Sunday, May 10, 2020

It's all in the ears

I have mentioned previously that I subscribed to a knitting magazine.  At that time, the regular contributor for toy patterns was Alan Dart.  His designs are amazing.  They are so full of character.  An added bonus is that his instructions are detailed and easy to follow.

In the June 2014 edition, the pattern was for a Peruvian Llama, with chullo hat and poncho.  
This photo is from the original pattern at
As you can see, it was stunning and colourful.  My immediate decision was to take it in to show my friend at work.  Why? Because she has three alpacas.  When I showed her, she too was amazed at the detail and llama-likeness, which prompted me to ask, what is the difference between llamas and alpacas.  In essence, she said there was very little of significance, bar their ears.  "The way I remember," she said, "is that llamas have ears like bananas!"  This made me chuckle and then she asked me if I would make her an alpaca following the original pattern but with the obvious ear adjustment.  With such a stunning pattern, I could not refuse.

I have a considerable stash of yarn so the colours for the hat and poncho were not a concern but I needed to buy the specific yarn for the llama - correction, alpaca - body.  Then I had to wait for it to arrive. Patience is never really a strong suit of mine and I just wanted to get on with making it.  I had colours, I had needles, I had the pattern - so I began with the alpaca accessories and set to on the poncho.  

Whilst the instructions to follow are laid out clearly, that does not mean the knitting was easy.  You will recall in the previous story I mentioned about working with multiple yarns at a time.  Well this was not so complex as that but the item was considerably smaller and thus a tad fiddly.  I took my time and checked it as I went along.  On the first attempt, I messed it up. The crosses that you can see to the top of the poncho did not initially turn out like crosses. I think I made an error due to confusing myself as I needed to make stitch decreases as well as colour changes.  Whatever the reason, it was undone and reknitted - just that section, not the whole poncho.  Once it was all knitted, the fringe had to be added.  That is a seriously time consuming effort but well worth it.

By the time I completed the poncho, the body yarn had arrived so thoughts of the chullo hat were set aside and the alpaca body was started.  I was fascinated as I knitted at how it was possible to come up with the pattern I was following. The changes to make the chest puff out were simple and yet so clever in the effect it had on the knitted piece and this became more apparent once it was sewn up.  I will not bore you with all the clever pattern nuances but I will tell you though that the legs are made such that the llama/alpaca stands steadily due to some ingenuity involving drinking straws.  Suffice to say it was a joy to make and intellectually stimulating too.  Even the stuffing needs attention to make sure it shapes the toy appropriately.  Mr Dart is a very talented designer!  

As mentioned, my friend requested an alpaca not a llama so some minor adjustment was required for the ears.  I knitted the original pattern to see the size then worked out, of course with the aid of my trusted graph paper, an alpaca ear design.  I think it worked well because when I took the completed alpaca in to her, adorned with poncho and chullo hat, she was over the moon.  
The first alpaca
She showed those who visited her desk and one colleague requested an even more bespoke alpaca - that the hat and poncho to be in the design of the hat owned by the friend they intended to gift it to.  They provided me with a photo of the hat.  You know how when you zoom in on a photo it can pixelate? Well on this occasion, it was an advantage.  I printed a standard copy of the picture and the close in one and used them to work out the pattern to be knitted up.  It was an enjoyable challenge and the result was very pleasing.
Alpaca with bespoke hat and poncho
Some time later, my son came home from secondary school and said that he had a request for me from a friend.  He had mentioned to them that I had been knitting llamas and alpacas and they asked if I could make them a llama with a hat.  It turns out there is a comedy series called "Llamas with Hats" which they really liked and thought it would be fun to have their own llama with hat.  As I recall, there were subsequent requests with differing hats but this is the photo found of one of them.
A llama with a hat
These handsome toys were fun to make and never failed to raise a smile on those who saw them.  A year or so after making the first, my friend with the alpacas gifted me some alpaca yarn made from the fleece of her alpacas.  It had to be done - I made one using that yarn for the lower half of the legs.  It made me smile to know there was real alpaca in the making of the alpaca.

I still occasionally get asked to make a llama or an alpaca, the most recent being last summer.  Some have fringes on their ponchos, some do not.  It is all a matter of choice, as are the colours used.  Here is a small selection of others I have made.  I hope they make you smile too.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Battle of Stamford Bridge

Reading this blog, you may think that knitting is my only crafty endeavour. That is not so.  I absolutely cannot crochet - I have tried many times, following written instructions, with one to one tuition and watching online video tutorials.  It seems that is one craft that fuses my brain cells.  One I enjoy almost as much as knitting is cross stitch.  I love the way pictures build up simply by sewing small crosses of designated colour onto the fabric.  It is good for me to do it from time to time.  When I knit, I am told it is at pace.  I never gave it a thought as I hardly ever find myself knitting alongside others but I have been told this now by many people.  Cross stitch is definitely a craft you cannot do fast.

As with knitting, I like to design cross stitch patterns.  The first I did was as a wedding anniversary gift for my husband which depicted our wedding day.  It was simple in that it was just words and symbols in essence so I could design it all on graph paper.  I thought I might like to do more adventurous designs so purchased some software that would translate photographs or pictures into cross stitch patterns.

I think I may have mentioned my software purchase at work because I recall a colleague said he thought the Chelsea badge would make an excellent cross stitch.  No surprise, he was an ardent Chelsea Football Club supporter.

Some months later, he announced that he was leaving having secured a new job.  I recalled his comment about the cross stitching of a Chelsea badge and set about finding a copy and running it through the software though not with the intention of cross stitching it.  No, I had decided that more interesting would be to knit it up.  I figured that when I designed my knitting patterns I used graph paper and that the software output was essentially graph paper designs in colour so it should be pretty straightforward.  Of course a knitted badge would be larger than a cross stitch one so determined it would be one side of a cushion cover.  I sourced a design I liked and used it to determine the dimensions.  I then purchased the yarn, cushion pad and buttons and set to work.  

Now I am not going to tell you it was straightforward, because it was not.  There were just five colours of yarn to use - white, blue, red, yellow and grey - but the detail in the pattern required multiple colour change points across many rows of the design.  Rather than buying several balls of each colour, I had to separate each colour out into multiple smaller balls so that each detail had its own yarn source.  This avoids having lengths of yarn across the back of the knitting which can get messy and make the finished piece not sit flat.  The downside of this was that across the main part of the badge, I had fifteen balls of yarn in play.  At each colour change, it is necessary to twist the two yarns together to prevent holes in the finished piece.  As you can imagine, this is some feat with so many balls of yarn on the go.  At the end of each row I had to untwist the yarns to free them up for knitting the next.  I am assured by my husband and son that it was quite a spectacle, especially when I got in a tangle with the yarn!  To give you a flavour, one of the rows would have been: white, yellow, blue, red, blue, yellow, white, grey, blue, white, grey, blue, white, grey, blue, white, yellow, blue, red, blue, yellow, white.  That is 21 colour changes.  Now I look back on it, what was I thinking?

It took a couple of weeks of effort, evenings and weekends, to complete but when it was finished, I was relieved to find that it did actually look recognisable as the Chelsea Football Club badge.  I was so pleased.  I grabbed the cushion pad and - bump - back down to earth.  The badge was good and fitted across the square cushion pad beautifully but it was considerably short.  What to do?  I pondered a while.  If you are wondering if there were any exclamations of frustration, I assure you there were but it was just using up time that would be more productively used to solve the problem.  I suspect I still spent a good half hour seething before I set to finding a solution.  Using the completed badge, I worked out how many more rows of knitting I needed. Just knitting a chunk to tag on the bottom would look awful so I decided to make it purposeful by knitting into it the year, 2012, to denote for the chap when he set off on his new adventure. 

Once that was complete, I made the back of the cushion cover, a two tone button up design.  Being single coloured and no variation on the chosen pattern, this was knitted up very quickly by comparison.  I confess to being pleased with how the finished cushion looked.

The chap from work was speechless when presented with the cushion.  He could not believe that I had recalled our throwaway chat about the Chelsea badge and been prompted to make him such a personalised gift.  

I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of making it but the pleasure in knowing how happy it made him was the greater reward.