Though I shrink from saying it, it is never too early to be thinking about Christmas presents but this is particularly true if you want to do someone the unique honour of handcrafting something for them yourself. A good friend did this for me last year and it was one of the most special and treasured gifts I’ve ever been given.
Paola is a Deputy Head Gardener. She is passionate about organic and sustainable agriculture and understands the value of our natural resources. I asked her if she would be willing to share what led her to give such a special gift and how she did it.
This was such a beautiful present – what gave you the idea?
It was actually your blog entry about Vintage Fashion
(https://nellvoyager.wordpress.com/2015/11/) that gave me the idea for the mittens.
“When vintage clothing of this quality and preservation is available, why settle for a mass-manufactured high street buy of dubious quality and origins? Even better, what if that piece came with a story and a few mysteries of its own?”
That struck a chord. The Christmas season was coming up and why indeed settle for a mass-manufactured gift when I could make it unique? I was in a winter knitting spree, so I started searching the internet for patterns of vintage accessories. There are plenty of free patterns out there, really for every taste and need (a favourite website for me is Yarnspiration.com), but this was a rather particular item I was looking for.
Had you knitted anything before?
I started knitting as a kid, when I would work with my auntie or my mother, doing the actual knitting, while they would put the pieces together, to fashion, well usually it was a cardigan. It was the 80s and the yarn was as horribly synthetic as could be, and we only used pretty basic stitches, but I must say it was solid technique foundation. I dropped it in my 20s, and only started again last year, under the influence of a young friend’s newbie enthusiasm. My technique was rather rusty and when I found a pattern I was happy with, I realised it was much more complicated than expected, and would require knitting in the round (that is all in one piece without seams) which I had never done before.
How can you learn to do it?
My go-to place for all kind of information is Google. First of all I found a list that explained all the abbreviations in the pattern that I could not understand. Then I investigated knitting in the round, and bought first circular needles, but finally settled for double pointed needles, as I found them much more straightforward to use. There are plenty of videos that explain how to use either on YouTube, I practised with some easy-pattern knee-warmers, and once I was confident enough I looked for suitable yarn. Usually the pattern tells you what yarn to use, otherwise you have to adapt the pattern to the yarn you have available, by gauging the correct tension. This is one of the most difficult things to get right and I am not sure I’m too good at that yet! But this particular pattern did not suggest a brand yarn, and I found some gorgeous cashmere, merino and silk blend that I thought would be perfect: so I set about figuring out the tension as the first thing.
How long did it take, how difficult was it and was it FUN?
Eheheh… it was great fun, but I must confess I lost my patience here and there, when I could not get it quite right. The way I find it easier to manage complex patterns is to expand it on paper, row by row, and then tick it through, so I always remember where I left off, even over a number of days. In this case it took me three weeks from start to finish: the evening after work a couple of hours at least; longer at weekends: it is a labour of love. At least at the beginning, it is often the case that you end up undoing more stitches than you would wish, which is specially annoying because the yarn frays with it. But the satisfaction of holding in your hand (or, in my case, taking a picture and posting it on Twitter) your own creation is invaluable!
What else have you made?
This winter I made several presents: a shawl, a matching hat and scarf, a gilet, knee-warmers. Then crocheting caught my fancy (it makes perfect finishing for knitted pieces, which is how I got into it, then got tempted by how easy it felt compared to knitting) and I made a couple of baskets.
What are you planning to make next?
With the approach of spring, I couldn’t resist the call from the garden. Horticulture will take all of my spare time throughout the summer, so the knitting kit has been put away in the loft. I have boxes and boxes of yarn, ready to come out in the autumn – I love
yarn: all the colours and textures! My computer is keeping a database of patterns safe and ready for when the weather will push me indoors. In particular, I have a bear cowl pattern that I have been wanting to make for a while and now that I have learnt some crocheting, I will finally be able to start on it!
Now that’s what I call inspiring. Paola is a gifted and fascinating lady.