Paint it purple

This isn’t exactly a post about knitting or crochet or wool. It’s about women – it’s International Women’s Day today. This morning I celebrated by calling C “The Patriarchy” whenever he made a suggestion or wanted to push the trolley at the supermarket. I also posted a status on Facebook making reference to how Taiwan apparently mark International Women’s Day – by releasing survey results about women’s increasing waistlines. Now, I have done basically no research on this, so I can’t speak with any authority, but I was quite shocked when one of my friends – an educated healthcare professional, and a really very kind and lovely woman – didn’t automatically agree that this seemed a bit ridiculous. We both gave our point of view, and that was that: no animosity, no hard feelings. And I’m not going to use this platform to air my views about something I’m no expert on.

However, I am an expert on being a woman. I’ve been doing it for years – I’ve got the anatomy to prove it and everything. I am a fantastically lucky woman, with a family who want what’s best for me, a boyfriend who supports me wholeheartedly and lets me boss him around sometimes (OK, most of the time), an education system that supported me to the point where I can now contribute to it, a healthcare system that’s saved my life, kept me healthy and let me cry on them, and a network of friends – men and women – who are happy to let me be me even when I’m being a bitch. I’m part of a society that doesn’t gang rape and kill me for going out of the house on my own in the evening. My contributions to that society, small as they are, are valued and rewarded. In a very small way, I can be a role model. We might have a very long way to go on embracing gender equality, but when I walk out of the house with no make on, or the wrong sort of clothes, or the wrong sort of hair, or trainers that have definitely seen better days, no one points and stares. And my part of the world lets me be confident enough to say a firm “No thank you” to anyone who might.

But it isn’t OK to settle for that. Malala Yousafzai can tell you that. Jyoti Singh would have been able to tell you that.

We can’t change the world today. It’ll be a long time before there are significant, meaningful changes. But put it this way: you can’t knit a cardigan in an afternoon – that doesn’t mean you never cast on. You knit away, one row a day, for weeks and months and years. And then, eventually, you’ve made a difference. You’ve created something that makes the world better. Maybe you dropped a stitch or the sleeves aren’t quite long enough, but something new exists because of you.

So find a way to make a difference. Educate yourself, and be grateful that you can. Call on your network of strong female friends and ask them what they think. Donate your time to a women’s charity. Mentor a young woman who needs some help. Or just get on your blog and write a post about how it really is time we cast on that cardigan.

Dreaming of spring

No crochet time tonight – I’ve got a big boring pile of work to do. But I’m being cheered up by this:

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And a bag of mini eggs and Bruce Springsteen on the radio. Can you tell I’m ready for winter to be over?! Can’t wait for the daffodils to open up.

I can’t help thinking that my jam jar vase needs a crocheted jacket though… Inspiration to get my work done so I can start hooking! I hope no one’s being too adversely affected by the snow – we haven’t had any to speak of here, and I’m so grateful!

Crossing my fingers for some warmer weather soon 🙂

Edited to add: Duh! I had the perfect solution next to me all along! My fab friend crocheted me this lovely mug warmer – it fits around the jar beautifully. Her stitches are so neat, I’m jealous.

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Incidentally, I saw this friend and her children on the weekend. Her 8 month little boy was using the blanket I knitted for her now two year old when she was born. It’s not as fluffy as it once was, but I was so happy to see it again, and clearly so well-loved 🙂 heart warming!

And no, I haven’t finished my work yet. I keep faffing with jam jars and mug warmers instead…

Finally finished… the two year blanket!

I’m really excited about this… It’s been two years in the making, and I honestly thought it would never be done. But… I made a blanket!
Two years ago, I moved back with my parents for a year – I had a job in Cornwall, and it made sense to save rent money for a year. But it meant packing up *everything*, and I’ve got a lot of stuff. Obviously the biggest challenge was the wool stash, because I had to face reality; I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been in denial about their stash! Anyway, I worked out that I had a lot of blues and purples, mostly acrylic dk, but not enough of anything to make a garment. Also, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time sitting around without much to do, so I decided to start making squares for a blanket. I had a vague idea that I’d try to get it done by the end of the year, but no plans apart from that. I decided to aim for 4x4in squares – tension square size.

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So, every morning before work started, I sat in the staff room knitting and fielding questions about what I was doing. I had the little 6in needles that I learnt to knit on when I was 8 or 9, and they fitted in my bag perfectly. People’s reactions to my knitting were varied – I started a few other people off on their own projects. A few women made noises about starting a craft group, though that never happened. Sometimes I’d knit while sitting with the teenagers I worked with and one in particular seemed to find it relaxing. But best of all were a few of the men I worked with. You know how, sometimes, you might be talking to a man, and his eyes aren’t on yours? It happens. But now they were watching the needles 🙂 maybe it’s a generalisation, but it seemed to be a guy thing: they wanted to know how it works. One of them even knitted two stitches himself before handing it back with a sense of achievement (!).

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Anyway, I got on with it, and they built up slowly. Obviously I ran out of the right colours pretty quickly and had to buy some more. Oh dear 🙂

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Sparkly variegated blues, left over from a triangular lacy scarf

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Cornflower blue from either my Mum’s stash or my Grannie’s, passed on to me

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Sparkly dark blue – 3 for 2 in the pound shop

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Sparkly purple from the pound shop

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And pound shop sparkly grey – I really wish I got more of these, they were really nice to knit with

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O’s hoodie leftovers

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Left over from a jumper my Mum knitted for me (I’m wearing it right now!)

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From a hot water bottle cover I made for my Mum (I think that was my first project – I sewed the buttons on crooked)

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Smoothie dk from some mittens I knitted for a friend’s Christmas present

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And this is some more Smoothie dk from the same mittens – they were stripey

At the end of the year, I had a box of squares which moved back to Cardiff with me and lived at the top of the wardrobe for a year. I hardly knitted all year – it’s been busy! Then I finished my course, and I got itchy hands. I knew I had a whole load of WIPs tucked away, and I decided to work through them one at a time before starting anything new. Then one day I found the box of squares… Ugh. Tedious squares. I knew I was on the way towards having enough for a double bed size, but there was a whole lot more to do before I actually had enough. So I laid them all out and thought… That’s enough for a nap blanket! Problem solved! I just needed a couple more, which were quick off the needles. So exciting!

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Take note of my PJs in the corner 🙂

Once they were all arranged, I stacked them up and numbered them (remember, I’m the sort of person who catalogues wool):

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This made the joining really easy – I didn’t have to keep making decisions or laying them all out again… Oh yeah. Joining. Not exciting. I took a deep breath, got some cream Marriner and dug out a crochet hook. Then looked up a YouTube video about how to crochet squares together. I think the least said about this, the better – it was really boring. I’m not good at repetition. Because I was doing a gradient in the colours, from light at the top to dark at the bottom, every time I got to a dark colour, I’d get excited because I was nearly at the end of that row 🙂

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Getting bored of the life story? Here’s the end: joining the squares was so tedious, I taught myself to crochet properly at the same time. So when it came to finishing the blanket, I knew exactly what I wanted: a narrow band of the cream double crochet and half treble to tie it all together, and then two rows of grey (that somehow got added to the stash without my noticing, totally defeating the object of using up the stash) half treble with scallops.

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It got finished this weekend, while I was still ill enough to want to stay in one place all the time. Want to see it?

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I love it. I love everything about it – wouldn’t change anything. I steamed the edges so the crochet wouldn’t curl, and I even got some new white cotton bedding so I could show it off (err, to me and C, who must be thoroughly sick of it by now) on my bed. It’s exactly the right size – just covers the top of the bed, but not too big for naps – and exactly the right weight. The most exciting thing about it is that I did every single stitch myself. (Apart from the two stitches that my friend from work did!) It wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t made it. I’m not often proud of the things I make – my skills are so much less than what I see on other blogs or Pinterest – but I am proud of this blanket. I really thought it wouldn’t get done, and wouldn’t be worth the effort and time (and sometimes the boredom), but I love it. So next time I’m bored with a project, remind me to look at this again! Want one more look?

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Seams, selvedges and sewing up: O’s hoodie

I’ve always been confused about whether it’s selvedge or selvage – neither looks right! So I looked it up and from now on I’m going to spell it selvedge. You know when you’ve said a word too many times? Selvedge. Selvedge.

What this post is actually about is: MY FRIEND MADE A BABY! S is my university friend – the first person I met ten years ago when I moved to Cardiff. Since we left university, she’s been busy moving to Somerset, marrying a person and then making two whole new people. Basically, she’s a grown up now. When I drive to Cornwall, she is very conveniently on the way so I try to pop in whenever I can. But this time it was super exciting because she and her husband had a little boy eight weeks ago! When their little girl, J, was born two years ago, I made a blanket for her – I remember it taking forever, but back then I had time. This time round, I didn’t have as much time, so I needed to knit something smaller for baby O, but still something special. I kept seeing these cute garter stitch wrap around booties on Pinterest, but every time I tried to follow the links I couldn’t find a pattern. Step in, Ravelry: it’s got everything! One search later, I had this pattern. I dusted off my A level French (actually, I only got a C, and none of it was about knitting, so I used Google Translate) and an hour later I had this:

IMG_0811Ahhh! Aren’t they sweet?! I love how cute garter stitch looks on tiny items, all those lovely ridges in miniature. I seriously considered making a grown up sized version for me – I still might. They were seriously easy to do: just a T-shape in garter stitch, a bit of pinning, and a bit of stitching. I took a few goes to sew them up because I wanted the toes to wrap around securely.

The yarn is Smoothie DK in the imaginatively named colour 01085: blue. I like the drape of the wool – a large-ish knitted piece in Smoothie DK has a heaviness to it, which makes me feel like I’m knitting something substantial. Also, it’s soft enough that I wasn’t worried about it being for a little person.

Very nice… But not quite enough for A Knitter to present to a friend who has just produced a whole person. So I went in search of a garter stitch cardigan to go with the booties. Ravelry has got a lot to offer, and it took me several evenings just to narrow down the selection. I ended up with this pattern, and made the 12 months size because clearly a baby doesn’t need a hoodie in August (and that’s what S requested).

I had found some lovely matte, slatey blue buttons at the market near my parents’ house which felt like cool little pebbles in my hand.

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Honestly? It was boring. Really, really boring. I’d underestimated how tedious garter stitch would become (stupid endless ridges), and I didn’t think about the fact that there’s no shaping to break up the pattern. What was so charming about the booties was actually a bit annoying in the hoodie, and I’ve been knitting for long enough that I can handle something a bit more complicated. The body is knitted in one piece, with spaces for arm holes and the bare minimum of neck shaping. The sleeves and hood are knitted separately.

IMG_1193See all those nice long ends for sewing up? None of them was quite long enough. You may have noticed from the knitting tour post that most of what I make is small. I’ll tell you something: it’s because I don’t like sewing up. I also don’t like the last hour of the work day, trailers before a film, or having to diet before actually losing weight. Delayed gratification is not my thing. I’ve never really thought about it before, but in that respect I suppose I’m a process knitter – I do it because I enjoy doing it, and my hands feel sad if they aren’t making something. Still, the sewing up had to be done. There was a point, when I’d done everything except the last sleeve, when I thought of removing O’s arm rather than sewing up another seam, but it seemed too cruel.

It went like this: shoulders; hood seam; hood to neck; sleeve 1 to armhole 1; sleeve 1 seam; sleeve 2 to armhole 2; sleeve 2 seam. I thought it would take an hour or two. It took a whole day. I was kicking myself the entire time, because of this:IMG_1196Not the Hulk/Flash pajamas. The selvedges. (By the way, I love these pajamas. They’re from Matalan, they cost about £4 because they were in the sale, and they’re men’s. So much better than women’s, for both leg length and cooler designs.) On some of the edges, I’d remembered to sl1wyif at the beginning of the row. On others, I hadn’t, which meant that matching up seams was a total pain. Also, I managed to sew an armhole seam on the outside TWICE, which didn’t make me any happier!

IMG_1189IMG_1199It was an easy pattern, but if this was the first garment I’d ever knitted, I would have been confused. I know you can’t expect miracles from a free pattern (though some do deliver), but there were a lot of experienced-knitter-common-sense tricks that could have been worked into the instructions – little things like giving a number of rows on each side for symmetry above the armholes, or remembering to slip the first stitch of each row! I’m moaning a lot. In reality, this was a bit of a boring knit, but that’s because I didn’t think about it and make it more exciting for myself. If I was doing this again, I’d totally do a moss stitch border (love moss stitch), and I’d do set in sleeves and some shaping on the hood. Serves me right for being a lazy knitter, but you know what?

IMG_1249All sewn up, I really like it. It’s square and simple and chunky and warm, and worth every boring knit stitch.

IMG_1247It’s soft and drapey, and it looks lovely with its bootie brothers:

IMG_1258When I delivered it on the way back to Cardiff, O’s big sister opened it. She gave it a squeeze, then put the hood over her head and rolled around on the sofa in it. I think it passed the soft test, even if it is way too big for O at the moment! It makes me really happy to be able to make something for someone – not everyone can do it, but S and her new little boy have both got something that no one else will ever have. It’s nice.

Cornish holiday

Hello!

This time last week, I was on the beach at Treyarnon Bay, trying not to get sunburnt (I failed). Exactly a week later, I’m on my sofa listening to the storm rolling over Cardiff. I’m just back from a sunny, fun week in Cornwall, and I feel… flat. That post-holiday feeling. So I’m going to make it worse by going through the holiday photos!

Cornwall (14)It was a lovely week of beaches, knitting and hanging out with my mum. I hadn’t been home for an hour before we were back in the car and headed for the beach – we both agree that the seaside is the only place where we don’t need any kind of entertainment. Just looking out at the sea, watching the tide come in and getting some serious barbecue envy. And counting how many boys were wearing Batman towel ponchos. Twice, kids we’d never met before came over to sit with us, to the embarrassment of their parents. One girl didn’t say a word to us, just lay down on our blanket. Hard not to laugh!

On Friday we went for a walk. I requested a short, flat walk, so we ended up clambering up and down the coast path from Fowey for hours. The plan was to go from Readymoney beach…

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Quiet at low tide

Via the cliff path, with some pretty views…

Cornwall (25) Cornwall (27)Cornwall (26) Cornwall (31)To Polridmouth, pronounced Pridmouth.

Cornwall (43)Read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier? This is *that* beach! We made a very exciting discovery here:

Cornwall (42)David Beckham, if you’re looking for your pants, they’re at Polridmouth.

Cornwall (47)Unfortunately, wherever we sat, we were surrounded by very bitey flies. We’d planned to stay here for an hour then walk back, but I couldn’t keep still (I hate being bitten, ever since the Horsefly Incident of 2012). So we decided to carry on and see how far we got before we had to give up – neither of us is very fit, and it’s a very hilly walk! Off in the distance was Gribben Head and the Daymark, but we knew that was way too hard for us.

Except…

Cornwall (67)We made it! The last bit before you get to the Daymark (like a lighthouse you can’t use at night, because there’s no light on it – pointless) is a MASSIVE hill. We seriously weren’t going to do it. Too hard. Too steep. But we did it with a lot of rests (really an embarrassing amount of rests). We were too tired to take photos, so you’ll just have to trust me that it is honestly the biggest hill I have ever walked up voluntarily. In most of the photos above, you can see it in the distance, which is quite gratifying now I’m on a sofa, not a cliff path! We had lunch, then practically skipped back to Readymoney beach. Why does it take two hours to walk there and one hour to walk back? I don’t really care, what’s important is that we had enough time to sit on the beach and have an ice cream.

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Busier at high tide with the sun out!

The hill up to the car park felt like NOTHING compared to our earlier mountaineering!

Cornwall (82)Cornwall (83)Obviously on the weekend we were ruined and couldn’t move (except to go to some wool shops…).

On Monday, we went to Charlestown. I love it there – my great-grandfather was the harbour master there (about a million years ago) so I walk around like I own the place. We were only there for half an hour in the late afternoon, but we managed to time it exactly between rain showers. The sun was so bright I had no idea what I was taking photos of.

Cornwall (95) Cornwall (105)Can you see that headland poking out into the sea? That’s Gribben Head. Squint. Can you see a red and white tower out on the end of it? OK, maybe you can’t, but trust me, it’s there – that’s where we were on Saturday! Looks like quite a nice, flat walk out along the headland, doesn’t it? We didn’t go that way. We went the hilly way.

Cornwall (117)The harbour was really busy – lots of kids jumping in the water, which scares me to death because I’m never sure how deep it is there. I love this photo; the boy in the blue t shirt, right in the middle, cracks me up.

I love going back to Cornwall. I know exactly how lucky I am to have parents who let me visit them as often as I like, and who even let me live with them last year (sorry again about that). For me, the best thing about going home is the sky, and how it speaks to the sea. Living in a city, I can never get enough sky; it’s always penned in by roofs and tall buildings and unambitious horizons. But in Cornwall, the sky goes on forever and the light is rich and pure. The light in a city is like treated water – a bit chemical and recycled. But at home, it’s like drinking from a mountain stream. I know why so many artists live in Cornwall; it seems to me that it’s the only place where you can really see what you’re doing.

Enough of that. Now, I’m very aware that these photos make it look like all I do in Cornwall is hang around at beaches, like some sort of tourist (or emmet – *spit*), but in fact, I also spend a lot of time under blankets – these two in particular.

Cornwall (129) Cornwall (120)My sister and I have had many conversations about who will get which blanket when we cart our parents off to a home and split up their stuff between us. She’s got her eye on this one:

Cornwall (130)A multi-coloured Granny stripe, knitted (aptly enough) by our Grannie. It’s massive, heavy and very warm. And it’s clearly made up of odds and ends of wool – classic stash-buster. I love the mid-row colour changes, where she clearly ran out of a certain colour. But I’m after this one:

Cornwall (126)A Granny square blanket that my mum made when she first moved to Cornwall. She told me that she remembers laying all the squares out on the floor of the house where she lodged. I hope her landlady thought she was mental, like people think when I do stuff like that.

In my last post, I set myself a deadline to knit a present for a baby by Tuesday… I did it! It’s going to get its own post, because I’m going to go on about seams and patterns and sleeves and sewing up. See you then!

The first post!

Hi

I’m Woolhead…

And I knit.

Just like it says on the tin! I’m 20-something (OK, the wrong end of 20-something), and I live and work in Wales, though I grew up in Cornwall.

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Spot the scarf

I love and can’t afford beautiful wool… My current prized possession is a Noro Kureyon scarf, which really deserves a post of its own. Know anything about Noro? What I knew when I bought the wool was that it was super-expensive – at the time, I was earning minimum wage, working 6 days a week and just about paying the bills, so wool with a super-expensive reputation was well beyond me. But the stars aligned: my grandparents gave me £20 for my birthday, which I decided would go on a Treat. (Back then, most birthday money went on the overdraft.) A friend came to visit me, we found ourselves in a pretty south Wales town for lunch, and I dragged him into a wool shop (to stroke wool, not eat lunch). The shop was independent, beautifully lit and super-expensive by my standards. But I had Treat money, and Noro called to me. I spent £15 on 100g of Kureyon, mostly because in the middle of the ball I spotted a patch of bright red wool which sang, and totally surprised me by how much I loved it. I’m not a red person usually. (I can’t remember what I spent the rest of the Treat money on – cake, probably.)

My wool shopping experiences are usually less momentous (yes, momentous – the stars aligned, the wool sang). I have a stash accumulated from various sources, which are fairly easily categorised. The acrylic DK in colours I like have been bought (usually from the market near my parents’ house, which again deserves a post of its own) for projects which are started, finished, unfinished, abandoned, forgotten, gifted, and so on. The acrylic DK in colours I don’t like have been inherited or bestowed upon me – mostly from my Mum, but there’s some bits from my Grannie’s old stash too. The unlabelled wool of varying and mysterious types, weights, lengths and colours are from when I worked in a cafe attached to an art gallery – someone in the gallery found out I was a knitter (possibly because I was obsessed with the lady who brought her spinning wheel into work) and let me rummage through their donated wool. I magpied everything that looked pretty, without any real idea of how to use it. That was about three years ago, and to be honest, I still don’t know how I’ll use it. It’s still pretty though.

And the most recent addition to my stash, which I am very proud of, is 20 balls of Stylecraft Special DK. 20! Ordered online! Lots of colours! Delivered in a big box! Collected from the Sorting Office! (OK, that last part isn’t exciting.) This box of wool is a big deal to me: I’ve spent the last year earning no money. I was at university, and couldn’t work at the same time. For the last six weeks, I’ve been doing bits and pieces of work – tutoring here and there, helping out a friend who has her own business – and I managed to earn some spending money. And I spent £33.80 of it on delicious pretty wool, as a present to myself for working really really hard. 20 balls! In a box! This one’s definitely getting its own post, and I’ll try to use fewer exclamation marks.

So that’s my wool. Now, my ability. It’s OK. It’s not amazing though. I can follow a well-written straightforward pattern. I can usually follow a badly-written complicated pattern. My tension is awesome, but my technique is somewhat lacking – I can knit quickly, but I drop the right needle to wrap the wool. That’s one of my things to work on. I have a morbid fear of knitting in the round – that’s another thing to work on. I’ve done one scarf in the round, and it’s very pretty, but… It’s got two twists in it, and I checked and double-checked that I hadn’t twisted the cast-on row. I can’t do long-tail cast-on, but the tension of my cable cast-on is beautiful. I’m still working on the tension of my cast-off, but I think I nailed it on the Noro scarf. Increasing and decreasing, marvellous; I can even do it so there aren’t holes in the knitting now.

WIPs: a cardigan for my friend’s new boy; joining eight million squares into a blanket, then giving it an edge. ETA: the cardigan’s got to be done next week or he’ll grow out of it. The blanket has been going on for about two years now, and it’s got exactly a month left or it’ll be relegated to the ‘this will never be finished’ bag in the back of the wardrobe.

So that’s me. Why Woolhead? It’s what my boyfriend calls me – nothing to do with knitting; I’ve got very curly hair. Why blog? I realised I’ve knitted loads of things that have disappeared into the ether to be buried at the bottom of bags, chewed by dogs, ruined by rotting peaches (err, that was a phone cover in a handbag that I stopped using for a while). Here, I can keep track of what I’ve knitted. I also realised that I don’t have the patterns for most of the things I’ve knitted, because they are on scraps of paper, or, in one case, written on the back of my hand. So I can also keep track of how I knitted the things I’ve knitted. And lastly, I’m a lazy knitter. So maybe this will also be a kick up the arse to remember that knitting goes faster when you’re actually knitting, not just thinking about it!