Practice makes better: Lord of the Rings knitting re-visited

Both girls came home for the holiday, and Leah brought home a hand-knitted piece for me to wash.  (Yes, Leah does her own laundry – she lives 4700 miles away!  But this is a special piece and she wanted to consult with the expert.  The expert took it to the dry cleaners.) Long-term readers may remember that I knitted her a Tolkien-themed pillow for her 19th birthday.  She brought home the case (minus the pillow), after five years of wear and tear, and it still looks pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself:


Knitted into the pillow using stranded knitting is the inscription from the One Ring, written in the Black Speech of Mordor using Tengwar, the transcription system developed by Tolkien for the languages of Middle Earth. (Yes, this is a super-geeky thing to do.)  I blogged about this project extensively at the time and you can see all of the posts, in reverse order, with this tag link.  These posts include information on the conception, knitting, steeking, fretting (first steek!), learning, sewing, and fun that went into the project.  They also include great photos, like this one which shows me holding the pillow while wearing a pair of mitts I knit with the same yarn in the reverse colours (purple on yellow instead of yellow on purple):


Don’t you just love the transposition of the Batman-esque mitts and the Tolkien medieval-esque pillow? I have to say that I love this project.  It was such a great experience to knit and I think it looks pretty freaking fantastic as well.  Even if you’ve never heard of the One Ring to Rule Them All, it’s pretty cool.

Here is another photo from one of the earlier posts, which shows the project immediately pre-steek:


This last photo leads me into the reflection behind this post.  Despite the glorious final project, I was pretty crap at stranded knitting then.  (It was only my second stranded project, with the Peerie Flooers hat being the first.)  The difference between the stranded portions of the knitting and the stockinette portion in between the two lines of script is dramatic.  The background (purple) bits are smooth for the stockinette and very uneven and puckered for the stranded portions.

Of course the above picture is before blocking, which fixed a lot of the issues you can see, but blocking cannot fix everything. (Gasp!  Yes, blocking is essentially a miracle technique for fixing almost everything.  Note the use of “almost”.)  In this close-up photo, taken just a few weeks ago, you can see that, even after blocking, the different tensions are obvious:


Despite the fact that I didn’t continue to work on the technique again until just recently, I have gotten significantly better at stranded knitting, particularly with respect to tensioning. My two recent attempts at stranded knitting, the Bousta Beanie hat and especially the Cascade hat, demonstrate that, despite some remaining problems, I have managed to fix the tensioning issues with two-handed stranding.  I am still slow.

I’m working on a bit of stranded knitting this weekend, having finally reached the yoke of the Tensho pullover.  I hope your knitting weekend is a good one!

Double feature

Perhaps some observant readers noticed that my last two projects used the same yarn?   I knitted both the Tolkien-inpired pillow for Leah and the super Batman-inspired mitts for Lizz with Quince & Co Chickadee yarn in the colours called Carrie’s Yellow and Frank’s Plum.  And, yes, I did manage to take a few quick shots of them together before giving the mitts to Lizz.

2-IMG_8305When I was planning the pillow, I hadn’t decided whether I would be knitting the back or whether I would use fabric instead.  So I ordered lots of yarn.  Then, when I realized that I had only two weeks to knit the mitts for Lizz’s Viva, and announced to Doug that I had to go buy yarn right away, he reminded me I had plenty of leftover purple and yellow.  “Will that work?,” he asked.  “Yes, quite nicely.”

1-IMG_8303I like the contrast in these two projects – the pillow is knitted with yellow on purple, and the mitts with purple on yellow.  The Chickadee is a wonderful yarn for colourwork.  The definition is really crisp and the yarn is sturdy and smooth and feels good on the hands.  You can find my previous posts on these projects here and here (the second link gathers all of the pillow posts in reverse order).

I also love the contrast between the medieval style script that Tolkien invented, all graceful and flowing, and the in-your-face graphic pop of the mitts, which anyone my age cannot help but associate with the 1960s Batman TV show.  From the elegant to the comic book.  Ain’t knitting grand?


One gift to rule them all

Regular readers of this blog will recall the saga of Leah’s birthday present.  Well, it’s  finished!


I made her a knitted pillow with the words from Tolkien’s ring (yes, the One RIng to Rule Them All) knitted in gold.  I finished the knitting in time for her birthday in December, but fretted about how to sew it to the fabric and how to do the finishing.  I am a pretty good knitter, but have little sewing experience.  I really didn’t want to wreck it.


You can read all of the posts I wrote about this project here.  This was a big step for me in many ways.  I am pretty much a beginner at two-handed stranded knitting, so it was a leap of faith.  Also, it was my very first time steeking.  Bringing a pair of scissors to bear upon one’s knitting, especially a piece so special and time-consuming, is not for the faint of heart.  Having put so much effort into the project, I decided not to rush the sewing part, even if that meant Leah having to patiently wait a few more months.  I asked for suggestions on the blog and many of you were kind enough to reply.  The consensus was to find a professional to sew it for me.


The only tailor I knew in the area was Sally Stevens, who runs a tailoring business out of her home in Berkshire.  Sally had done some work for me a number of years ago.  I called her and explained what I needed.  “Let me send you a link to my blog posts about this, so that you can have an idea of what I am looking for,”  I said.  The next day, I set off with the knitted piece and the fabric to take it to Sally.  I was a bit worried about whether I was doing the right thing.  What if she couldn’t envision what I wanted?


When I got there she said “I was up past midnight last night reading your blog posts.  I think we need to sew the pillowcase out of a plain cotton fabric and then sew the knitted panel to it.  That will reinforce it so that you won’t need to use any facing.  Then, we can sew the fabric to that.”  The pillow would thus have an inner lining to give some structure to the piece.  She also suggested a long zipper along the back, instead of the alternatives of a side zipper or an envelope closing.  “Here,” Sally said “I’ve made you a sketch”:


When I got home, Doug said “Do you think she gets it?” “Oh, yes,” I said.  “She’s going to to do this just right.”


I don’t know how to say this without gushing.  I think this is absolutely the greatest thing I’ve ever knitted.  I love it!  It’s perfect!  I want to keep it!  (Just kidding, Leah.  Maybe.)  I think it’s the greatest birthday present ever.


Every part of making this was fun, from conception through throwing it up into the air for the above photo.  Even the steek!  (At least, in retrospect.)  You can probably not help but notice that this pillow is huge.  It is defintiely not a standard size pillow.  I spent a long time searching for a pillow the right size to fit this case, and finally found one here.  This is a duck feather and down bolster pillow measuring 51x100cm (20″ x 39″).


I love the fabric I chose for the back as much as I love the knitted panel.  They compliment each other so well.  (In one of the previous posts, see above link, I wrote about finding the fabric; it was a remnant so I have no details.)  See how it shines in the sun?  And the yellow yarn (Quince & Co Chickadee in Carrie’s yellow), while pale with slightly brownish  undertones on its own, gleams against the purple like burnished gold.  Leah is a Tolkien fan but also a medieval history fanatic and I love the way this project has a very medieval look to it.

02-IMG_8596Happy Belated Birthday, Leah!  I’m holding the pillow hostage until you come home to visit.


One does knit simply walk into Mordor

My Tolkien-obsessed daughter came up with the bad pun in the title.  An indication of my pun-addled brain is that I I found it irresistable. (If you don’t get the joke…never mind.)  I have continued to knit on the Ring-transcribed panel for Leah.  Here is a new progress shot:

5-20131219_102204I am knitting this in the round using two-handed stranded knitting.  This is the inscription from the One Ring, written in the Black Speech of Mordor using Tengwar, the transcription system developed by Tolkien for the languages of Middle Earth.  The inscription was charted for knitters by Diana Stafford, who offers it for free on Ravelry as a scarf pattern which she calls the One Ring Scarf.  (Thank you, Diana!)  In the scarf it is knit in a long continuous string, but I am knitting it into a panel with two lines of script.  When I am done with the knitting, I will cut it at the steek, and then block it into a long rectangular panel.  This will become the front of a rather large pillow for Leah’s room.

The beautiful fabric you see on the left in the photo above will be the backing for the pillow.  I bought the fabric from John Lewis in Reading, UK.  It was actually a remnant stored in the back storeroom.  I went to John Lewis with the knitting in hand and gathered together all of the sales staff to help me find the perfect piece of fabric.  It was late in the day and there were not many other customers, and the staff responded with great enthusiasm and helped me find the perfect piece.  I love how it looks like burnished gold, and also has a vaguely medieval feel to it.  (Plus, the fact that it has squares all through it makes it easy to cut for a sewing novice like myself!)

I am knitting this with Quince & Co Chickadee yarn, obtained from Loop in London, in the colours Frank’s Plum and Carrie’s Yellow.  Looked at separately neither the purple nor the yellow looked right to me, but together they are perfect.  The yellow pops beautifully against the purple and looks just like gold.

We have now been a week in Vancouver.  We haven’t been up to much yet.  We have all been tired and Doug is having knee problems.  We did, however, make our all-important trek out to Deep Cove, which we always do when in this part of the world, to stand on the very spot where we were married more than 22 years ago. Leah took a photo:

1-20131218145727We look both older and colder than on that fateful wedding day, but no less happy.  I could not imagine a trip to Vancouver without this small, but romantic, detour.  The girls think it is cute.  I give you a closeup of the photo so that you can see that Doug is wearing my green Malabrigo cowl and it looks fantastic on him!  I think that he has just gained a new cowl, while I have lost one:

2-20131218145740I also managed (on my first day here) to find a great gluten-free bakery in Vancouver, called Lemonade.  Those of you who also have coeliac’s disease will recognize this compulsion, when arriving in a new town, to scope out all of the gluten-free options  available to you.  I have now been there a few times and I have been stuffing myself with wonderful gluten-free treats, including the most amazing Lemon meringue tarts ever:

2-20131213105204Yum yum!  I must admit to complete gluttony: I have eaten three of these this week!  Doug took the above photo from the balcony of the lovely apartment we are staying in in False Creek.  Thanks so much to Ed and Marci for very generously lending us a place to stay.   It has made our trip so special.

Since I need to finish Leah’s One Ring project before heading back to England, I will now stop writing and start knitting!  (And, just maybe, eat another Lemon meringue tart…..)