Friday, December 3, 2010


Last week, I attended a Christmas function. Actually, I attended three Christmas functions last week and have several more to go... but this one stuck in my memory because someone at the venue had decided that live coverage of a monster truck racing event was the perfect entertainment for a professional association's Christmas bash. This was all very novel (our regular venue plays quiet classic jazz), so in between catching up with all the people we hadn't seen since last year and eating insane amounts of tasty nibbles, we watched the races.

Between each race, the station ran ads for future monster truck racing events and for SummerNats, a car festival (judging from the ads - burnouts, drag racing, alcohol and scantily clad women in more or less equal proportions).

Now, I wasn't sure about the burnouts, but as the evening wore on, I felt that the knitting community could certainly use a 'must attend' megaevent (note to self: next year, wean slowly onto a diet of beer and high-fat, sugary foods from October to lessen the brain trauma when Christmas party season begins). In my mind's eye, I could see the rows of tents, each with a family knitting out the front... the young blokes cruising the campground, yelling "Show us your knits!"... the knit-offs, where steely-eyed seniors confront Gen X yarn-bombers and handspun alpaca goes head to head with furry acrylics... the grid girls, all wearing knitted or crochet swimwear (with a nice throwover or the cute dressing gown from Jo Sharp's Knit Issue 2 to keep things decent) ... utes bringing in extra tea, milk and sugar to fuel an evening spent around the campfire, swapping pattern tips... And finally, on the closing night, a massive fireworks display, with fireworks blossoming into balls of yarn, flashing needles and maybe a jumper or two.

At the moment, of course, that's largely wishful thinking - Aussies still don't knit in summer and nobody who has a choice camps out in winter! But maybe in five or ten years, if our suppliers keep releasing lovely things (like Filatura di Crosa's new Tempo), we will have enough summer knitters to book that campground and start planning the fireworks.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

New skills vs old age

I saw an interesting article in The Age a couple of months ago... and if I could remember what date it was published, I'd be able to add the link to this page. Instead, I had to Google and found a similar article in the New York Times at

The articles discuss a study being conducted to find out whether or not age-related memory problems can be reversed or prevented. A number of possible preventative measures are being tested; diet, exercise and learning new craft skills.

No, the last entry is not a joke or a lame attempt at self-promotion. There is some evidence that learning new craft skills helps to prevent dementia-type disorders in older adults.

The original version of the "use it or lose it" theory focussed on getting older adults to solve puzzles - and created a bonanza for brain training games, Sudoku, crossword books and so forth. These are fine as far as they go: but they focus on a very narrow skillset, which may not necessarily help with day to day living. Learning a new craft is a more complex task which (theoretically!) staves off the negative effects of aging by creating new synapses in your brain.

The catch? To get any benefit, you need to learn a new skill: it's not enough to continue to use a skill that you already have. So instead of loading up your bookshelves with more knitting patterns, consider learning how to crochet - or tat - or tricot - or spin. Learn a foreign language (and download knitting patterns in that language for practise). And keep the puzzles going too - every challenge helps!

* Need help learning new skills? Go to our Beginner Classes and Advanced Classes pages for more information.

**Disclaimer: Remember that I run a wool shop. I am not a qualified researcher and don't know a darned thing about dementia, its causes or possible cures. This is my over-simplified version of a general interest article in a newspaper. Please don't sue me if it turns out that I got it wrong...**

Friday, July 30, 2010

DIY chain mail

I am always amazed by the ingenuity of yarn manufacturers in developing new fibres for us crafty people to play with! Yesterday, when I opened my Knitting Daily newsletter, I found a write up for stainless steel yarn. Yep, stainless steel as in knives, forks and fridges. Originally, this yarn was used in oil filters, but one day someone hit on the ingenious idea of wrapping it in a fine layer of silk and using it for fibre crafts, and a new trend was born.

Designers have certainly taken to the idea of knitting with wire! Knitting Daily has created a rather amazing Mobius shawl/scarf thingy using stainless steel and mohair combined (check it out!). The Habu website has jackets and weaving kits. Lion Brand has scarves and jewellery (and free patterns).

On the subject of ingenuity, the Rowan team have pulled out all stops to develop new yarns with an eco slant. The Purelife range now includes Revive (made from recycled clothing), Renew (made from recycled wool) and British Sheep Breeds Boucle (ethically farmed wool). For summer, there is Belle Organic Aran and Belle Organic DK (organic wool and cotton blends). In their spare time, they've also developed Drift chunky yarn, Silky Tweed and Silk Twist (both silk/yarn blends), Lenpur Linen, Lima alpaca blend and Siena cotton as well as releasing half a dozen pattern books to support the new ranges!

And finally, our local New Zealand Naturally are still producing Karamea (wool/possum fur blend) - Mango Moon are still happily spinning up old clothes and yak wool - and we are getting samples from companies who have produced yarn from maize, camel fur, hemp and vicuna wool.

Makes an interesting change from the good old days, when my great aunts bought wool in winter and cotton in summer!

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fearless Knitter rides again...

The Christmas before last (Xmas 2008), I bought myself a present, a bag of patterns and other useful stuff from Knitting Daily. On the front of the bag, there is a heart design and the slogan "Fearless Knitter". This was a promotion/challenge that Knitting Daily ran through 2008, challenging knitters to try at least one new technique during the year.

I took that challenge to heart (a bit late, since the promo had finished, but nevertheless...) - over the last 12 months, I've started knitting socks (unfortunately, start is all I've done so far, but I'll make it one day!) - I've crocheted some reasonably complicated garments (now that's the ultimate in fearlessness for knitters - putting one of your needles down!) - and last, but not least, I have started clearing my stash by knitting Fair Isle patterns.

The first thing I discovered was that there are an incredible number of variations on the theme of knitting with more than one colour. Apparently, to be strictly accurate, I should call my current project (Jo Sharp's Devon cardigan) a 'stranded colour work' project. 'Fair Isle' refers to traditional Scottish patterns, knitted in the round using no more than two colours at any time, and generally using a palette of no more than five related colours. Intarsia refers to patterns where large solid blocks of colour are knitted without running the yarn across the back of the work (as happens in Fair Isle patterns). If I wanted to slip some of my stitches instead of knitting them, I'd have something called slip-stitch knitting, which may or may not involve colours, but usually does. I could also go beserk and try mosaic work (square or rectangular patterns, similar to intarsia work).

The second thing I discovered was that it is very hard to knit from three balls of wool simultaneously while travelling on public transport! Usually, I use my travel time for knitting - PT is generally slow, and knitting or crochet helps to relieve the stress of knowing that I'm going to arrive late. Unfortunately, I can only knit patterns that don't require a great deal of concentration, as I need to focus my attention on the various announcements to make sure that I catch the correct train/tram/bus and get off at the correct stop! Hence my socks have a rather fetching dropped-stitch effect (caused by dropping stitches!) and my colour work cardigan currently consists of two half-finished fronts. I managed to knit as far as the colour work panel on both sides, but then found that I couldn't knit colour work, decrease for armholes and front slope AND decipher the announcements coming over the PA system at Flinders Street.

Looking forward to the day when I am both fearless and accurate with my new techniques...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Knitting in summer...

Yesterday, I finished off a Jo Sharp cotton singlet. It's a pattern that I've made before - it's in stripes, so it is a great way of using up leftover stash! It's also very comfortable to wear, even when the temperature is over 40 degrees. Which brings me to the point of this post - I wonder why more people don't knit in summer?

Knitting cottons used to be impossible to get hold of (at least when I was younger!), but now there are so many great cottons, bamboos and other summer-weight yarns available! If I look into the shop, I can see Rowan 4ply Cotton, Cotton Glace and Purelife Organic Cotton, not to mention some of the Milk Cottons. I can see some Cleckheaton 100% Bamboo and some of the Tahki DK Cotton. We have two baskets full of Jo Sharp Soho Summer DK Cotton and Desert Garden Aran Cotton, not to mention some of the Mango Moon lightweight recycled fibres. That's a lot of light-weight knitting!

The disadvantages are cost (for Rowan) - but we accept laybys. I know a lot of shoppers were underwhelmed by the first Cleckheaton bamboo pattern book - but we've had some lateral thinkers adapt vintage patterns and knit them up with the bamboo, with fantastic results. Ravelry and Knitty have also yielded some brilliant bamboo patterns - and some good options for Tahki, where again the supporting pattern book failed to captivate. I can't think of any issues with Jo Sharp - the patterns are great and the yarns are very competitively priced.

Another thought - if you can bring yourself to knit with wool in summer, you'll be ready for winter, while everyone else is scrambling to cast on...