After a few months of finding my feet on Etsy, I am now ready to open up to customers worldwide! The new items in the jewellery section are already available internationally, but I have now decided to make the knitting and crochet stitch markers available also. As of 4th September 2016, all items in store can be shipped anywhere.
The beautiful, rich blue Lapis Lazuli is the birthstone for the month of September.
Of all the gemstones I have worked with over the years, I think Lapis Lazuli is my favourite. All gemstones have a certain something about them – the variations in colour, the surprise of interesting inclusions, the mystery of their origins – but lapis has something else, a sort of inner glow. The name is derived from Arabic, meaning blue stone, but there are lots of naturally blue stones and what is sold as lapis is not always lapis. Lapis is an azure blue (coloured by sulphur) rather than the deeper blue of Sodalite or the mid-powder blue of Azurite; it is lighter in colour than Dumortierite (which veers off towards violet-blue), and it is opaque, not transparent to semi-transparent like Lazulite. The best examples have an even colour distribution and some (but not too much!) well distributed inclusions of pyrite – looking like golden speckles within the stone.
It has been mined for over 6,000 years in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan; in Russia it is found near Lake Baikal; in Chile it is mined north of Santiago. It has been used for jewellery since prehistoric times; in the Middle Ages in Europe it was used, ground up, to produce the pigment Ultramarine, an essential colour in mediaeval religious art; palaces and churches have lapis panels and columns, and are decorated with vases and urns sculpted from lapis. Today we still make rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets out of it.
The beautiful translucent bright green Peridot is the birthstone of the month of August. It is also known by the names Chrysolite and Olivine. The best examples come from Egypt and from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. The intensity of the colour of the stone depends upon the amount of iron it contains. Its chemical composition is magnesium iron silicate.
The origins of the name ‘Peridot’ are obscure; some authorities say that it is derived from the Greek word peridona which means ‘giving plenty’; others that it comes from the Arabic word faridat, meaning gem.
Schumann notes that there are historically important deposits on the Red Sea island of Zabargad, where it has been mined for over 3,500 years; it is also found in Burma (Myanmar), Queensland Australia, Brazil, China, Kenya, Tanzania, and Arizona. It has even been found in Norway.
I cannot say, with hand on heart, that blocking is my favourite part of the knitting process. It is marginally more interesting than sewing up a finished garment, which must rank as my alltime pet hate!, but less enthralling than actually knitting. However, it does make such a dramatic difference to the look of the finished item that it is well worth the effort of practising blocking on everything you knit (or crochet).
Blocking smoothes out wrinkles like an age-defying cream. It make lace lacier and Fair Isle fairer. It aids in sewing seams on sweaters, it shapes shawls, it smoothes socks into foot shapes and hats into head shapes. I now no longer ponder whether I should block something but instead wonder how many things I can block at once!
Tools for Blocking
If you knit a lot (and therefore block a lot, because by the end of this article you will be a committed blocker!), it is well worth investing in some really good tools to help you get professional results.
The first essential is a blocking mat. You can buy blocking mats aimed at knitters but really these are just overpriced interlocking playmats so why not just buy playmats? Mine are black, but you can buy multicoloured sets of interlocking squares from toy shops at a fraction of the cost, and you can always buy more sets once you start knitting 6ft diameter circular shawls! They stack neatly against a wall until required, then can be formed into squares or rectangles depending upon your requirements. Once set out to the size needed for your item, lay a large clean towel over the mat to soak up any remaining water.
Next, a set of blocking wires is enormously helpful in making your square shawls square or your triangular shawls triangular. The set comprises two sizes of stiff wires for straight edges and a couple of bendy wires for curved edges.
To keep the wires in place you need stainless steel pins, and the strongest are T-pins, easy to press firmly into the blocking mat and won’t rust all over your delicate lace. Even if you do not use wires, you still need the pins to pull your work into shape and hold it there until it dries. You can also buy KnitPro Knit Blockers now, which are quick and easy to use, being a number of very sharp pins embedded into a solid plastic handle.
Other useful tools are sock blockers, mitten blockers, jumper blockers and hat blockers, and you can spend a lot of money equipping yourself with these. But if you only knit a couple of pairs of socks a year or the occasional sweater, the expense is not really worth it. Rudimentary sock and mitten blockers can be cut from stiff cardboard to your exact requirements, and hats can be blocked over inflated balloons (beanies) or dinner plates (berets or tams).
Items being blocked, especially Fair Isle and knitted lace, benefit from a thorough soaking in lukewarm water containing a no-rinse detergent such as Soak or Eucalan. Once they have been thoroughly immersed for at least 20 minutes (careful not to agitate or stir), very gently squeeze out the excess water and gently roll it in a clean towel. The item is now ready to block. To illustrate the blocking process I have blocked and photographed two typical items; a lacy triangular kerchief and a Fair Isle Tam.
Blocking knitted lace
To open up the lacy pattern of a shawl, or indeed any lace garment, it is essential to block. The first photograph shows the lacy kerchief hot off the needles. The yarn used here is a wool/silk 4ply/fingering. As you can see it is crumpled, and the pattern is not very clear. For a triangular shape such as this, with no individual points to be highlighted, a set of blocking wires and some blocking T-pins can be used.
Having soaked the kerchief for twenty minutes in lukewarm water and Soak, I gently
squeezed out the excess water, rolling the kerchief in a towel. I then set out my mat and clean towel on a nice flat surface and gathered my wires and pins.
First, thread a wire of sufficient length evenly along the hypotenuse of the triangle. If there are lacy holes along that edge you can thread in and out of those, otherwise choose an even row of stitches. In the case of the kerchief, the hypotenuse edge has an i-cord cast off so I used this for the wire.
Next, thread wires evenly along the other two sides of the triangle.
Lay the whole thing down onto the mat and begin pinning the wires in place, gently stretching as you go to form it into a right angle triangle. I needed to be especially careful with this kerchief as it is a piece if entrelac (pattern coming soon!) and I did not want to distort the entrelac rectangles as I blocked. Some patterns, particularly those for shawls, give a blocking diagram, which is extremely helpful when trying to pull the shawl into the correct shape.
Leave the shawl for a couple of days to thoroughly dry out, then remove the wires and pins, and admire your lovely piece of knitting!
Blocking Fair Isle
For a square piece of Fair Isle, such as a blanket, blocking wires and pins can be used much like any other piece of knitting, but for illustration I have chosen a smaller but more complex piece to really illustrate the difference blocking makes. Here is Winter Forest Tam as it came off the needles. The tam is lumpy and misshapen and the pattern is difficult to see. It was knitted in Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal, a 4ply/fingering weight mixture of wool and cashmere. A tam is a beret, and therefore flat, so I need a flat form that is about 10 or 11 inches (26 to 28cm) in diameter and solid enough that it will not bend when I adjust the tam. Medium sized dinner plates are ideal, being slightly convex to help form the top of the hat. Most tams are knitted to that size, so plates are ideal.
As with everything else, the tam was soaked for twenty minutes and then gently squeezed and rolled in a towel.
The purpose of the cotton 4ply stitched around the bottom edge of the ribbing is to keep the hat in place on the plate whilst it is drying. I tugged gently and tied it then checked that the pattern was evenly distributed around the rim.
Once satisfied with the blocking I stood the plate on a small bowl, which held the plate off the table top and allowed air to flow all around the tam.
Depending upon your drying area and the size of the piece, complete drying may take a couple of days. Natural drying is best, but you could also place a dehumidifier in the room with the blocked piece to speed the process. Never leave the blocked item in direct sunlight.
Blocking is really a matter of common sense, knowing your knitting shape, and having a few simple tools to help you. I hope that you will give it a try, I promise you will be amazed at the results!
Here at Granary Knits we have been busy designing and developing a new range of jewellery – for you rather than for your knitting! Pendants, earrings and bracelets are first on the list of items to be added to the GranaryKnits Etsy Store; but anklets, shawl pins, and lots more bejewelled delights are in the works.
Here is a preview of what is to come!
I have been fascinated by beads since I was a child. When I was little, the coolest thing we girls had was a collection of beads each. We would take them outside to show our friends; sometimes we swapped beads if there was a particularly choice one in a friend’s collection, but mostly we just handled and admired them. The fascination has never left me, even if I no longer play swapsies with them!
My Mum used to make jewellery using semi-precious stones and I joined in, loving the smooth surfaces of Tiger’s Eye and Carnelian, and delighting in the rich colours of Lapis Lazuli and Garnet. I still have the remains of her stock of gemstones and love looking through them and handling the cabochons and nuggets. It is fascinating to learn that the same basic material, for instance beryl, altered by the addition of a range of chemicals and minerals, turns into Emeralds (chrome has been added) and Aquamarine (coloured by iron). Of course, the chemical additions were made millions of years ago and under high pressure, and that fact in itself is wonderful! Beryl is also a semi-precious stone in its own right, being available in a lovely range of pastel colours.
A few years ago I decided to learn beading in order to make myself some interesting jewellery – I love earrings and have a huge collection. I made bracelets, earrings and necklaces, learned to wire-wrap and to create drop beads ready for hanging from ear-wires. The skill in wrapping wire and making beads into something that could hang elegantly has stood me in good stead when I decided to start designing knitting stitch markers.
Having been a knitter my whole life (and a crocheter since my teens), I have always been interested in the construction of knitted materials, and when I found out it was possible to knit and crochet with fine wire and add beads just as you do with woollen yarn, well there was no stopping me! It is a bit more fiddly than knitting with yarn, but very satisfying to make a small object, such as ethereal earrings or a delicate bracelet.
Recommended reading: Gemstones of the World by Walter Schumann. 5th ed. Sterling NY, 2013.
Lace shawls are my favourite knitting project. I have knitted quite a few over the last few years. Last year I set myself a personal challenge to knit a shawl a month for twelve months, and I completed the challenge in February 2016. I loved doing it and it gave me great insight into the way shawls are constructed, and what makes a great shawl (as opposed to just a very nice shawl). The following is my selection of five superb lace shawl designers.
Rosemary Hill (Romi on Ravelry)
Romi does design the most beautiful shawls. Last year, during my personal challenge The Year of Knitting Lacily, I knitted Asterope from her collection of Seven Small Shawls Year 1: The Pleiades. In fact I bought several of her small shawl collections and could have knitted any one of them, they are all gorgeous! I love the attention to detail, the interesting construction, and in the case of Asterope, the stunningly beautiful border.
Verybusymonkey on Ravelry is a very busy lady indeed. She has published nine collections of shawls as ebooks, as wells as patterns for socks, hats, etc. Her trademark design feature is intricate patterning, not always lacy, that relates to the story of the shawl. For instance, she has designed several sets of shawls on the theme of scientists, shawls named Newton, Tesla, Darwin, Galileo, and so on; each shawl shows an element of the discovery for which that scientist is famous. So the Tesla shawl has a border representing alternating current; the Newton shawl illustrates Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion; the Darwin shawl shows the evolution from a single simple shape through successive layers to a beautiful intricate border. I have not yet knitted Darwin, but I know I will soon!
NimbleNim on Ravelry has produced a fabulous collection of shawl designs. I love the way they are constructed. She will provide two or more charts for a particular shawl and you decide, based upon how large you want the shawl or how much yarn you have at your disposal, on how many repeats to do of each pattern. It is a very flexible design methodology, and is a wonderful way of using up every scrap of a precious skein. During my challenge last year, I knitted two of her designs, Whirlwind Romance and Slow Dance, and I loved knitting both of them. On my ToDo list is Ashputtel and The Peacock’s Tale (although, really, I could knit any or all of them!)
Jane Araujo may not have the output of some of the designers listed here, but what she has produced are gorgeous! Nightsongs is the loveliest all-over-lace pattern you will ever see, and it is so easy! It is another pattern where, as long as you have enough yarn, you can just keep adding repeats, and I like patterns like that! I knitted my version in Baa Ram Ewe Titus, colourway Eccup (a lovely deep teal), but I’m thinking of knitting another one in a yarn with a long colour change, such as Kauni, as the samples that have been knitted in variegated yarns look stunning. So far I have only knitted Nightsongs, but Jane’s other shawls all feature on my ToDo list, starting with the wonderful conflagration of Lace and Entrelac that is Dianna.
Anna Dalvi designs beautiful complex-looking shawls with a story behind each one. Her Mystic Shawls collection is full of beautiful airy lusciousness; The Ancient Egypt in Lace and Colour ebook has fascinating designs based on the symbolism of colour in ancient Egypt. I have not yet knitted any of Anna’s designs, but I do love drooling over the patterns! I particularly like the triangular shawl Seth for its bold geometric patterning; and Memphis, because it is a pi-shawl and I really want to knit a pi-shawl!
I am a follower of quite a few blogs. These are my top five favourites at the moment, in no particular order.
Donna designs the most wonderful shawls, lacy tops, and stranded colourwork socks and mittens inspired by Lithuanian and Estonian traditional patterns. On her blog she writes about knitting, designing, and living in Vermont. Her patterns can be found in Ravelry, and in books, such as Arctic Lace and Ethnic Knitting Discovery.
I love Kate Davies’ stranded designs and I love her blog. She is so open and honest, reading it you feel like you are sitting chatting to a friend over a cup of coffee! I have knitted her Rams and Yowes blanket, her Peerie Flooers beanie, and her Northmavine Hap – the most wonderful rippling colourful interpretation of the traditional Shetland Old Shale pattern. She has published many patterns on Ravelry and in book form. I particularly like The Colours of Shetland which has some brilliant colourwork designs, including the aforementioned Hap.
Nikki Merrell is a knitwear designer and writes a very interesting, if rather sporadic, blog featuring articles on techniques. I am particularly fascinated by her dissection and analysis of how a knitted fabric is constructed, and what actually happens when we knit a stitch. She is also very inclusive, giving instruction for both right and left handed knitters and for those who knit in the Continental style, not just for English style knitters.
Attic24 must be one of the most visited craft blogs on the internet; Lucy has thousands of followers worldwide, and rightly so. She writes about her love of the Yorkshire Dales, her caravan, spring flowers, decorating, her family; but above all of those she writes about her love of crochet and of colour. And her crochet is really colourful! It leaps off the page, it’s vibrant, joyous, ecstatic. I love it. In fact, it was finding Attic24 some years ago that rekindled in me my dormant love of yarn and got me back into full time crafting.
She writes clear photo tutorials of her designs, which are free, and which include the Summer Garden granny square blanket above – my interpretation in a more subdued palette!
Tina at Peacefully Knitting produces a regular blog full of insight and information about yarn and knitting. I always look forward to getting the email saying she has written another post.
The gemstone knitting stitch markers have been made, photographed, described and tagged, and now they have arrived in store. They look fabulous!
There are sets of lapis lazuli, rose quartz, snowflake obsidian and the stunning amethyst
This coming week, I shall be working on stitch markers using Chinese Turquoise and Amazonite (a beautiful pale green).
Visit my Etsy store for these and more lovely stitch markers!
I have been working on some new stitch markers in the last few days and my test knitters are currently trying them out for ease of use. Here is a sneek peek at some of the upcoming additions to the shop.
Visit the Etsy shop to see these and more unique stitch markers.