Thursday, 29 May 2008

Catching them young!

I'm back from the Isle of Wight and look what we have to show you!

George, Florrie and I are very proud to present what we made this weekend - First Skein Key Rings! I'm pleased to say that they are both enthusiastic and attentive students who are a joy to teach. We broke the process down into elements so that they got plenty of practice at the component parts of the task like choosing colours, peeling off a piece of roving (like peeling a banana) drafting, spinning and winding with a bit of help from me when doing two things at once was a bit much.

Florrie who is 5, and I pretended that the twist was a cheeky little mouse that would escape unless we kept a close eye on it. George, who is 8 and more of a scientist found similarities in the process to how grandad's self winding watch works with the energy that we put into spinning the spindle being released slowly to twist the fibre. I think that explaining things to children helps my understanding too.

We did a little bit every day so that it didn't become boring and on the last night, after they had gone to bed I Navajo plied the yarn that they had created, made it into a mini skein and put a key ring at the end. I wanted them to have something tangible to remind them of their first spinning project. My sister would like me to point out that Florrie's hands are covered with felt tip pen, not dirt, by the way. At least not much dirt....

Before I get carried away with my prowess as a teacher I would like to point out that in typical British Bank Holiday style, the weather somewhat favoured indoor activities. Here is a typical picture postcard seaside view:

The family scanned the horizon hopefully for any signs of blue sky.

Which only appeared as I left on the ferry this evening. Grrrr......

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Not just jam and Jerusalem

In case anyone was worried there was cake at the Women's Institute Crafternoon... The carrot cake was delicious. I've never taken part in anything like this before so didn't really know what to expect. Here is my little corner. I wanted to show people as many parts of the process as I could, from fluff to finished object. There was plenty of interest and I didn't manage to clatter my spindle to the floor too often!

Laura brought along a very interesting scrapbook that someone had painstakingly compiled from cuttings of beautifully intricate crochet designs. She discovered it at a car boot sale and felt that it was far too beautiful not to be rescued.

There were also some other very talented crafters at the event. Here are two very beautiful quilts.

And look at this Knitivity!

In other news I am about to head off to the Isle of Wight for a few days with my sister and her kids to annoy our dad. She doesn't know it yet but part of her belated birthday present is the Manos clapotis. I have also put together a couple of presents for the kids from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival - a couple of colourful drop spindles (I keep producing festival booty like rabbits out of a hat, I know). I've made them up little packets of multi coloured fluff and thought that as the weather forecast is not marvellous, they might enjoy having a bit of a play with these. I'll let you know how we get on!

As far as knitting news is concerned, I remain obsessed with the Schaeffer Heather sock and have already finished the first one. It will becoming to the Island with me so there may be a pair to report when I see you next. Of course they are going to be accompanied by the usual entourage of the rest of the sock family plus several potential band members in the form of spare balls of sock yarn.

Well I wouldn't want to run out would I?

I nearly forgot to say. I had a lovely comment from Nick, who makes the sock blockers who said that if anyone orders a set of blockers and mentions this blog they will get a free set of stitch markers.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Hold the front page!

Look what I found on Ebay today. We have sock blockers made on the Isle of Wight!

I'm very happy with the blockers I have from America but these are much closer to home - in fact my childhood home to be exact. I am very excited and impressed that someone finally heard our call. Of course, despite the forest of blockers I already have I need to try a set of these.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

All of a flutter

The last time I posted, for some reason I was very very sleepy so I wasn't as careful as usual to include the details of my projects. Attentive readers have asked that I pull myself together and fill in the gaps!

The Shawl is Truly Tasha's Shawl (well spotted, Diana) which is a free pattern by Nancy Bush. It is knitted in Jo Sharp Silkroad DK Tweed in the colour called Ambrosia.The yarn, despite being tweedy in appearance is a butter soft blend of merino, cashmere and silk. Who could want more?
Eagle eyed Terri noticed that I was displaying my socks on Extra Long Blockers.They are from the same supplier as the others, Chappy's Fiber Arts and Crafts , an EBay seller.
Seems the house was divided on the question of Wham! Permatans, enough hairspray to make their own personal hole in the ozone layer, what's not to love?
Thanks to everyone for their lovely comments. I hope I have answered your questions properly.
Anyway, back to the knitting...

I thought it was about time we reviewed the sock family again. I have come to the conclusion that my habitual dull wittedness on public transport means that there is a higher turnover of bog standard socks than anything else, even if I knit them extra long. A new young pretender has been introduced to the family and I have to admit that it isn't just simplicity that is drawing me to this sock, tactile pleasure has a lot to do with it too.

This is a fairly new yarn that I haven't tried before, Schaeffer Heather. It feels a lot different to the Schaeffer Anne that I am using for the scroll lace sock. It is a much plumper, richer feeling yarn made from a blend of merino and silk. The colours are really saturated and have a gorgeous sheen. It also stripes quite well with no nasty pooling! I can highly recommend this yarn.
Speaking of the scroll lace...

Here is a gratuitous close up of the stitch pattern. I am making a lot faster progress than I thought I would as the pattern has such an easy rhythm.I have reduced the number of stitches in the foot also as the sock was looking a bit baggy where the stocking stitch foot wasn't pulling the circumference in as the stitch pattern does.

Finally, here is why I am all of a flutter.I have made a start on the Flutter Scarf . So far, I'm really pleased with the way the scarf is turning out. I've only done about 20 centimetres so far, but then again I only have 84 odd metres of yarn. But just look at it...

The yarn is a little heavier than the yarn specified so I have gone up a needle size or two to a 4mm. What I'm particularly pleased about is that I have been able to preserve the lovely subtle colour changes in Natalie's roving. I am thoroughly enjoying this project and am feeling quite proud of my first proper drop spindle project and Navajo plying.

Which is a good thing as I have just been persuaded to demonstrate drop spindling at a Women's Institute 'Crafternoon' on Saturday.

There'd better be cake....

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Call me good, call me bad (call me anything you want to baby)*

First the good...

I have been a hard working and diligent knitter this week, oh yes indeed.

More finished projects are flying off my needles. First up are the Apple Pie socks. I knitted them with cuffs starting with 68 stitches as opposed to my usual 60 and put in calf decreases at regular intervals so that I could make a longer sock and make the most of this lovely yarn. I have used a number of colourways of this yarn and due to the short dye lengths it rarely pools. I like the splodgy effect of these - sort of like a Gaudi mosaic.

There's even a second finished object tonight. Weeks, probably months ago I showed you the beginnings of the edgings of this shawl. A cunning camera angle and a bit of cropping hid the fact that I'd only knitted on about 20cm of the border with at least another three metres to go. This weekend I finally got sick of it gazing at me reproachfully from my work basket and buckled down.I found the secret was to only look at what I had done rather than what was left to do.

Here's a shot of the border detail.
Here's the bad...
Anyone who knows me and has been reading my blog recently will have had serious doubts as to whether I had 'fessed up all my shopping at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Of course I didn't! I just got bored and a little bit guilty about the blog looking like the shopping channel so I thought I would show you things as they come into use over the next few weeks and months.
Before I went I scoured message boards looking for recommendations of booths to make a particular bee line for and the name of Brooks Farm kept coming up. I can see why. This is three skeins of Acero, their fingering weight yarn composed of wool,silk and viscose.

I hoped that with this sort of fibre content it would drape well so that I could have a go at this, a modular shawl by Jojoland As you can see I have made a start - three out of eighty done! The only thing that is daunting me is that there are only 160 end to weave in!

* with apologies to Wham!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Beaucoup de Clapotis

The list of work in progress was getting a bit long so I thought it was time I cracked on with something so here is my finished clapotis. It is made from Manos Silk which is a glorious blend of silk and wool which is next to the skin soft. It is a slightly lighter yarn than the pattern recommends so I went down a needle size and did a couple more repeats of the main body pattern rows. I used about two and a half skeins.

Having finished this piece it occurred to me that over the past few years I have returned to this pattern a number of times. The main reason for this is that I really like wearing them and that they show off a yarn without overwhelming it. It is also nice, when I don't have the mental energy to do anything particularly complicated to settle back with a simple project.

I will be honest, however, I find that I really enjoy the first part where I am increasing the number of stitches and getting to know the new yarn, then even more exciting, the straight rows where I get to start dropping stitches on purpose! This novelty lasts for a certain while then, usually about half way through the straight rows the whole thing gets very dull indeed and I wonder what on earth made me start another one of these confounded things and who cares about dropping stitches anyway? Thankfully, pressing on is rewarded in the final phase where the number of stitches are decreased. Not only do the rows get faster and faster but you get to drop stitches at both sides at once! Before you know it you've finished, sewed in the two ends and are swishing around in it planning for the next one - or is that just me?

Just to show you my enthusiasm for the clapotis (despite having no idea what the plural is) I have rummaged around upstairs and cam present...

Beaucoup de clapotis! None of these are knit in the recommended yarn but from left to right they are made in Schaeffer Gertrude Ederle, Noro Silk Garden, Hipknits Aran Silk, Noro again and the newest member in the Manos. I have made more but have given them away,

But I haven't just been knitting...

Here is my first skein of the Yarn Yard Club Fibre. I am absolutely in love with it but I don't like to think how long this took me. Here we have approximately 84 metres weighing 18 grammes which feels like a sort of light fingering/ heavy lace weight. There is still movement in the colour but what I like best about this method of plying is the rounded shape of the plied yarn. Even with my earlier wastage I have another 170 grammes to go!

Here's a rather arty closer look. Yes, I have now worked out how to use the macro facility on my camera...

I'm thinking of making a nice frothy lace scarf with it. Maybe something like this on Kathryns blog.

Lasty, in keeping with the French theme of the title, we're starting to think about the Tour de France Knitalong again. I had great fun last year so why not join us? Sign ups start in early June so plenty of time to limber up!

Monday, 12 May 2008

The ups and downs of spinning (Includes May Yarn Yard fibre club content)

After all the excitement it's good to get back to reality and talk about spinning. I've now finished the companion skein to my April Yarn Yard Fibre Club offering and am pretty pleased with it. The fibre was split roughly into its constituent colours and spun separately. Close inspection will reveal that I have produced a much more rustic (unevenly spun) yarn this time. It's true, spinning heavier yarn evenly is harder than you think!

I've only spun 100g of the April fibre and hot on its heels is the May offering. People who have yet to receive their parcel may wish to look away now. Everyone else, feast your eyes on this...
It's a wonderful, grown up, subtle blend of pinks, greys and apricot with highlights of white on merino tencel which gives it a wonderful sheen

In keeping with my new found spirit of adventure I decided that it was time that I stopped producing yarn that looks like this:

and tackled the art of Navajo plying so that the colour changes are more subtle.

The candy cane, incidentally, belongs to the diner that Anne and I had breakfast at on our last day in Frederick. Look at the colour of that sky!. The diner was an absolutely fabulous quintessentially small town American establishment straight out of the 1950s. It was a perfect way to end our trip. While I'm saying my farewells to America I would just like to say thanks to Anne for being a fabulous travelling companion and to her family for their warm hospitality. I had a wonderful time.

Where was I? Oh yes... playing for time.I also thought it would be a really good idea to use one of my lovely new spindles so got out the lightest of my Goldings and spent a good couple of hours producing some reasonably fine singles. However, I hadn't taken enough care to wind them tightly and consistently enough onto the shaft. When I came to start plying they slipped and slid all over each other and I managed to reduce an afternoon's work to this...

I was not pleased. However, at least I had an idea of how I had managed to arse it up so I just had to suck it up and start again. I am completely charmed by using this dainty little drop spindle and am producing some fine and even singles on it which shimmer beautifully.

I have been plying it onto my red oak Bosworth midi and am rather pleased with the results. It's certainly a more long winded process than wheel spinning but I love the simplicity of it and feel as though I have scrutinised every last inch.

Sitting in the garden in the evening sunshine with a spindle and some beautiful fibre seems a fine way to welcome the summer don't you think?

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Maryland Sheep and Wool - wool blind and crazy

Saturday and Sunday both dawned bright and warm and we were up early. All warnings about rain and cold were forgotten, shades and sunscreen broken out.

All warnings about huge crowds and traffic jams were also unfounded. Taking the very good advice of the owner of Eleganza we found a route which avoided the worst of the tailbacks.

One of the most important things I learned is that MDSW is so much more than a shopping extravaganza - although there was more of that than I have ever seen in my life before, it is also a celebration of the people and their animals who produce the fibre, the artisans who produce the yarns and tools and the artists who take the raw materials and make beautiful things with it. It celebrates the past, present and future of fibre people and is a place to meet old friends and make new ones.

Here are some of the impressions and acquisitions I came home with.

I love the idea of a Society for Creative Anachronism. These enthusiasts dress up in Medieval and Renaissance costume and keep ancient crafts alive. People were braid making, luceting, knitting and spinning amongst other things.

With apologies for the dreadful photo where I have managed to take a picture of my own shadow, have a look at this piece of work, a copy of a pair of 16th century men's pantaloons. Think yourselves lucky you can't see the codpiece...

The photo also does no justice to the exquisite workmanship of the garment which was knit at a tension of 10 stitches per inch.

The festival also celebrates the skills of fibre artists in the show of works. I spent a lot of time in this gallery and was very impressed and humbled by the standard of work.

Look at this shawl. (I've still only done 12 rows of my lace project...)

And here is a beautiful basket of hand spun yarn. How I wished I was sitting by a roaring fire with that basket and a set of needles beside me!

I loved the vibrancy of the colour and naivete of the design of this rug.

What about the artistry of the creation of this amazing felted dinosaur?

And how on earth did the artist get such expression into the face of this bear?

With all the things to see and do it's hard to imagine how we possibly had time to shop. There was also the Ravelry meet up where I got to catch up with Nikki, a long time reader of this blog. I am still completely gobsmacked that we got to meet. Believe me, she is every bit as warm and friendly as she seems online.

I also caught up with Shelia, who came all the way from Oregon last year to join us at Skipnorth and also got to meet Clara, the person behind the Knitters Review Forum which has been such an important part of my fibre education for the last few years. Clara is also a warm and charming person. Shame on the person who stole her shawl from the Brooks Farm booth, however.

Which brings me on to...yarn.

I had already decided that given the size of my stash, that I would shop sparingly and concentrate on things that I can't get in the UK and things that I really need to see in person rather than online.

I had heard a lot of people speak very highly of Brooks Farm yarns with very good reason.They are absolutely beautiful and I was hard pressed to make a choice.

In the end I chose these sock yarns made from merino, silk and viscose. The colours really glow.

There is this subtle blend of blues, browns and greens.

And these warm reds and terracottas.
By way of contrast, I had to buy a skein of this organic Welsh Border Leicester lace weight out of family loyalty, as well as the fact that it knits into an amazing, springy fabric.

I will show you more yarn, books and notions over the next few days but I couldn't wait to show you what I had really saved all my money for. Golding and Bosworth spindles.

Aren't they beautiful? The craftsmanship in all of them is superb.

Look at the beautiful zebra wood in this Bosworth.

And my favourite, the Celtic Knot Golding.

The spindles I bought were very much 'entry level' and thus affordable. For other products on the Golding stall, serious money would need to change hands.

I could have had a try of this $5000 wheel and chair...but I was too shy.
In going through my photos I was horrified to notice that I had failed to take a photograph of a single sheep. Sheep there were in abundance, we watched the sheepdog trials, the parade of breeds, the sheep shearing and I was so distracted that I quite forgot. I was particularly transfixed by the sheep shearing.It appeared to be a father and daughter team with the young woman who was in her late teens at most doing all the shearing of some quite annoyed sheep while we listened to a very well informed and humorous commentary by the dapper gentleman in cowboy hat and moustache.It is from him that the quote in the title comes from. He mentioned the importance of remembering to shear the fleece from over the sheep's eyes 'Else they get wool blind and crazy...' I know how they feel.

By way of making up for my omission may I present to you...

The most fashionable and elegant llama in the world!

Friday, 9 May 2008

The big yarn adventure part 1 - Knitters go wild in Frederick

Is it really Friday already? I think I've been wandering around in an over tired, over stimulated wool fume induced daze ever since I got back. But it was worth it!

Where to begin...

The beginning for me would be 4.30am on Friday morning, which as far as I am concerned is the Middle of the Night when the taxi called to take me to Heathrow to catch the early plane to Washington. I decided that in my bleary state the most sensible plane knitting would be non challenging. I have been in need of new wash cloths for some time but always found the prospect a little dull. When they are the only project that you have in your hand luggage you find that you have finished two, run out of yarn and are twiddling your thumbs for the final 3 hours of the flight. I know... running out of yarn - every knitter's nightmare...

I used the Aruacania cotton that I bought at Skipnorth which is another big plus for this project - using up the Skipnorth Stash before next year!

My friend Anne picked me up at the airport in our cantankerous hire car that we soon named Christine and we headed off to her parents house in Frederick, about a 45 minute drive from the festival site. Being the dedicated yarn hounds that we are we said our brief hello's and headed straight into town for lunch and a yarn crawl. The first shop we came across was something of a surprise as it had only been open for five weeks.

The Artisan's Cache was an absolute treasure trove with rooms and rooms spread over three floors of a lovely old house with all kinds of textile art as this flyer describes.

And just look what I got:First, some lovely old Tunisian crochet hooks, just in case I want to learn another skill but they were a bargain at 50c each. But the best was yet to come...

Antique sock blockers. One in a child's size with beautiful shaping for the calf and ventilation holes to help the sock dry more quickly and just look at the man's...

In this photo I have put it next to one of my average sized ladies' blockers just so that you can see how big it is. I wouldn't like to be the woman who had to knit the socks for him!

After this unexpected excitement we set out for the LYS, Eleganza Yarns. Just to give some perspective, Frederick is a small town, about the size of Newport, Isle of Wight where I was brought up, yet this yarn store has a larger stock than the best London yarn shop.

With the knowledge that we were about to spend two days at the biggest sheep and wool festival in the world I did my best to shop modestly.

There was a wonderful stock of patterns that I haven't seen in the UK before. So these designs by Beth Brown-Reinsel came home with me.

Next came some new Fiber Trends patterns, a sock which I think might make a good stashbuster spiral and a shrug plus a Cabin Fever jacket which I admired being knit by Tutley Mutley at Skipnorth.

Finally, a couple of very pretty shawl patterns.

Despite my resolution, I couldn't leave the store without a little yarn. I planned to seek out locally produced, yarn from small suppliers which I haven't seen elsewhere so this gorgeous naturally coloured alpaca had to come home with me. The farm is in Lovettesville, just down the road from Frederick and the yarn so soft and beautifully spun. It is fingering weight so the two skeins are enough for a small shawl.

Apart from the washcloths I decided to take two sock projects with me, my simple sock and the scroll lace. I decided not to take the other member of the sock family, Miss Mattie's Stashbuster Spirals with me as the three balls are a little difficult to manage on the road. Miss Mattie isn't speaking to me right now and refused to participate in a group photo with the other two due to her apparent lack of progress.

The first Apple Laine vanilla sock is moments from completion. My search for variety in photographic settings is an excuse to show you how well my red cabbages are growing.

I thought that the scroll lace would be a very time consuming project but the pattern flows along so naturally I have made much better progress than I thought I would. I can heartily recommend the pattern - it really does produce a very pretty fabric.

Well,that's all for now - next post will be about....

... the main event!