Stitch and Progress Markers – the reason why I have been neglecting Facebook …..

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Alyssa was talking to me a few weeks back on how her tutor at tech had suggested to her about making jewellery. She asked if I had done it before and so forth…. I was abit taken back as I had never known her to be interested in jewellery …. I had to remind myself that she is nearly 19 years old, and her choices/interests are changing. I also remembered that she was probably too young to remember that I had gone through a stage of making jewellery and still had so much beading supplies! So, we spent an enjoyable couple of hours hunting out the jewellery boxes and going through them and seeing what I had. It was like finding a treasure box! There were so many lovely wee finds and jewellery that had been finished or part finished….

Alyssa claimed quite a few lovely pieces from old antique jewellery that I had found in charity shops and was able to make them up into earrings for herself. There were bags of seed beads that I used regularly in lace shawls that I had made up over the years – and the most recent shawl …. Latisha’s wedding shawl…

It also got me thinking on, just how much I enjoyed making jewellery and doing the beading as well as thinking (with some sadness) that I just do not have the time to do the craft now … Alyssa is all inspired to start on making fashion jewellery …. And is now showing the tutors and fellow students in her class on how to make up earrings and bracelets to sell at their upcoming craft morning at the tech as part of her course.

So, you are probably wondering (at this point) exactly what this all has to do with stitch and progress markers ….

Well … I use stitch markers all the time with my knitting. They are essential when knitting Top Down garments and even more so when you are knitting a complex lace shawl pattern where you need to keep an eye on the pattern repeats/sections. I also used special hook markers for crochet, or to remind me what the start of a row was when knitting socks ….

I use my faithful KnitPro markers that come in two sizes – extra small and extra-large – as well as two colours – pink and blue. Quite boring really and restrictive when the pattern advises you to use numerous colours (& you only have the two colours) to help you to remember what each section in the knitting is for …. I also NEVER seem to have enough of the right size. This was especially true when I was knitting the wedding shawl and needed to add in more markers on every NEW pattern repeat. I think I had 50 odd markers on my needle towards the end. I can assure you that I DID NOT have anywhere near 50 markers to put on my needle! So this was where I was so glad that Alyssa had gone through that stage (Just like every other child to the point that they were impossible to buy at one point) of the bungie band thingies that was a global craze so many years ago!! For the life of me … I CANNOT remember the proper name! Those horrid, brightly coloured, EXTREMELY tiny rubber bands that were made into bracelets, charms, key rings, and numerous other items. The bands that were so easily lost and found all over the house or down a small person’s/pet’s throat! The ones that now lie abandoned and they can not be given away! Alyssa’s vast collection lay abandoned in a drawer for quite a while …. Until I discovered an alternative use for them.

They make brilliant alternative stitch markers! They are made from rubber, so can stretch and are an endless, smooth circle. They fit snuggly between stitches on your needles and can be easily moved from needle to needle. They also come in a vast selection of colours. The only downfall … they have the tendency to flick across the room if you are not careful, while you are trying to transfer the bungie band from needle to needle! But never fear …. There is always plenty more of those wee bands ….

Now, I do love using unique and lovely tools with my crafting … but somehow think that those wee rubber bands DO NOT classify as unique and lovely craft tools. They are certainly unique ….

I recall that many years ago I had acquired some hand crafted stitch markers …. Ever so pretty …. But not very practical. Two had been made with a split ring for the ring that goes onto the needle. Not great, as the split on the ring kept snagging onto the yarn, which isn’t the best when you are using delicate (& expensive) yarn. So those were put to the back of my knitting notions container. The other two were made with a beading wire which created a smooth loop to go over the needles … perfect …. As there was NO split to snag the yarn. However, the loop area was able to move … in other words, as the beads could move up (&down) the wire, the loop became smaller, which made it harder to be able to slide your needle in to transfer it to the other needle. So, guess what happened to those markers.

As time moved on, I still went back to those stitch markers (when I ran out of the plastic plain stitch marker rings) to see if they had improved with lack of use. Sadly, NO.

So, that brings us back to disused jewellery box….

There was so many lovely beads and charms lying in wee containers, all begging to be made up into wonderfully unique and lovely stitch markers. But definitely with NO splits in the needle ring and no moving loops! So, I did some research (on faithful Google) and several hours (ahem, maybe longer) I had discovered some wonderful things in the world of stitch markers! There are also markers called progress markers, using opening clasps that are used for crochet as well as knitting. There are markers used with a specific purpose – to keep track of the beginning of the round if knitting/crocheting in the round, the right side and wrong side of your project, along with so much more. Stitch markers have entered the world of creativeness! I also found some other wonderful tools used for counting and so forth. My creative juices over flowed ….

I placed some orders for the tool items I would need …. As well as some other loveliness that just kept jumping into my basket along the way. Alyssa was also getting into the spirit (and obsession) of this jewellery making lark. The purchases started arriving in the post and the pile kept growing …. Alyssa was itching (along with myself) to dive right in and start creating. However, there were more important tasks (workwise) to be done and more importantly, the items needed to be sorted, labelled and put into containers so it made it easier to know what was what and where it was. It is about the crafters obsession for being organised in a very messy crafty way. So, the two of us spent a few hours (which quickly turned into a day) sorting through everything and putting into assigned containers and labelling for easier reference. A long but necessary task and OH, so satisfying at the end.

Then, came the time to actually start creating the markers up. A few turned into a small pile which grew into a HUGE pile. And would you believe, I am still wanting to make more (& use them). Who says markers need to be boring?

I got to thinking that maybe not everyone would know quite how to use the markers to their best protential …. or maybe not know exactly what is available ….. So, of course me being me …. I thought that it maybe it would be best to actually do up blogs on the different markers and what they are used for. Over the next few weeks, I will release a blog on the different sort of markers and how they are (can be) used. I knew of stitch markers to use for knitting the top down technique and in shawl knitting, but there is so much more ways to use these wonderful wee tools. I am actually shocked that I had not heard of them and now wonder how I did without them over the years.

I also discovered some other wee items/tools that I will be making and adding to the Nifty Needles products. I am all about useful tools that we just can’t do without but are also pretty in appearance.

The stitch/progress markers will be released shortly, just in time for Christmas as these would make amazing gifts for any crafter. I didn’t quite think everything through …. All I focused on was making up a selection and forgot about the time it takes in photographing them, writing up descriptions etc, and then uploading everything to the website …. So I think I need to step back …. Slow down and realise that things just take time ….. BUT, it is hard when your mind overflows with creative juices and you just want to do it all NOW …..

So do come back and find out about all the uses of decorative markers ….. I am sure you will be convinced that these are the perfect wee tools that you just cant do without ….

The next post will all be about the stitch and progress markers for both Knitting and crochet

Wedding Shawl

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So with the wedding day over and slowly recovering, it is hard to believe that a week ago, we were all gathered to see my oldest daughter, Latisha, getting married to her wonderful partner, Brian.

Reflecting back on the build up to the wedding, it is amazing to think just how much Latisha achieved in the organising of the wedding. She planned and made all the decorations – the arch decorated with wisteria and voile, where they said their vows to each other. She raided everyone’s house to collect the rustic crates, lanterns and vintage bottles to complement the wedding arch. She made the ring holder and the hand fasting cord.

My contribution was to bake and decorate the wedding cake and to knit the wedding shawl.

Wedding Day Gift

I have knit many lace and beaded shawls in the past, but none for well over 8 years. When it was agreed on having a shawl for her wedding dress, I don’t think I ever thought it would turn out how it did on the wedding day. Latisha chose the pattern – It is a wonderful design by Boo Knits (a English designer that sells through Ravelry) – called Out of the Darkness.

She wanted a crescent shawl, which is different from a traditional shawl as it does not form a back spine where the stitches are increased. A crescent shawl has the increases at each end of the shawl to form a slightly rounded shawl without a point at the back. I prefer the crescent shawls as well as it means you get the longer edge for wrapping the shawl without having a huge depth to it at the back and can be worn in so many different ways. Basically if I had knitted a traditional shaped shawl and had the same length for the width, the depth of the shawl point would have trailed on the ground behind her.

She then chose the yarn – a very fine cobweb yarn in a pale silver grey and the beads – a clear colour with rainbow reflections – that hid in the shawl until the light caught the reflection of the bead and just sparkled slightly.

Yarn and beads

I started knitting the shawl back in July, thinking that it would not take me long. I was basing it on the fact that I used to knit shawls in under a week many years ago. But times have changed – it had been many years since I had knitted a lace shawl by following a chart – so that took a couple of evenings to get back into the swing of things.

Lace chart – green squares indicates bead placement

I was also busier than I used to be with the business so my time for knitting was only in the evenings now. As the shawl grew, I was only really able to knit a couple of rows each evening as one row could take anything up to an hour to complete. The stitches increased by 6 stitches every two rows, so it grew very quickly and the width of the shawl was more than the actual depth.

There were 12 stitches per pattern repeat and stitch markers had to be placed between each pattern repeat. These markers were a godsend and really needed to help keep me on the right track of knowing where the pattern repeat started and ended. I know that these little markers helped me quite a number of times throughout the shawl. Once the lace charts started it was essential that the pattern repeat section of 12 stitches was easy to find as it was easy to miss a stitch and then the whole pattern sequence would be wrong and then had to be ripped out. Honestly, I didn’t want to even consider going down this route, so the wee rings were great. They saved me on many occasions where I was able to fudge a stitch within the pattern repeat and get me back on track with the 12 stitches. It really was a better option than pulling out the rows to correct one missed loop over ….. in the big scheme of things, I don’t think anyone would have noticed if there was a stitch extra or less in one of the pattern repeats for one row.

So, I started knitting and at the start it was easy going, there was a small amount of stitches and the knitting went quickly. The pattern suggested 3 plain sections before going onto the lace sections, but it was also stated that you could repeat the plain section as many times as you wish to increase the size of the shawl. Since I had over 1000 metres of yarn and Latisha had asked for a large shawl, I decided to repeat the plain section another 3 times. It meant placing more beads into the plain section as there were beads placed into the shawl at pre-marked places on the chart to produce ‘random’ placement of beads over the shawl. I wasn’t too concerned about using extra beads or yarn. I knew I had double amount of yarn and beads that was needed to complete the shawl, so I was fine …..

I remember many, many years ago, I was taught that if you wanted to knit beads into your knitting, then you had to thread the required amount of beads onto the yarn prior to beginning your knitting. I did it that way once, and ONLY once!! It was terrible!! Not only was it difficult to thread the yarn through the hole of the beads, but it took so much time!!! Time that could be used knitting. And then while knitting, you had to push those beads along the yarn away from where you were knitting and bring a bead up each time you wanted to place one in the pattern and try your utmost to ensure you knitted the bead in the correct stitch. It was murder! Especially, if you had miscounted the amount of beads you placed onto the yarn before you started. Can you imagine getting to the end of a complex pattern and finding out that you did not have enough beads to finish the knitting? It left you in a sticky situation with very few choices – and none of them ideal – either unpick everything you had knitted, so you could place the required amount of beads on, knit on and don’t have beads in that section which would stand out, or break off your yarn to thread more beads on and then place a knot in your yarn.

So, how did I manage to include beads in my knitting without any hassle? Well, the only hassle I had was when the bead would flick away from me when trying to pick it up with the crochet hook and the bead would fly across the room. I lost count with how many I lost to the floor and Alyssa would gather them up for me.

I came across this technique of knitting with beads quite a few years ago and I now always use this way. Basically you place the beads onto the stitch with a crochet hook as you knit the stitches. When you come to the stitch that has a bead, you place a bead onto a crochet hook (usually a .75mm hook – one where you wouldn’t use it for crocheting, unless you like to torture yourself) that is fine enough to go through the hole in the bead. You then place the stitch from the left hand needle onto the hook of the crochet hook and push the bead back over the hook and down onto the stitch. The stitch is then placed back on to the left hand needle and is knitted. The bead is now placed securely onto the stitch and will not move around. It really is a pain-free way of adding beads to your knitting, it just slows you down with knitting when you have to place 3-4 beads in every pattern repeat!

Translucent Beads

Once I had knitted the plain section, it was time to start on the lace sections – there was about 5 different lace sections to do for the shawl. It was also suggested that if you wanted to knit a larger lace section, than two sections could be repeated. So, since I still had a good amount of yarn and beads, I decided to increase the lace section as I really wanted the shawl to be lacy and open as well as a decent size. I still had plenty of time before the wedding. However, I seemed to forget that as the shawl grew in size, the amount of stitches also grew with every row completed.

Following a complicated lace chart, where beads are placed A LOT throughout out, takes a fair bit of concentration and time to complete one row. I did some maths towards the end – each pattern repeat had 12 stitches ….. I counted about 50 odd pattern repeat markers!!! Work the maths out on that one!

When I was about to complete the last chart, I was nearly out of my pack of beads – pack of 1500 – so I had to order more. They arrived in time and I was able to do the final few rows of the shawl – this row had even more beads placed on to give the edging some weight and a luxury touch. The cast off edge took me several evenings to complete – at this point I had calculated that I had close to 700 stitches to cast off, but it was no ordinary cast off – the cast off was done with picots being formed while casting off, so it was basically – cast on 4 stitches, cast off 6 stitches – all the way along the row. The casting off was tedious and long winded, but I have to admit that the edging was spectacular and well worth the extra effort. So the final stitch came off the needles a week before the wedding. So this shawl, nearly used the 1000 metres of yearn and OVER 1500 beads!

Picot edging and beads

However, the shawl may have been finished – knitting wise – but it still had to be blocked to bring the lace to life and truly make the shawl bloom. To block my shawls and to bring out the lace, I always soak them in warm water with some fabric softener, mainly to freshen it up and give it a lovely smell. After the shawl has been soaking for about 20 minutes, I wring out the extra water so it is not soaking wet and it is time to bring it to life by blocking and letting it dry thoroughly.

I use the interlocking foam play mats to block, they are brilliant as you can stick the pins in them and they stay secure. I place my first pin in the centre of the top edge of the shawl and work my way along the top edge towards the very edge of the shawl that meets with the cast off edge, one half at a time. The cast on edge is slightly pulled and pins placed every couple of inches along this edge. It is when you also create the curve that you want with your blocked shawl.

Once I have completed pinning the top edge, I pull the shawl out to reveal the lace pattern and let it bloom and then place a pin in the centre of the shawl bottom. Again, I work outwards to the edge point, one side at a time, pulling the shawl to open the lace. This is where you also create points at your edge.

I soon discovered that I had a slight issue with the shawl and the blocks – I didn’t have enough foam blocks to accommodate the shawl! The two edge points of the shawl went way beyond the foam blocks and I had to fold the edges and bring them back to the centre of the shawl. Sometimes you just need to improvise! Once the shawl is pinned open, it is now left for at least 24 hours so it can dry completely. Sometimes, it can take longer, as it depends on how much rain we have having and just how damp the air can be.

After a day and a bit, the shawl was completely dry and I was able to remove the pins. The shawl had grown with the blocking and the lace pattern had truly opened and become even more like a cobweb – a sparkling cobweb with beads (or dew drops)! All that had to be done now was to weave in the ends of yarn at the cast on and cast off points and then lovingly wrap it in tissue paper and into a box so it could be gifted to Latisha as she was getting into her wedding dress prior to the ceremony.

I think it is safe to say that the shawl really did suit her and set off her dress and hair so well.