It has been and exceptionally long time since I posted here, huh? That was in no way intentional, but life does have a habit of, you know, getting in the way. Final year of an undergraduate and a Masters degree kind of take precedent and, truly, steal all of your free time and sap you of your hobbies. It has honestly taken until now (nearly a year since I graduate my MSc) to finally 'fall back' into many of the things I loved doing beforehand.
|Barnes & Noble Leatherbound,|
issued in the 150th Anniversary year.
That, and I appear to have developed a terrible habit of starting projects and taking far, far too long to finish them (if at all). I always used to pride myself on always completing a knitting project! Ah, the naïveté of youth. That is not to say I haven't done, and seen to the end, a single craft in the past two plus years, it's just I can't say I've really completed much of note.
But then, babies happened. Not mine, thankfully, but between my brother and my best friend there are tiny alienoid monkeys abound (or soon to be). Babies are a fantastic way of reigniting the crafty senses (this is presumably not true if the babies are yours), because baby clothes are adorable and quick to knit, and toys! I love knitting toys, but I already have far, far too many in my house (mostly on my bed; there's barely any room for my boyfriend!). I know, I know, no such thing as 'too many toys', bit like that mysterious lie about 'too many books'. Still, it's best if I knit toys as gifts, and babies need gifts and babies need toys.
I'm still yet to decide what to make for my best friend's baby, but, fortunately, I have a nice six month window to get that project going. On the other hand, my brother's wife popped out a squiggly creature last month, so that project has drawn to its inevitable close.
Initially, I had decided to knit my brother's baby a mermaid tail sleeping bag (because, seriously, just look at how cute it is!), but then I found out my mother way making the baby a blanket, and they already had a couple of store bought travel blankets. Even though newborns do very little other than sleep and poo, I felt that the baby was probably going to be blankied out, so a toy it was!
After some deliberation, I decided to make a character from one of my favourite children's books; a white rabbit. There was a couple of reasons for this; I knew that I wanted to buy the baby a book (a proper book, not a fabric or cardboard baby book), as books have been such a comfort to me all my life and I know that began when I was tiny (my parents were already reading bedtime stories to my older brother by the time I came along and joined in the fun, so stories and books have been part of my daily ritual near enough from birth). Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass seemed appropriate as not only are they are much loved by myself, they're two of about four books my brother has actually ever read (and, if I remember correctly, it's one of my brother's favourite Disney films). Once I'd decided which book to get, it seemed like a nice idea for the baby to have one of the characters; I chose the White Rabbit over Alice or the Mad Hatter (for example), partly because my brother likes rabbits. He never understood mine and my mother's absolute adoration for the ridiculousness that is guinea pigs, but he does like rabbits.
So it was decided, I would make a White Rabbit! It took a surprising amount of time to find a suitable pattern; there are a few actual White Rabbit patterns (including an amazing one by Alan Dart, which is unfortunately out of print) and plenty of adorable 'real' rabbit patterns, but ideally I needed something that came with clothes patterns (after all, generic teddy bear jumper pattern isn't going to fit every generic teddy bear pattern). After a while of trawling through lots of rabbit with baskets of eggs, I thought that maybe I should look for bears; after all, how hard can it be to rabbit-ify a teddy? As it happens, when I searched for patterns of bears with jackets, I managed to find a pattern for a bear and a rabbit, including a jacket, a hoodie, a hat, a dress and a pair of dungarees. Best of all? The pattern was free!
|Unknown, White Frost, Gold and Sea Glass|
Now I had a pattern, I needed baby-proof yarns. For myself, I might spend over £10 per skein for a cashmere-merino-silk blend, but not for babies. Babies do not get luxury. Make a baby toy out of luxury yarns and one of two things will happen; it will get destroyed (accidentally of course; everyone knows that baby drool is high acidic and can burn through ten inch reinforced steel) or it will get placed on a shelf, in pristine condition forever, but unloved (well, unplayed with, which is the same thing in my mind). Babies need something soft, something unlikely to cause a reaction (allergies to natural fibres are more likely than allergies to synthetic fibres) and something that is easy to clean. That mostly means acrylic or acrylic blends. I did a little bit of research and it would appear that Lion Brand have yarns specifically designed for baby use. I went for Lion Brand Wool Ease (worsted weight, acrylic-wool blend) as suggested by LoveKnitting in their ‘baby yarns’, in Gold and White Frost. I would have used their Babysoft yarn, which is complete synthetic (DK acrylic-nylon blend), but I needed a heavier weight, so Wool Ease it was! I also wanted something ‘patchy’ that would make a nice ‘tweedy’ looking jacket; LoveKnitting suggested Knit One Crochet Too Fleurtini, which had a loose weave and a lovely array of colours. I would have gone for Ocean but they were out of stock, so instead I bought Sea Glass, which is much paler and more pastel coloured in real life. I should probably have checked before buying as, unlike the Wool Ease the Fleurtini cannot be machine washed. Ah well.
I also treated myself to a set of KnitPro Royale needles, which only came out last month. The circulars have been around for about a year, but the straights and DPNs are brand new. They are a delight to knit with and I do intend to do a full review of them alongside my equally fancy (and equally expensive) Carbonz, also by KnitPro.
|KnitPro Royal straights|
All in all the yarn cost me just under £20; I know, don’t let anyone ever try to convince you that crafting is a cheap hobby (I do have quite a bit of each skein left though, which I’m sure will get assimilated into other projects at some point). Unfortunately, when I ordered, I hadn’t realised that the yarn would be being shipped from America, meaning there would be more than a week wait for it to arrive. Which wouldn’t have been an issue if I hadn’t decided to knit the baby toys so late into the pregnancy.
|Two arms, a foot and a tail.|
|Where it all began...|
Now, I couldn’t exactly turn up empty handed. As it happened, there had been an ongoing joke that my brother wasn’t having a rhesus baby but a rhesus monkey and I had realised that, much like myself, the baby was going to be born in the Year of the Monkey (I like the Chinese Zodiac). I’d also recently found a ‘Knit-A-Critter’ kit that I’d bought in The Works for about £5 years ago, which contained a pattern for a rather cute looking monkey. I say pattern, it was more an ‘idea’ as all of the critters to knit in the booklet are essentially two ovals sewn together to make a head and body with various flat shapes sewn onto them to make body parts. I mean, these sorts of kits are always kinda crap, but the designs really are adorable and they’re quick and easy, which makes them ideal for gifts. Rather than going out of my way to buy special yarn for this project (and run the risk of that taking too long to arrive), I raided my stash and found some left over tan yarn from the Mouse Family project I worked on so long ago. Normally a monkey might be made from a chocolatey brown coloured yarn, but this monkey was going to be based off of a Rhesus Macaque (and a little bit of Sun Wu Kong).
As I said, the pattern for the monkey was essentially a knitting graph to make a couple of ovals; I thought to myself, why make two and sew them together when I can knit on the round? What a brilliant idea, how clever am I! And so proud of myself I was (despite realising early on that garter stitch is far more difficult on the round than as a straight piece), right up until two thirds of knitting the body (when I began to stuff it) when I realised that I had made a grave mistake. The pattern, which I hadn’t bothered to read given that it was only about three sentences, said to sew the arms, legs and ears between the two body pieces.
|It was not a good day...|
Well. Bugger. That’s not going to happen when there are no sides! So instead I had to sew all the bits on individually and hope that my sewing skills were good enough to hide the seams. I also decided to knit the limbs on the round to make the sewing absolutely minimum. What can I say? I am a knitter, not a sewer (which is why my Lincoln Imp sits fully knitted and unassembled in my office and has done for… A long time). I also knitted the tail about twice as long because monkeys need long curly tails! Furthermore, I realised that knitting on the round was all well and good until I added the stuffing; it then went from a tight knit to a rather loose fabric, which I had to sew up retrospectively. Over all, not the best idea I have ever had.
So once I had knitted and sewn all the monkey bits together I was left with a faceless creature sat on my bedside table for a couple of weeks, which wasn’t at all creepy. Still, with the addition of limbs, the Monkey no longer looked like a giant, knitted peanut.
|From single footed peanut...|
|... To faceless being.|
So that was the monkey near enough complete. I needed to get some felt to make a face, a little neckerchief and a staff (I thought about i-cord, but decided it wouldn’t be stiff enough, and using toothpicks to keep it straight probably wasn’t the best idea for a baby toy). I also went to the effort of buying a little charm bracelet charm in the shape of, of course, a little monkey. No real reason, just I got my traditional charm bracelet at eighteen and my Pandora charm bracelet at twenty-one (this one was from my brother); I thought it’d be nice for the baby to have a charm for a future bracelet that was as old as she was. I think this may, in part, be due to the story of my gold pendant from my Gran. It’s bittersweet and, yes, has made my friends tear up upon hearing it (so have a care with the following). Without going in to too many details, my Gran bought me a pendant for my eighteenth birthday and asked my mother to buy me the necklace. This is lovely in its own right, but by no means saddening. Until I tell you that my Gran died before I turned two. It’s an incredibly important piece of jewellery to me for that reason and possibly why I feel that getting presents as an adult that have a history are so special. I don’t intend to die before my brother’s baby turns eighteen, but I still feel that it would be wonderful for her to have something given to her as an adult that begins with her birth. That, and I, being a monkey myself, have a pendant I wear near enough every day which is the Chinese symbol for ‘Monkey’. No prizes for guessing which family member bought it for me as a birthday present several years ago.
With the monkey mostly done, I moved on to the task of the rabbit which, being a knitter, I knew was going to take a while but fifteen hours. That’s not including assembly. I have such a love hate relationship with Knitting Buddy app I downloaded for my phone, which includes a timer for projects. So much time, for such simple projects!
I say that, I did over complicate things by creating a waistcoat (which included altering the coat pattern). I also decided to add a pattern to the waistcoat, just to make things a bit more interesting. My boyfriend helped me choose and between us we decided that ‘moss rib stitch’ was the way forward; it is, as the name suggests, a combination of moss stitch and rib stitch. Or ‘bobbly vertical lines’ to those of you who do not knit. I kept getting it wrong and having to pull rows back every now and then, which was frustrating, but that’s mostly because I was knitting in the early hours of the morning on a work night.
It’s a good job I require practically zero sleep. I didn’t get to bed earlier than 1:30am all week (and I work a full time, 9-5, Monday to Friday job). Normally I wouldn’t burn myself out quite this much on a knitting project, but a couple of things had come up. Firstly, the yarn coming from America. Then I was working on the Monkey. Then I realised that I was seeing the baby at the beginning of September, not the end like I had originally thought and time scaled my knitting to accordingly.
|Yes, he is in anatomical position.|
Sunday (T minus 7 days until baby meeting) I had the three components for the head, which has been knitted to the sweet trills of Powerwolf and Ghost. By the Friday I had everything knitted and the seams sewn (that’s three pieces for the head, two ears, two arms, two legs, one body piece, two jacket front pieces, one jacket back, two sleeves, two waistcoat front pieces and one waistcoat back). I had also stuffed the head and the body. My boyfriend had been out on the Friday, so I had settled in with Netflix (The Little Prince and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth were players) for the night and just knit. I had less than forty eight hours until I was meeting the baby and only a book, a charm and two unfinished projects to show for it. To make matters worse, I was busy all day Saturday, so I could not dedicate my time to the projects (well, I say it was worse but I just goddamn love Colchester Zoo).
Saturday night, after a long day involving lots of walking and gawking at animals (although there was no hilarious sex or poop throwing this time) I began what I prayed was the end in a hotel room in what felt like the middle of nowhere. My goal was to finish one; I couldn’t turn up with neither, but I could always hold one back until Christmas if necessary.
Except this is me. Who am I kidding? I don’t stop until it’s done.
|... This is not (ribbed stitch).|
|This is just... Odd.|
Bit by bit I pieced together the rabbit and his clothes. There was more knitting to be done, too, as the collar of the jacket was picked up stitches after the three pieces had been sewn together. Talking of the jacket, just as I was finish the back piece on the Friday I realised I had ballsed up the moss stitch at the bottom and like hell was I pulling back twenty rows of knitting when I was on a time limit. The knitting pattern said that moss stitch is ‘Row 1: Knit 1, Purl 1, Knit 1, Purl 1...(continue across as directed) Row 2: Knit the Purl sts, Purl the Knit sts.’. Well, that’s rib stitch for sure. For moss stitch, if you have four stitches, the right side row would be K1, P1, K1, P1, then the wrong side row goes P1, K1, P1, K1. So you knit the knit stitches and purl the purl stitches; the stitches stay the same! (Whereas rib stitch on four stitches would be, RS K1, P1, K1, P1 and WS K1, P1, K1, P1; it’s all about keeping the knot of each stitch on the same side of the fabric for rib stitch and alternating it for moss). I know the difference between the two stitches and I’ve knitted both before and yet I still cocked up. Ah well. I made sure to continue the rib pattern at the base of the two front pieces for the jacket, and used moss stitch at the open sides, the sleeve cuffs and the collar; I did away entirely with these ‘borders’ for the waistcoat!
After the clothes were sorted, I needed to embroider the face. This came out much better than I expected! I was very happy with just how cute and smiley the rabbit looked. The pattern suggested French knots for eyes rather than buttons if giving to a small child. I had no idea what these were, so to Youtube! Took me a little while to get the hang of, but once I did I was very happy. I am glad to add this to my skill base, as I feel it’ll come in handy for future projects. It’s actually very simple, yet works perfectly well for eyes or other embellishments. I also used the French knot method to make buttons for the waistcoat and jacket; it wasn’t until I had nearly finished all the knitting that I realised the problem of clothing buttons. Tiny buttons were hardly suitable for a baby, but I didn’t want to sew the clothing on, which seemed to be my only option. Then I realised the ease of the French knot and, with the help of a trust crochet hook, pulled them though the fabric on the waistcoat, securing it around the rabbit’s tummy without having to sew anything in place! They are probably not the most secure buttons (the French knots for the rabbits eyes are far more secure), but I figure that if they ever fall off they are easy enough to replace and, when the baby is less baby and more adult, maybe they can be supplanted by actual buttons.
|The White Rabbit, waiting for adventures in Wonderland.|
I would say ‘with the rabbit complete, it was time to finish the Monkey’, but in reality I chopped and changed between the two throughout the night. The Monkey entered the weekend mostly complete. S/he needed a face, which I had to embroider and sew into place, a little scarf and a staff. I had struggled to find any tan coloured felt at the local craft shop, so ended up buying a ‘sew your own Pug purse’ kit with pre-cut felt pieces and a plastic needle from The Works. Honestly all I could find (although, irksome as it is, I found tan felt for 60p a sheet in the craft shop today). I had also left the template at home, which probably wasn’t too bad a thing, given that I think it was too big for my monkey anyway. I embroidered the face with DK yarn and sewed it in place with fine thread. I was less happy with the Monkey face than the Rabbit; it looked a little ‘off’ to me, and I had sewn the felt a little low and a little skew-whiff. That’s what you get for not pinning before sewing. On the other hand, it is the mistakes that make the quirks of handmade items, and it is the quirks that make them unique and loveable.
|Sun Wu Kong in Monkey Magic|
The neckerchief was a piece of folded yellow felt; this I has been able to get a small sheet of; unfortunately a little too small, as I wasn’t able to tie it around the Monkey’s neck as loosely as I would have liked. As such, this, unlike the Rabbit’s clothing, was sewn together. It’s not sewn to the Monkey, but the ends were, with some stretching of the fabric, attached to each other. For the staff I rolled another piece of yellow felt into a tube and flattened. After I sewed this together, I felt it too plain, so wrapped some of the gold yarn from the Rabbit’s waistcoat around it; but then it just looked like bamboo, so I wrapped black yarn around it too. I think it looks snazzy enough now. I had toyed with the idea of cutting out a ‘crown’ as worn by Sun Wu Kong for this Monkey, but decided against it; unlike the White Rabbit, this Monkey wasn’t representing a particular character, but was merely taking elements from them. The neckerchief and the staff made the Monkey have the appropriate ‘oriental’ feel I was going for and, to me at least, really made this toy the loveable critter it is, taking it away from any other ‘knitted critter’ and bringing to its Zodiac influences a focus. Once the staff was sewn in place I cut a length of black yarn and hung the monkey charm from it as a crude necklace; it was intended to stay on the Monkey as it was hardly baby safe, but somehow it flew off across the room when my brother showed it to his wife. Fortunately it was found and wasn’t damaged and, given neither the yarn nor the split ring broke, I’m not entirely sure how it happened.
|Ready for mischief.|
I didn’t time how long it took to assemble everything. Probably about ten hours in the end, for both the Monkey and the White Rabbit. As such, I finally crawled in to bed at about quarter to four in the morning. Was it worth it? Yes, it was. I’m really very pleased with both toys, but in particular the White Rabbit. Sometimes you finish a project and it’s not quite as winsome as you had hoped; other times it surpasses your expectations. This was definitely the latter.
I think my brother and his wife appreciated the gifts; I’m not sure which they were most pleased with. My brother did like the Monkey though and instantly recognised the significance. Later, after all the cuddles had been had and I had returned home, I asked my brother what the baby’s comments were on the gifts, he sent this as her response when interviewed.
|Literally laughed so hard I cried.|
After this, I think I deserve a good lie in a large glass of whiskey, don’t you?
This project in facts and figures; the White Rabbit took approximately fifteen hours to knit and another five or six to assemble. The yarns used were Lion Brand Wool Ease in White Frost (rabbit) and Gold (waistcoat) and Knit One Crochet Two Fleurtini in Sea Glass (jacket), all in DK. Yarn cost about £20 in total. I used approximately 50g of the White Frost and 10g each of the Gold and Sea Glass. I used 3.5mm KnitPro Royale needles costing about £10. Pattern is Rabbit and Bear by April Cromwell. Project was made over the course of about eight days in total.
The Monkey took about seven hours to knit and four to assemble. The yarn used was an unknown brand, but synthetic or at least a synthetic mix. The face, neckerchief and staff were all made from felt. Used approximately 30g of yarn and two sheets of yellow felt. Monkey was knitted on 3.75mm DPNs. Pattern is ‘Monkey’ from Knit a Critter by Top That Publishing. Project was knitted and assembled over the course of two and a half weeks.
|Best friends forever!|