and watch the spring lambs in the chalky fields.

So it seemed a natural choice of name for the Chalfont Scarf that I wrote about in my last blogpost. This is a real three-season scarf - just right for country walks and gentle meanderings.

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Chalfont Scarf

Website: www.wyndlestrawdesigns.com


14 Feb 2015

Chalfont Scarf

The news is full of stories about yet another blizzard in Massachusetts this weekend. There has been so much snow this winter! Yet we can all see the calendar and realize that it really is only a few weeks until Spring arrives. 

So now's the time to plan for some Spring-time knitting: stay indoors in front of a cozy fire today and knit a lovely scarf which will be useful for the sunnier days ahead.

Time to introduce the Chalfont Scarf. This is a real three-season scarf which can be worn right the way from the autumn-time through the depths of winter and into the cool of a spring evening. 

The photo above shows one great feature of this pattern: the scarf is completely reversible even when worked in two colours! No bi-colour purl bumps when you turn the scarf to the wrong side. There are so few lace patterns which can be worked with more than one colour, so this is a real bonus. 

I wrote about this in a previous blogpost: Reversible Stripes, so have a look there too for more details about this great stitch.

The pattern includes three different sizes so you can tailor the scarf to your own requirements. The widest of these is a plain version worked in a soft winter white. This is a lovely cozy style which is perfect for wrapping around your neck to really keep the winter chills away. 

There are also two narrower scarves which can be draped a little more openly and add a welcome transitional layer for the spring or autumn.

I have included two different striped colourways: a two-tone blue and a wonderfully earthy dark brown and russet combination. The scarves are worked in Valley Yarns Amherst, which is a beautifully soft merino wool yarn. Amherst come with a good range of colours so you could choose some other great combinations too.

Please click here for more details about the Chalfont Scarf, or visit my website: www.wyndlestrawdesigns.com for more information about this scarf and my other knitting patterns.

Happy Knitting!



25 Sep 2014

Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw

If you are ever touring in the beautiful Box Hill area of Surrey, South England, you might well find yourself driving through the village of Kingsfold. It is only a small place, although there's a pub called "The Owl" where you can find some old beams, cozy log-burning fires and a warm welcome.

However, Kingsfold is famous not so much for its beer but instead as the location where the composer Vaughan Williams heard an old folk song when he was visiting in 1904. He was enchanted by the tune and arranged it as the setting for a hymn. It became known as "The Kingsfold Hymn" and has become a firm favourite for choirs and organists across the world. Here is a delightful version played as a duet for piano and hand bells.

I heard it recently at St Johns' College in Cambridge and the mesmerizing melody stayed in my mind long after we had returned to the blustery quadrangle outside. The students were making their way to their dorm rooms, coats well buttoned-up and scarves madly flapping in the breeze. I sat in a cafe with a steaming cup of tea and started casting on what would later become the Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw.

This first one was worked using in a two-tone grey colour-block pattern. I so enjoyed working on it, that I went on to work a second one with stripes (pictured in the last blogpost) and a third in a lovely bright green! I stopped then, but I might well return to this again as it looks so different in each new colourway. 

I love working throws and blankets at this time of year anyway because it keeps your knees warm as you work! The knitting seems to keep pace with the weather, growing steadily as the temperatures start to fall. This one proved to be super-cozy as the stitch pattern is very textural and holds pockets of air very well.

The throw is a good size to go over the back of a sofa but can also be used as an extra layer on top of a bed. And of course if your dorm room is as cold as mine was, then you could wrap yourself up in it so that you keep the draughts away while you are studying!

Please click here for more details about the Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw, or visit my website: www.wyndlestrawdesigns.com for more information about this throw and my other patterns. 

Happy Knitting!



18 Sep 2014

In praise of covered bridges

Flume Bridge, Pemigawasset River, Lincoln NH
I love covered bridges. I hadn't been aware of these until we moved to the USA and came across the Cabin Run Covered Bridge in Pennsylvania (pictured below). We have roofed stone bridges such as the famous Bridge of Sighs in Cambridge, but nothing like the wooden structures that we found in America. 

They are truly fascinating and all so individual in their design. The ones still standing tend to be constructed of large solid beams, but often seem remarkably graceful considering the weight of timber involved.  

Cabin Run Bridge, Plumstead PA
We like to plan driving routes which include a bridge or two and it is amazing how many other wonderful sights we find along the way: the oldest country store in America, a state park filled with the sound of crickets, or an old textile factory now with trees growing out of the chimney.

Our last trip to New Hampshire included no less than four covered bridges, all within a very small area. One was a tiny bridge and we wondered if it was really strong enough to take the large builders' van we saw crossing it. Needless to say we traversed the span on foot!

Another was a very long bridge with weathered grey wood over a deep pool of green water. Scrambling down the bank (and trying to avoid the hungry mosquitoes) gave a wonderful view of the bridge with the early autumn colours reflected behind. 

Cilleyville Bridge, Andover, NH
However, the one that stood out in my mind was named "Cilleyville". I'd love to know how to pronounce that. Is it really like "Silly-ville"? It certainly had a sense of fun, as someone had placed a picnic table and an easy chair inside! There was an enormous flag pinned to one side, the red white and blue showing through the spaces in the latticed walls. 

I draped a blanket over the fence at the entrance to the bridge and the evening light gave a wonderful side-lighting for the stitches. This is the Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw, about which more next time. 

Many other countries have covered bridges, of course, and some of these are centuries old. If you have the opportunity to look for covered bridges in your area, then do plan an excursion! They are well worth the effort. 

I'll come back to knitting next time and will include more details of the new Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw then!

Happy Knitting,


Last Blogpost: Henley Blanket


23 Aug 2014

Henley Blanket

I have posted a new pattern just in time for the winter ahead: the Henley Blanket

The pattern features three different sizes to fit Single/Twin, Double/Full and Queen-sized beds. Whichever one you make you will be sure to keep the worst of the winter chills at bay. The added advantage is that if you start working on this project now, then when the cooler evenings start to come in you can keep your knees warm as the blanket grows! A double benefit.

The blankets are worked in 100% wool - always the best choice for warm and cozy throws and bedspreads. You can either use handspun yarns, as here, or "Cascade 220" which is one of my favourite yarns. It always gives a wonderful result for this type of project as it is nicely soft and has great stitch definition.

The blanket features a reversible stitch pattern, Ridged Rib, which is easy to memorize and work. I love this type of stitch when I am knitting a large project. It becomes almost meditative as your hands work across the rows. Before you know it, another repeat has been done and then another. Then very soon the blanket is finished!

The stitch gives a regular, cellular texture which traps the air and holds the heat in beautifully so you can be assured of extra warmth when you need it.

The body of the blanket is worked in one colour while the turn-back is in a contrasting shade, giving a modern feel to a classic design. The version in the photograph is in rich tones of plum and cyan, but the design would lend itself to being worked in a variety of different colours and contrasting tones for a very different 'look' to each project.

The pattern is available on Craftsy, Etsy, Kollabora and Ravelry. Please also see my website for further information on this and my other available patterns.

It should be a cozy winter ahead!

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Blanket Coverage


8 Aug 2014

Blanket coverage

It's 31º C outside (that's 88º F) and steamy too. Yesterday there was an evening rainstorm but it didn't actually manage to take the temperatures down - if anything it just seemed to make things feel even stickier. However, we all know the summer heat won't last. Already the sun is setting a little earlier each evening and the nights can have a bit of a cool edge. Before you know it you'll be looking for a cozy rug to spread over your knees or a blanket to throw on the bed as an extra layer.

So now's the time to start planning your autumn blanket knitting. Of course, it can be difficult to plan for the winter when it's quite so warm outside, so think back to last year for inspiration. Perhaps you would have liked a lap rug when the first of the cooler days arrived. Or a super-cozy blanket that would tuck in securely and keep all the draughts away. That's always such a comforting feeling, isn't it. I suppose it reminds us of our childhood to be well tucked in against the winter chills. 

Blankets need to be soft and warm if they are to do their job well, but it is also really important that they are the right size. A narrow blanket that lets cold air in every time you turn over will not be your favourite item! And that applies to short lap-rugs too. You don't want your feet to be getting cold every time you pull up a little bit of extra material to snuggle underneath while watching TV.

So I thought I would compile some sizes of blankets that work well for hand-knitted projects. Compare these to some of your old stand-bys and make any adjustments so that your next blanket will be your favourite of all time:

KNEE-RUGS and LAPGHANS: Lap-Rugs are great for throwing over your legs at any time you need a small amount of extra warmth, but they do need to be wide enough so that draughts don't creep in. I find that a width of 100cm/40" works well for most situations and gives warmth without bulk.

The photo above shows a woven lap-rug of this size - about the maximum width for my 45" loom. Not a limitation for knitting of course! If I want to weave a King-Sized blanket I need to make several pieces and then join them together, but this isn't the case with knitting. A lap-rug or a double blanket - no seams!

In terms of the length, this depends on how you will use the knee-rug. For sitting in a chair or wheelchair, then work to about 115-120cm/45-48". If you like to relax with your feet on a foot-stool, then a length of 150cm/60" will keep your toes well covered. You can even add another 50cm/20" if you want an extra snuggle factor so that you can have a fold-over at the top or enough length to tuck underneath your feet.

AFGHANS / THROWS: The best size for these will depend upon the chair they are going to be draped over, but a size that works well for most sofas is 130cm/50" wide x 150cm/60" long. If you like to use your afghan as an occasional throw for a bed, then you could make this both a little wider and a touch longer to give an overall size of 150/60" wide x 185cm/72" long. That will give a good extra layer over a quilt.

The photo shows the Kingsfold Dorm Room Throw and you can read more about this here.

SINGLE / TWIN BLANKETS: A Single bed in the UK is a little narrower than a Twin in the USA. However, a good sized blanket for both places is 170cm/66" wide x 230cm/90" long. 

DOUBLE / FULL BLANKET: A Double/Full-sized bed is usually about 130cm/54" wide. However, the depth of the mattress can vary considerably between different brands. For a standard depth of mattress, aim for a blanket that is 200cm/78" wide x 250cm/100" long to give good coverage. If the mattress is an extra-deep one, then add an extra 20cm/8" to the width and 10cm/4" to the length.

QUEEN BLANKET: Queen size beds were not available at one time in the UK but they are becoming more popular over time as they do give a little extra room without being too dominant in a small bedroom. They are about 150cm/60" wide, so a little wider than a Double/Full-sized bed, and usually have deeper mattresses too. So for this size of bed, work a blanket 230cm/90" wide x 260cm/102" long.

The blanket pictured above and also at the top of this blogpost is the Henley Blanket worked in a 100% wool yarn. The pattern includes instructions for Single/Twin, Double/Full and Queen-sized beds. See the next blogpost for more details of this blanket pattern.

KING-SIZE BLANKET: In the UK King-sized beds are 185cm/72" wide while in the USA they are about 10cm/4" wider. The mattress can also be quite substantially deeper in the USA. So for a UK King-sized blanket make this about 270cm/106" wide x 260cm/102" long. However, for a US King-size it would be better to be 290cm/115" wide x 275cm/108" long.

I hope this gives lots of good ideas for blanket sizes for future projects. I will be posting patterns for all of the knitted blankets pictured above soon and will add links in here as soon as they are ready. Cozy winters are on the horizon!!

Happy Knitting!


Last Blogpost: Yarn Overs I have known

Next Up: Henley Blanket


30 Jun 2014

Yarn Overs I have known

Knitting lace is fascinating - watching the yarn overs and decreases marry together as you work to form wonderful shapes and designs. You can add small, wide-spaced holes into a baby blanket and bring a lightness and airiness to an otherwise solid fabric. Or you can place holes in sequences to make patterns that seem truly organic, such as in the Tulip Lace Pattern above. 

There are also some knitting patterns that seem to have more holes than material! The soft lace shawls from the Shetland or Faroe Islands are an example, just floating over your shoulders like a breath of warm air.

The holes in these designs are formed by taking the yarn over the needle, or just yarn over for short. But did you know that there are a number of ways to work these? 

In fact there are four basic types of yarn overs depending on what goes before and what goes afterwards in the row as well as some special cases that I'll detail below. Knowing the differences between these different types of yarn-overs gives you a lot of choices as you work to select just the right 'look' for your next lace project.

#1 - Between Knit Stitches:

If you need to insert an eyelet hole between knit stitches you have two options. For a small, neat hole you can bring the yarn forward to the front, just as you would to work a purl stitch. Now take the yarn in front of the needle and over the top so that it is ready to work the next knit stitch. This is the basic, simple yarn over (yo), also referred to as a throw in older patterns and also sometimes abbreviated to yarn over needle (yon). You then continue on your way, patterning to the end of the row. On the next row, you work the yo in the same way as a regular stitch, taking care not to twist the thread as this would close the hole up again.

There is also another choice to make a lace increase between knit stitches and that it is the yarn round needle (yrn). In this version, the yarn is brought from the back where you have just been working over the top of the needle to the front, then around the needle and under to the back again. The yarn has now completely encircled the needle and is ready to work another knit stitch. The amount of yarn taken to work this type of yarn over is much greater than in the first option and produces a more emphatic hole. 

A simple change like this can produce a very different-looking item. The smaller yo might be better in some situations, but in others this neat little hole can get lost in the design and a larger yrn would be a better choice. You will sometimes be directed by the pattern designer to work one type or another, or you may see yarn forward (yfwd) or yarn back (yb) as instructions on what you should do at various points in the pattern.

#2 - Between a Knit and a Purl:

After working a knit stitch your yarn is at the back and you need to bring it forward ready to work the purl stitch, but with extra yarn inserted to form the hole. The simplest way to do this is to take the yarn over the top of the needle instead of underneath it. This puts a very small eyelet hole in place but is not always satisfactory as the yarn can tighten up and give the effect of a distorted purl stitch instead of a hole. However, it is useful for small delicate items and can work well with care.

The more regular approach is like the yrn in the previous section. Bring the yarn forward just as though you are going to work the purl stitch without a lace increase in front. Now take the yarn up over the top of the needle to the back and then under again to the front. The action almost feels as though you are wrapping the yarn twice around the needle, but in reality it is only going around once. Now work the purl stitch in the usual way. Keep the yarn fairly tight through the whole of this manoeuvre to ensure that the yarn over does not become too large in comparison to other lace holes in your work.

#3 - Between a Purl and a Knit:

After working a purl stitch, you can take the yarn over the top of the needle ready to work the next knit stitch. This will give a small, neat hole. However, as in the previous section, this is not always successful as the yarn over can get lost and look like poor tension instead.

A more satisfactory lace increase is formed by taking the yarn under the needle to the back of the work, then up over the top of the needle to the front and around underneath to the back again ready to work the next knit stitch. As before, keep the yarn fairly tight through the whole of this procedure from working a firm purl stitch before, wrapping the yarn around the needle and then the next knit stitch. Think of the 2 stitches and the yarn over as one unit and maintain a good tension through the whole sequence for a good result.

#4 - Between Purl Stitches:

You can work this increase in two directions: either take the yarn back under the needle and then over the top ready to work the next purl stitch.

Or go from the first purl stitch and take the yarn over the top of the needle first. Then bring it around the back of the needle and under again to the front. 

There is little real difference between the two but one may suit one person better than another. The second seems to be marginally longer than the first but this is not as marked as in some of the previous examples. You just need to be careful when working the next row so you do not twist the stitch and close up the hole. You will soon see if you are getting little 'crosses' instead of holes!

#5 - Increases at the start of a row:

Just occasionally, you will need to make a yarn over at the start of a row. This might be part of a pattern as in Brioche stitch, or to give a decorative finish to the selvedge. The easiest way to do this is to take the yarn to the opposite side from where you should be holding the yarn.

So to work a yo + knit stitch at the start of a row, hold the yarn to the front of the needle, insert the needle into the stitch ready to work, and take the yarn over the top of the needle to insert a yarn over. You may also see the instruction to start the row with yarn in front (wyif)

To work a yo + purl at the start of a row, keep the yarn at the back and bring it over the top of the needle before working the purl stitch. You might also see the instruction to start this row: with yarn in back (wyib) or sometimes that is written with yarn at back (wyab). These yo's can easily get lost on the next row so make sure you remember them when you work the next row.

#6 - Multiple yarn overs:

For large-scale holes in the fabric, the yarn can be wrapped any number of extra times. You may see the instruction: Knit the next stitch, wrapping twice or wrapping 3 times etc. To do this, start with a basic yrn and do that all over again as many times as required. Sometimes these extra wraps are dropped in favour of a single stitch, but they can also be a way of increasing the number of stitches too. You will probably then be directed to first purl, then knit into the multiple yarn over on the next wrong-side row.

For shawls and capes, these various increases can be used to shape the garment, while in flat pieces of knitting such as the FFCT (Feather and Fan, Cables and Tulips) Wrap the increases are matched by decreases along the row so that each pattern repeat has the same number of stitches at the start.

Enjoy trying all these different types of yarn overs as you work your next piece of lace knitting!

Happy Knitting!




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