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Friday, 22 May 2015

NEWS - so long and thanks for all the knits . . .

When the MillaMia team sat down to discuss the possibility of starting a Blog in 2012, I felt a thrill of excitement. I have always been a writer you see, and for me, the idea of combining two of my passions - knitting and writing - well, it was a gift. We set about planning and scheduling, talking excitedly around topics and themes, about how we wanted the MillaMia blog to look and most importantly what we wanted to say. It was clear from the off that we had plenty to share and it gave us the ideal platform to let our customers 'in' - so they could get to know us all a little better.

Looking back to those early days it's clear that 3 posts a week was rather ambitious and we soon settled into the once weekly slot that our readers - you - have come to love and expect. I have spoken to many of our blog readers over these 3 years and the message that I get repeatedly is one of excited anticipation - I love that you look forward to reading it in bed on a Saturday morning with a cup of hot coffee and your knitting by your side. It's exactly what I'm doing myself!

So, it's with a bittersweet mix of emotions that I tell you I'm moving on to a new job at the end of May. It feels like the end of a chapter in a book I don't really want to put down - I know I'll be thinking about the characters for some time to come. The Blog and all of the things I have worked on at MillaMia will of course continue as they must, and though it may feel a little different at first, know that the girls behind this amazing brand are just as dedicated and passionate about great content as I have been.

 

 
While the scent of change is in the air it seems like the ideal opportunity to ask you, the reader what you love (or loathe!) about the MillaMia blog. What do you value or enjoy? Which specific type of post do you find interesting or useful? What would like to see more or less of? Please leave your comments below and feel free to let us know exactly what you think - constructive criticism is always welcome!

 



It just remains for me to say that I have loved every minute of writing this Blog - there really haven't been any lows, only highs and as work goes, who could ask for more? I'm eternally grateful to Katarina and Helena who have been the most inspiring, hard working and encouraging women to work for - thank you both for everything! Keep reading, and making and learning about your craft and know that I will be doing the same . . . quietly knitting on a Saturday morning as the sun comes up.

Goodbye and good luck to the incredible MillaMia team

(posted by Max)

Thursday, 14 May 2015

LOVE YOUR YARN SHOP DAY - with Stitch Solihull

Ana Dugdale, owner of Stitch Solihull will tell you she is passionate about her business! She is a crafter, maker and yarn lover but she is also a staunch believer in the enormous benefits of communal crafting. Her shop, located in Notcutts Garden Centre on the outskirts of Solihull really is the hub of a growing knitting community and it is in no small way due to Ana. Her willingness to offer workshops, support indie designers and hold events at the shop makes Stitch Solihull a welcome crafters sanctuary, so it was no surprise to learn that she would be taking part in national Love Your Yarn Shop Day. Ana asked if she could have some of our sample garments to showcase MillaMia on the day, and we were only too pleased to help out.

Here is Ana's account of her best day ever!

Love Your Yarn Shop Day was a huge success for us, it was our second busiest day ever which is incredible! We offered 20% off everything for one day only which was very popular as it's the only day of the year we do this.

Gorgeous cashmere

We had pop-up stalls from Cashmered with their gorgeous cashmere yarn and patterns and from Katie Jackson with her crochet amigurumi and homewares. At just 15, Katie is the youngest regular at out Stitch and Sip groups and makes her own crocheted creations. She comes up with all the designs herself and is definitely going to go far!

 

 
Some of Katie's pretty crochet and a fabulous Teddy blanket in the making!

We also hosted an all day Stitch and Sip with homemade cake and plenty of tea and coffee. This was very well attended with people working on their own projects and sharing inspiration and ideas. We have Stitch and Sip sessions 3 times each week (Thursday 11-1, Friday 2-4, Saturday 11-1) which costs just £1 towards the cost of tea and biscuits. They're open to knitters, crocheters, cross stitchers, spinners and anyone else who wants to work on projects in a social environment.

Stitch and Sip attendees enjoying some gentle crafting on one of Ana's comfy sofas!

The MillaMia sample garments were a big draw, especially the Charlie Cardigan. The Charlotte Cardigan from Wonderland was the first project I ever knitted when we opened so it was great to see the child and adult versions together. People enjoyed trying them on and pulling out balls of yarn to compare and combine colours.

A lovely rail full of MillaMia samples ready to try on

Love Your Yarn Shop Day was certainly a fun and successful day for us - thanks to everyone who came along and supported us. We'll see you next year!

More lovely crocheted items to buy

Stitch Solihull can be found at Cedar Cottage, Notcutts Garden Centre, Stratford Road, Shirley, B90 4EN, tel 0121 315 6888; on Facebook, Twitter and online at www.stitchsolihull.tictail.com

(posted by Max and Ana!)

Friday, 8 May 2015

FREE PATTERN - Celebrate the new royal baby!

As the delightful news of the latest royal birth flooded the headlines, the world let out a collective sigh of blissful satisfaction - well, there really is nothing nicer than welcoming a new baby, royal or not, is there? Welcome Princess Charlotte! And our most heartfelt and joyful congratulations to William and Kate!

http://millamia.com/pat_size.php?name=Milly Tank Top&sort=&type=

With all the debate and circumspection that surrounded this royal baby now put firmly to bed - she is a beautiful little girl and her name is Charlotte - we can fully concentrate on celebrating this momentous occasion in the best way that we knitters know how . . . by knitting something super cute to commemorate it.

http://millamia.com/pat_size.php?name=Milly Mobile&sort=&type=

Enter Milly. A sheep of magnificently modern proportions who has been the inspiration basis for this mini collection. You may recognise her from our Milly The Sheep toy pattern, which has always been such a popular and much loved free download. Helena and Tanya were inspired to encourage new parents or grandparents to pick up their needles and knit something fun for their own little prince or princess. Helena says,

"We wanted to make something which was tasteful but overall had that cute factor. The pattern in the tank top was worked out by Tanya to the last minute detail and it really shows with the intricate detailing on the sheep - I love the way the ears are worked into the pattern and the heart between the kissing sheep is such a lovely detail. Tanya has a great eye for fairisle patterns. The sheep mobile was really fun to design - love the fact you can customise your mobile with the new arrivals initials or make a more simple product with just a flock of little garter or moss stitch sheep. We went for a traditional snow and storm combination but they could be really sweet in petal or forget-me-not or in fawn for a slightly warmer addition to a nursery. We hope everyone has as much fun knitting the pieces as we did designing them."


http://millamia.com/pat_size.php?name=Milly Tank Top&sort=&type=

The smallest size of the Milly Tank Top (3-6 months) takes just 2 balls of yarn - 1 in each colour. There are alternative colour choices included in the pattern, so you can be as gender specific as you like, as brave or traditional as you like - the choice is yours! Knitting a flock of dancing sheep for the mobile also takes just 2 balls of NSM and a small scrap of pitch black for Millys face.

Milly Tank Top and Milly Mobile is available as a FREE download from www.millamia.com and there is also a right royal 15% discount off all purchases for the next month. Use discount code ROYAL15 until June 2nd to save yourself a sovereign or 2!
(posted by Max)

Friday, 1 May 2015

TUTORIAL - 3 Ways to Cast On

You're all set. You've carefully selected your next project, bought yarn, pattern and needles (maybe a new project bag to keep it all in too), and you are finally ready to cast on! The pattern book is balanced on your knees and you skim read over all of the information at the beginning eager to see how many stitches you need to embark on this exciting knitting adventure . . .

'With 3.75mm needles cast on 91sts.'

And there it is. The first line of this new and thrilling knitting ride, open to all sorts of possibilities, trials and probable tribulations but potent with expectation and hope. And it is here that I urge you to practise restraint and take some time to think about your shiny new project while you consider just how you are going to cast it on. I know that it's all too tempting to just turn automatically to your favoured cast on method - I do it myself - but here is the very best place to make a significant decision about the type of cast on you choose that will make all the difference to the outcome of your project.

There are many different types of cast on, all with properties that are suited to particular types of knitting or garments. For example, the first cast on that I learned is the Cable Cast On which creates a very neat edge, perfect for starting the rib on a cuff or bottom edge of a sweater due to it's stable nature. It has enough stretch to make it useable but not so much that it will make your ribbing flare, but it's also a nice clear edge to pick up stitches on should you need to.

Cable Cast On

1) Make a slip knot - this is your first stitch. Put the right needle through this first stitch from front to back as you would to make a normal knit stitch.
 
2) Draw this stitch through, but don't drop it off the needle - instead place it on the left needle next to your first stitch. You now have 2 stitches on your left needle.
3) For the next sttich and the remainder of your cast on stitches you will put your right needle through both legs of the cast on stitch you have just made (and not just through the front leg). This marks the difference is between the Knitted Cast On where you simply knit through the front leg of the stitch and place the loop onto the left needle.

4) Pull the loop through.
 
5) Place the loop onto your left needle and continue in this way until you have made the required amount of stitches stipulated in the pattern.

For many knitters, the Long Tail is their cast on of choice. It produces a very stretchy edge suitable for all types of garments but is particularly useful for the top edge of socks, around neck edges - anywhere that you need the edge to have plenty of give. It may take a little bit of time to master this technique, and it's imperative that you allow enough yarn 'tail' for the amount of stitches you are casting on to avoid ripping out and starting again. As a rule of thumb, allow 30cms of tail for every 20 stitches you are casting on.

Long Tail Cast On

1) Leave a long tail - the longer the better if you aren't short of yarn! Lay the yarn across your needle with the working yarn at the back and the tail at the front. You can make a slip knot to secure the yarn to the needle but it isn't necessary.
2) Pick up the needle in your right hand and then grab the yarn as in picture 2 - with the tail end around your thumb, the working yarn end around your first finger and holding the 2 strands of yarn securely in your other 3 fingers and against your palm.
 
 
 3) With the needle held in your right hand and the yarn held as described above, move the needle under the strand nearest to you on your thumb, now swing the needle over the top of the other strand on your thumb AND the first strand on your finger, collect this strand.
 
 4) Pull this strand through the gap you have created with your thumb and the needle and then pull the stitch up snug to the needle - you've made your first stitch!
 
5) Continue in this way until you have the right amount of stitches on your needle, remembering that the slip knot (if you made one is always counted as a stitch). Persevere with this one - it may feel awakward and slow to begin with but you'll soon find a rhythm.

A particularly useful cast on method is Backward Loop. This is the ideal cast on to use if you need to add stitches to an area of knitting - perhaps to bridge a gap over the thumb on some mittens or under the arm of a sleeve. It doesn't produce a very stable edge, and I recommend knitting into the back of these stitches when you come back around to them on the subsequent row, but for adding stitches mid-row it's perfect.

Backwards Loop Cast On

1) When you are at the place in your row or round where you need to add some stitches, maybe to bridge the gap over a thumb section on some gloves (as shown in the pictures here), you will need to pick up your working yarn and wrap it around your thumb with the end attached to the needle going around the back and the end attached to the ball at the front and held in the palm of your hand with your other fingers.
 
2) Slide the needle up under the strand nearest to you and slip it off your thumb. You should now have a loose loop on your needle.
 
3) Snug the stitch up to the needle by pulling gently on your yarn and then repeat for however many stitches you require. Bridging the gap over a thumb often only needs 2 stitches as I've shown here.
 
4) Continue to knit to the end of your row, but make sure that you pull the yarn fairly tight on the first couple of stitches after your cast on stitches to avoid baggy stitches on the return row. To help make these cast on stitches more stable it's a good idea to knit or purl through the back of the loop on the next row.

While these 3 methods are a great starting point, there are many other cast ons with very specific applications which are well worth taking the time to learn. Judy's Magic Cast On is the go-to method for casting on toe-up socks, a Provisional Cast On will keep your stitches live so that you can graft them at the end of the project, the Tubular Cast On creates a very professional invisible ribbed edge perfect for sweaters, the Knitted On and Thumb Cast On are great for beginners and the Turkish Cast On is another method for beginning toe-up socks.

As always, YouTube is a fantastic resource for knitting tutorials so if your newest knitting pattern asks you for a specific cast on, take the time to learn how - it really will make all the difference!

(posted by Max)

Friday, 24 April 2015

TUTORIAL - Pontus Pencil Case

When I took one of the very first copies of Finishing Touch home last year, both my teenagers were immediately rather taken with the Pontus Pencil Case. They loved the chunky texture, contrasting zip and bright colours we'd made them in - easy to find in your school bag, apparently.

I promised them both a Pontus there and then - eager as always to furnish them with anything handknitted they will accept from me. I guess the idea of a teenager thinking that something is cool and desirable still somehow makes it so. I planned on one each in their Christmas stockings - filled with all sorts of edgy stationary, and personalised with a fun zip pull.

Planning was as far as I got, and as we headed into April, my son reminded me that he was still rather partial to the idea of a Pontus, especially with exams looming. I shuffled guiltily, gave a reluctant last look at the project currently on my needles and gave in. It wasn't long before I was delving into my stash of MillaMia Aran to see what I had.

Therein lay problem number 1. I needed a full ball of yarn to make the pencil case, and though I did have full balls they were all mentally allocated to larger projects. I found scraps left over from various other Christmas gift projects, and was rueing the fact that his favourite colours teal and ochre were only half balls, when I remembered the construction of the Pontus - knitted in 2 separate pieces - and had a lightning bolt moment. I would make it a pencil case of 2 halves!

The rest is history, apart from the emergence of problem number 2 when I realised that I had never actually sewn a zip into anything I'd knitted before . . . you'll see from the following pictures that the zip is in, and it works. Enough said.

The following tutorial is really an overview of the stages I went through in the making of the pencil case. If you haven't picked up stitches along a cast on edge before, the pictures will be useful. Likewise, picking up the 9 stitches along the side edge for the garter edging might offer some guidance.

  
1) Picking up stitches along the cast on edge (right side facing). I've used a cable cast on so it's easy to see where to insert the needle to pick up. Make sure you go through both 'legs' of the stitch for a neat seam.

2) Make sure to go into the same place as you pick up every time for a perfect seam. When picking up exactly the same number of stitches as the cast on be aware that the very first and last stitches sometimes get a bit lost.

3) Picking up stitches for the garter stitch border along the side edge. There are naturally occurring gaps between the stitches but you may sometimes have to pick up another stitch between the holes. Make sure you pick them up as evenly along the given edge as possible to avoid any obvious gaps or puckering. Again, be sure to pick up in the same gap in the row every time for perfect neatness.


4) Once you have your knitted piece finished, you will need to cut out the lining. Pin the flat piece (before you seam it) to the fabric and mark a 1/2" seam allowance all the way around with tailors chalk.

5) Now pin the bottom seams on both your knitted fabric and lining and stitch together. This forms the 3D shape.
 
6) Time for the zip! Pin and stitch in one side at a time, taking care not to stretch the knitted fabric. This can be a little tricky, but I found the most important thing here was to make sure my stitches were small and fairly close to the edge. Using the same colour cotton will make your small stitches almost invisible.
 
7) Pin the lining to the inside and the hand stitch in place. Remember that you will want all of the rough side of your seams to be hidden inside, so plan ahead for that.
 
8) Add the garter stitch loop as detailed in the Pontus pattern, or make something small and fun with scraps for added kid appeal! This cute chap is the Tiny Dinosaur from Teeny Tiny Mochimochi by Anna Hrachovec made with some left over Naturally Soft Merino sportweight in teal. I know my son is sixteen, but I say you're never too old for great knits, or cute dinosaurs!
 
(posted by Max)