Thursday, 31 July 2008

Greens are good for you

When we have an extended period of warm weather I find myself living more and more in the garden, spending less and less time within the confines of four walls. This means that essentials have to follow me out into my favourite corner. I think the wheel looks quite at home.

Of course, other essentials have to come too.

As you may have noticed, my Yarn Yard merino silk is now on my bobbin. I am aiming for a double knit sort of weight and, as I am planning an entrelac shawl, I don't want my colour runs to be too long. I want random squares of colour rather than half stripes of colour blocks. I am, as you can see, stripping the roving down into pencil sized pieces and predrafting.

The single is starting to look like this:
Keeping an even yet thicker single than I have become accustomed to spinning is quite a challenge but I'm learning to adjust the wheel so that it works with me in this quest. I am also planning to do a normal two ply finish on this yarn as I want as many pairings of colour throughout the yarn as possible to give maximum interest to the entrelac.

Now I've stated my intentions, I'm a little nervous about what the final product will look like but it's all part of the learning process isn't it?

Monday, 28 July 2008

What would Miss Deborah say?

Before doing anything else you must have a look at what Karen at Cornflower has done with her Cranfords! I think they look absolutely gorgeous and love the way that Karen has gently subverted them. I'm not sure what Miss Deborah, the moral arbiter of Cranford would say about them but I think Miss Mattie, her sister would harbour a quiet desire for a pair just like them.

Miss Deborah may well be better disposed towards this little corner of the world which has become my knitting haven in these hot, sultry days. This seat, tucked under the back fence of my garden gets the sun in the morning but by the evening when I come home provides some really welcome cool shade. She might also look benignly on my 'bower' which is entirely utilitarian. You may spot bean, cucumber, tomato, raspberry and aubergine plants. The rest are herbs for teas and cooking. Even the golden rod can be used as a dye plant. Standing sentinel at the edges of the path are two bush basil plants which throw up a wonderful scent when you brush through them. Also helpful in discouraging insects....

Spending an hour in active stillness means that the garden wildlife forgets that you are there, the blackbirds scold their newly fledged broods, a bumblebee is dropped from the air by an invisible spider's thread ,brushes itself down and carries on its way. Miss Deborah would surely smile on my quiet industry as I turn the heel on a sock and ply a spindle of yarn.

She might also be mildly impressed by my patience and fortitude. My June Yarn Yard fibre club parcel came on Saturday (warning for Club members who haven't received theirs yet, a photo does appear at the end of this post so look away if you want a surprise).

It took all my self control not to abandon my current spinning project and start on this but I resisted. I was spinning sock weight yarn from Crown Mountain Farms .Superwash Merino in their 'And the beat goes on' colourway. It's a randomly dyed roving with a fair bit of the white showing through. I divided the roving in half and then heavily edited it to remove some of the white. This I did by eye rather than weight which rather came back to haunt me later...

Over the weekend I set myself two tasks. Finish spinning this yarn and carry on with decluttering and reorganising my house. All day on Saturday I span, and span and span. The pile of roving never seemed to get any smaller. All day on Saturday I carried piles of books upstairs and down, made heaps of things for charity shops, Freecycle and recycling and the place seemed to look more of a mess than when I started.

By the end of Sunday I had plied and skeined all of my yarn and out of interest put it on the scales as it seemed an enormous amount. I had just made 176g of sock yarn, about 600m of the stuff. No wonder I felt like I'd just pedalled up the Champs Elysee with the winners of the Tour de France. I'd forgotten how generous the Crown Mountain Farm portions are and would have realised had I thought to weigh it first! I do love it though, and it is infinitely better than the same yarn that I made a year ago.

Rather too much of it for socks though...

By the end of Sunday all my knitting books were gathered together on shelves and I am starting to see floor and table space that has been hidden for a chasteningly long time.I'm even more chastened now that I can see how many knitting books I have.

Here is a small selection.I hope that you will agree that I deserve to play with my new fibre now. I really couldn't be happier with it. As I said to Natalie, if I could have sent her a telepathic message of the fibre and colour that I most desired it couldn't have been better. Merino silk in a wonderful blend of bright grass green and brooding greys inspired by a gathering thunderstorm.

It has made me rethink a project. I was planning to make another entrelac shawl with two skeins of a green and one of a pink and green blend.I've been dithering over it, however, worrying that I wouldn't have enough yarn and also that the green tones in the contrast yarn were too bluish.

I think the two club yarn skeins work just perfectly with the green to create a dramatic shawl which will work beautifully with my largely black winter wardrobe. I can see myself wearing it really clearly.

Must go - I have to start spinning!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Spin Span Spun

When I came back from the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival I was so excited about all the yarn and spindles and such that I quite forgot some of the more offbeat things that followed me home. During my pitiful attempts at decluttering at the weekend I came across this little gem that I had quite overlooked. Therein hangs the tale, I fear, of why my decluttering wasn't the transformation of my living space that I imagined. I am easily sidetracked by the lost objects that come to the surface when a few layers are removed.

Anyway, this lovely little book came from the Society for Creative Anachronism (who else?) and contains 'Fact and Folklore for Spinners and Weavers and is by Beth Hochberg.

It contains an apparently random selection of interesting little snippets so I thought I'd share a couple that caught my eye.

' When unmarried Hungarian girls would wait for the young men to come and court them, they sat in a group and spun with the handspindle. If a girl dropped her spindle while the boys were there, one of them could demand a kiss from her'

With my performance with a drop spindle it would appear that I am in for a lot of lip action should I happen to visit Hungary.

'While a silkworm is spinning its cocoon, the nearby area should be kept free of loud noises. If there is a sudden noise, the silkworm may stop spinning, and not begin again'.

Gives a new meaning to 'Shhhh, I'm counting....'

The Roman poet Catullus (54BC) describes spinning with a distaff and spindle.

Their hands duly plied the eternal task;

The loaded distaff in the left hand placed

With spongy coils of snow white wool was graced;

From these the right hand lengthy fibres drew

Which into thread 'neath nimble fingers grew.

At intervals a gentle touch was give

By which the twirling whorl was onward driven;

Then when the sinking spindle touched the ground,

The new made thread around the spire was wound,

Until the clasp within the nipping cleft

Held fast the newly finished length of weft'

I was sitting out in my garden for an hour this evening, peacefully spinning yarn for my flutter scarf on my drop spindle and this poem really brought home to me the connection to women over thousands of years who have all made yarn to clothe their families and earn their livings, all from this simplest of all tools.

The simplest of tools can also be the most beautiful. Take a look at this.

It's a tiny, foldable niddy noddy from Sublime Spindles made to my exact specifications in apple wood. I wanted a niddy noddy that would break down and fold flat so that I could carry t around with my spindles and fibre and needles and not make an awkward parcel like my fixed one does. It's only 8 inches long so it stows away really easily. I couldn't recommend the service highly enough.

And finally, in case you think I am so busy wafting around reading poetry and playing with my new toys, allow me to introduce the latest Pick 'n' Mix sock to get its partner.Meet the Battenbergs! Its probably the most complex pattern of all the Pick 'n' Mix socks but goes pretty fast once you get into the swing of it. Its the pattern that makes me smile the most I think because its so.... cheesy.

Maybe not the right choice of word for a sock but you know what I mean...

Monday, 21 July 2008

Midsummer Miscellany

I've just had one of those weekends where I've been left to my own devices to potter around house and garden doing a bit of this and a bit of that and my knitting and spinning progress rather reflects this... What I should be doing, I might add is to have a major declutter of the house but I've been easing myself in gradually with frequent fibre related 'incentive breaks'.

First up is the Coriolis sock - as you can see I have gone for the full spiral effect which is quite effective I think. I am really glad that I persevered with this project as I have learned an enormous amount and have produced my first toe up flap and gusset heel with the best wrap and turns that I have ever done. I think the secret of this book is to treat it like a huge buffet and only fill your plate with the things that you want.

I think it helps to be an experienced sock knitter and to be very clear about what fits my foot so that I could say things like ' How many stitches in the arch expansion? That's ridiculous, I only need 20.' or when faced with two pages of calculations to find the number of stitches to add to the 'arch wings' I could be bold and say 'Feh! I'll put in 3 each side.' You'll be pleased to know that the sock fits very well!
The last task is to learn the 'Sewn Bind Off' and then sock number one will be finished. I'm glad I made a note every time I winged it or sock two would be a sorry affair.

Being at home meant that I could do a little more wheel spinning. About a year ago I spun the yarn for my first ever hand spun socks in Crown Mountain Farm merino roving in their 'Wild Thing' colourway. I was very proud of them but knew that they were quite unevenly spun, the majority being so over spun that I don't think they will wear out - ever! I thought it was a good time, what with having a new wheel (Did I tell you I have a new wheel?) to see if I could assess my improvement as a spinner by using their roving for another pair of socks. I chose 'And the Beat Goes On.' and so far it is looking like this:

The roving comes in very generous 8oz hanks so I am only spinning up about two thirds of it which should be more than enough for a respectably long pair of socks. So far so good...

I've also been using the last skein of yarn that I spun up to add to my Flutter scarf. As you can see, the first side is done, complete with 'flutter'.

I now have to 'unzip' the crochet provisional cast on and knit on another side to match the first. I have always struggled with crochet cast ons, invariably picking the waste yarn from the loops stitch by laborious stitch. I tried the Lucy Neatby method this time and an quietly confident.

Do you think I will finally get it right? Stay tuned for the next update...

Despite having my wheel at hand, I am still drawn to spindle spinning, especially for finer, more delicate work. I also wanted to show you the latest addition to my spindle flock, a 20g Bosworth mini in Bloodwood from P & M Fibrecrafts. I wanted to be able to ply directly from both bobbins using the 'Under two Flowerpots' method which should be fun.

In case you were concerned that with all this flitting from project to project nothing is being finished I give you my Socks that Rock socks. I'm very pleased with them as the yarn didn't misbehave too badly. I also did an offset slip stitch on the heel which it shows up to good effect.
Finally, I am very excited to report that I won the Intermediate Sprint on the Tour de France KAL for my Le Germolene shawl. I felt a twinge of guilt as I had made very poor progress on it through the 'difficult second week', adding about three hard won rows to my total, bringing it up to 73. There's nothing like a bit of success as a motivator and now I am on target to break through the 100 rows barrier tonight.

I may even shave my legs. Does chocolate count as a performance enhancing drug?

Friday, 18 July 2008

I lost my heart to a Romney shearling

After managing to prepare my 'Mule' fleece without too many mishaps I plucked up the courage to work on the half a Romney shearling fleece that I bought from HGVPilot on Ravelry. Although the Romney as an adult fleece is considered to be suitable for carpets, upholstery and outer garments at best, this fleece, coming as it does from a youngster who has never been shorn before, felt a great deal softer than the mule so I treated it very gently and it more than repaid my efforts.

Look at this - it looks like a weird underwater coral formation with the lanolin removed from all but the tips of the locks. Having read other people's comments about preparing the fleece I didn't want to use carders on it.

I pulled away a few locks, just to examine them, fascinated by the effect of the crimp, started to tease apart the tips and fluff them out a bit.
Then I got out my lightest Bosworth spindle, a 19 gram zebra wood and started to play with it. I was stunned at how easily and finely it spun straight from the lock into this beautifully silky single. It was quite addictive and I admit to sitting up into the wee small hours one night this week just because I was so transfixed with this stuff. It really was another one of those 'eureka' moments when a set of new skills and materials come together just perfectly.

Here is the spindle sitting next to the spindle of mule fibre to give you an idea of the contrast between the two.

I am planning to spin up another spindle of this fibre then ply them together. It is wonderful to just sit and pull locks from the bag, enjoying the tactile pleasure and getting an even more immediate sense of transforming fleece into yarn. I think I would like this to be a two ply yarn which I think I will leave in its original colour as it is such a clear, creamy white and make a little winter shoulder shawl.

This makes me quite unreasonably happy!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Knitter launches second career as weather forecaster

When I designed these socks for Natalie at the Yarn Yard I mentioned that the idea came from the unpredictability of the British summer. These socks needed to be in fun, summery colours for slipping on the feet when the weather was less than tropical.

Oh how right I was.I don't know about your part of the country but where I live we have hardly had more than a couple of sunny hours together before a cloud comes over, the wind gets up and it starts to rain. Steamy and sweaty one minute, brrrr the next!

Natalie has now recovered from her post Woolfest exhaustion, has had a lovely little break and is now back at her dyepot. To complement her array of yarns she is offering this pattern free to anyone who would like to ask her for it. Just slide on over to her site and drop her a note.We'll also be linking it up on Ravelry.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Natalie firstly for dying all the beautiful yarns that I have used but also for being such a good and encouraging friend and for putting up with my occasional insecure moments as I launch my designs on an unsuspecting world!

I'll be particularly interested in seeing pictures of any socks that people make from this little 'recipe book' as there are so may opportunities for making the pattern your own. It would be good to see if anyone comes up with cuff patterns of their own that they would like to share with us. Go on, have a dabble with designing yourself!

You will also be relieved to know, I am sure that I am still working through my examples, making them mates. Here is the blue bargello complete with other half. Two more orphans to go then I'll have finished. That's if I don't have another idea for a colour combination and start all over again - I find them quite addictive.

I really like this pair. I understand that it is one of Natalie's most popular sock club pairings and I can see why. Enough contrast to make the design stand out but perfectly matched to sit beautifully together.

I do hope you enjoy a little summer pick 'n ' mix yourself.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Tipcats, Buzzers and a pain in the Coriolis

This weekend I spent on the Isle of Wight with my dad. Dad is in his eighties so I like to drop in on him every so often just to make sure everything is OK. He is fiercely independent so would never let on if he was struggling so I need to go and see for myself.

It's also a wonderful opportunity to get some uninterrupted knitting and spinning time. As it's a flying visit I only really need a change of underwear and a toothbrush at least four knitting and spinning projects...

For the train journey and ferry I need something portable and fairly mindless so I chose some Socks that Rock lightweight merino in one of last year's Rockin' Sock Club shades for some plain, ordinary socks.

I am in two minds about Socks that Rock. On the one hand (or foot) they use a lovely base yarn which is springy and plump and a joy to knit with.They also use colours that look fabulous in the skein. On the other hand they are ruinously expensive ( I didn't rejoin the sock club after last year) and are quite well known for some rather spectacular pooling and flashing. I think I was quite lucky with these socks.They sorted the colours out into fairly organised stripes with only a bit of a shuffle around the instep. I'm very pleased with them and they have the sort of feel in the hand that makes you want to gallop on with them.

I also attempted a little drop spindling on the train as I had plenty of room and not too many fellow passengers to annoy. It went pretty well. Over the weekend I knocked out another mini skein of pink yarn but it looked almost identical to the last one so I won't bore you with that...

Here is one of my favourite knitting spots in dad's garden. We sat out there for ages watching the potatoes and courgettes grow and speculating about the contents of the neighbour's washing line.

Most of the time I'm with dad we sit and chat or do quiz crosswords or watch the television so Le Germolene shawl was a good accompaniment to that, still requiring occasional visits to the stitch dictionary for patterns not yet entirely memorised but simple enough to be able to hold a conversation at the same time. To be honest, the most that is required of me is to listen. Dad was in good reminiscing mode and was telling me stories about his childhood in the north east of England and his adolescence in the south.

Evidently tipcats are a sort of wooden thingummy that you put on the ground, hit with a stick to make them jump up then hit them like a rounders ball and run like in cricket. Or something like that. Buzzers on the other hand are simply wads of newspaper wedged into the bottom of an unsuspecting neighbour's drainpipe and set fire too. Apparently they make a most satisfactory whooshing noise as the oxygen is sucked down the pipe like a chimney, bringing the enraged householder to the door with cries of 'I know your dad', at the backs of a gang of little boys running away in their short trousers and boots. Young people today...

Despite all this excitement I did manage to add a few more rows to the shawl bringing my total to 74 rows. I fear I am making a bit of heavy weather of this shawl - at this rate I'll be still doing it next time the Tour comes round. More like Windy Miller on his tricycle than a sleek and fit member of Team Credit Agricole. Wait for me - I'm coming...

Finally, I brought a project for when dad was 'resting his eyes' or pottering about in the garden. Something that requires a bit of concentration. I was planning to tackle Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters. Now I was terribly excited when this book came out as being both a keen sock knitter and a geek it seemed like my dream book. However, every time I opened it, usually after a challenging day at work I would read a couple of pages and be overcome with the need to take a powder and lie down. I really found the book difficult to follow.

Today, however,I refused to be beaten. I was going to make the Coriolis socks. One of the first things that I struggled with in this book was navigating my way round it. To make this one standard architecture I calculated that I needed to regularly visit eight different sections of the book so be warned, come at this book armed with plenty of bookmarks, don't be forced to tear up a leaflet for a Paul Weller concert like me.

After visiting four sections I had achieved this:

I was ready to give up already but dad was still 'breathing deeply' so I pressed on and eventually this emerged. A whirlpool toe. I think it's really pretty. It may have been worth the effort...

The whole concept of the book can be summed up in one sentence. 'You can put the arch expansion stitches anywhere you like.' With the Coriolis they are added in a swirl that sweeps across the arch of the foot. It's very pretty and very simple to do. I have finished it.

I will let you know how I get on with the heel turn and flap - I may be some time. I think I amgoing to learn to love this book as it is larded with ideas and options for changing the construction of socks but I find the layout confusing and the concepts, which are in essence very simple, overdescribed to the point of incomprehensibility. Perhaps when the second printing comes out they will remove every other word and it will become a work of genius. It is, however, despite these shortcomings, an absolute goldmine for sock knitting tips and tricks and does invite the reader to start thinking and experimenting for themselves.I've already got an idea I want to try out...

The yarn,by the way is Shelridge Farm Soft Touch Ultra Heathered in Opal. I've had it for ages but I can't think why as it's lovely. It's the sort of yarn that makes you think of toasting your feet in front of a log fire in a little cottage miles from nowhere, practical but pretty.

So, that was my weekend. Dad is on fine form, I did lots of knitting and spinning. Life is good.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Off White Album

Today's post will consist of a series of beige blobs, each representing a significant landmark in my education as a fibre artist (honest).

You may remember that I bought a fleece at Woolfest. I asked the very helpful women at the Woolclip to advise me and help me choose a good beginner's fleece. They came up with this 'mule', a cross breed of a Blue Faced Leicester Ram with a Swaledale ewe.
According to In Sheep's Clothing; a handspinner's guide to wool by Nola and Jane Fournier ' The fleece is semi lustrous with a fine, wavy crimp that gives good loft...The comparatively light, airy feel of this long wool fleece makes it a good choice for the production of hard wearing but warm knitted and woven outerwear.' In other words, merino it ain't but it's robust enough to stand up to the heavy paws of the novice fleece processor!
And here it is, in all it's unwashed glory. When they rolled it out on the table, and rolled,and rolled.... I could see that this was a clean, open fleece. when you plunge your hands into this they come out feeling all coated in lanolin but not in an unpleasant way. The corner of my hallway where the fleece is currently sitting, smells vaguely of sheep.But not in a bad way...
Having heard a whole range of opinions on how best to wash the fleece I took the softly softly approach and separated out some of the nicest, cleanest looking fleece, zipped it up in a lingerie bag and poured very hot water and washing up liquid all over it and left it to soak till the water cooled and repeated the process. I did it once more with clean hot water then hung it on the line to dry.

May joy be unconfined, it turned into this!
There are still some yellowy, lanolin filled patches but to my delight most of it has turned into this white, fluffy cloud.

Out came the hand carders that I bought at last year's Woolfest and hadn't yet used and after a few tangled moments managed to produce these rolags. Now, I'm not pretending that they in any way compare to the beautiful basketful that I saw the other week at Woolfest but I love them as only the person who made them can.

Then, out came my largest Bosworth spindle and soon we had yarn. The book was entirely correct. This wool has a very robust, woolly feel to it. I am spinning at what, when plied will probably be a good DK or Aran weight so maybe a hat for one of my least sensitive friends?
I find it very difficult to express the intense pleasure I have in looking at this little scrap of spun yarn. I am quite overwhelmed that I made it from the rawest of raw materials, straight off a sheep's back!
Working with this fleece has given me the courage to tackle my Romney shearling fleece. I have some drying as we speak so I'll tell you how I get on with it shortly.
As this is an entirely spinning related entry I thought I would share with you my continued progress with my spindle spun Flutter scarf. Here is another small skein of merino tencel, spun and navajo plied on spindles ready to be knitted up into the scarf. I've now used up the skein in the photo and am half way through the increase rows to create the fluted edge of the first half. I should finish that part with the next mini skein so I will show you how it's shaping up them. Right now I thought you might like a bit of colour before this blog started to look like studies of clouds by J M Turner.

Finally, I have another 'first' to share. Here is the first yarn spun on my new Little Gem. 100g merino bamboo roving by Bonkers Fibres in the colourway 'Pavoreal'. I think it the best bit of spinning I have ever done and am also pleased that the fibre and colours come together to form such a 'grown up' skein of yarn. There are about 400m of a light fingering/ sock weight yarn which is a bit too drapey to use for socks so I will probably make a shawl or wrap out of it.
I have another couple of skeins of this roving so I could do quite a large project if I wanted.
Any suggestions?

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

By George, I think she's got it! (TdeF content)

Well, perseverance has it's reward - I have finally produced a scrap of lace worth looking at. This is half the width of the shawl with 38 rows completed. There are four stitch patterns plus some dividing stitches with one pattern repeating over two rows with pattern stitches back and front (yes, genuine lace!), one pattern repeating over four rows and two over twenty which makes it easy to keep track of things.

Here is a slightly closer view, minus the festoon of stitch markers and T pins.

The ideas behind the stitch patterns are,from left to right, tyre tracks for the sprinters, a winding path representing the mountain stages for les Maillots aux Pois Rouges, more tyre tracks then some diamond shapes to represent the Peleton. Finally, the lines of stacked eyelets represent the rows of riders in the Grand Depart. The patterns are mirrored on the other side of the stole.

Now it's just a question of how much stamina I have to complete as much as possible before the end of the tour. Anyone seen my helmet?

Monday, 7 July 2008

Bread and butter... and possibly cake

With all the distractions and excitements of the last couple of weeks it's very peaceful to slink quietly into my comfort zone and knit away on a pair of socks. While I was at Woolfest I really was too busy running around, chatting and shopping to do much knitting and since I've been back I've been distracted by my new wheel, and fleece and lace knitting...

However, thanks to my friends at London Transport there has been some sock knitting! The green and pink little arrows socks are finished. I used one of last year's Yarn Yard club yarn sets for this to show how different the stitch looks by using yarns with very little contrast compared with the in your face pink and orange versions! They also got a different toe treatment.

The Blue Bargello Socks are also made from a last year's Yarn Yard Sock Club set and again show how different the design looks in a low contrast set of yarns. I also gave them different heels and toes.

The Summer Pick 'n' Mix is now with Natalie so everyone who signed up for it at Woolfest should be getting it e-mailed to them as a .pdf file very soon.I do hope that you enjoy knitting them.

You won't be surprised either that I wasn't able to come away from the Yarn Yard stall without a little bit of sock yarn. The top skein is a merino tencel in a lovely almost semi solid of dark and lighter brownish pinks. Next we have three mini skeins which I can use for future colour work projects. I'm a bit short of Yarn Yard neutrals because I think Natalie's real passion is for vibrant colour - like the skein at the bottom. The photo doesn't really do it justice as it's a sort of orange over yellow to give a sort of shimmery, shot silk effect. I definitely think we should have more yarn done this way (hint, hint, Natalie!) I'm sure it will be particularly good for showing off texture in a lace or twisted stitch pattern.
I wasn't entirely monogamous in my sock yarn buying, however. How could I resist these beautiful semi solid Blue Faced Leicester and nylon skeins at a bargain price of £24 for the three from Knitwitches?
I was also seduced by these books from Felicity J Warne who has an amazing collection textile and costume books.
The first is about spinning for sock knitting. Nothing like combining my two passions. The second is a fascinating history of socks and stockings which Laura and I fell on with great enthusiasm, reading chunks of it at each other and waving around ever more bizarre examples of extravagant ancient stockings. Made my socks look positively pedestrian.

Speaking of my socks, I'm very pleased to be able to tell you that I am going to be teaching sock knitting again in various places around London this summer and autumn.

You can book up for a Quick and Dirty Summertime Special introduction to sock knitting or a Midsummer Masterclass hosted by the charming Alice of Socktopus. Details are here. Alice promises us cake. Incidentally, she is also hosting spinning and toe up sock knitting classes by the multi talented Diane Mullholland too so book up quickly before places are all gone.

I will also be teaching at Iknit and Loop soon so keep an eye on their websites for more details. It would be lovely to see you.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The Tour De France Knitalong is off ... ou est Le Germolene?

Yes, it's that time of year again. The Tour De France got underway yesterday which signals the beginning of the Tour De France Knitalong. Why is it that you always imagine that you have more time to prepare than you actually do then the day dawns and you are squeezing yourself into your metaphorical Lycra cycling shorts and studying the map only minutes before Le Grand Depart?

I have been planning my entry for some time. When Team Credit Agricole were discussing our entries I mentioned that I wanted to try proper lace knitting but was sure I was going to be falling off my imaginary bike rather often and asked for good remedies for gravel rash. Someone suggested Germolene so I decided that my project would be called Le Germolene. Now I remember that Germolene is a rather revolting shade of pink and was certainly not intending to spend hours sweating over something that would end up looking like a giant tongue. However, someone reminded me that Germolene comes in rather elegant little blue and cream tins.

I discussed my ideas with Natalie from the Yarn Yard and look what she came up with, a lovely semi solid lace weight yarn with subtle shades of blue and cream.

Luckily the yarn arrived on Saturday morning so I was able to wind half of it into a ball ready for the off. Half of it, mind you, is still 1000m so I felt like I'd had a jolly good cycle before I even picked up a needle.

In another fit of bravura I decided that not only was I going to have my first go with very fine lace weight knitting, I was going to design my own pattern. Whilst I had some vague ideas in my head I hadn't actually sat down and planned anything out. I hastily grabbed a couple of my favourite source books for lace patterns.

The shawl is going to be rectangular with motifs representing the King of the Mountains, the Time Trial, the Peleton and Le Grand Depart, surrounded by a knitted on border of celebratory bunting. I've chosen my stitch patterns, drafted out the design and cast on. Swatches, in this circumstance, I thought, are for wimps. Oh Dear. Just wait for me to fall off really badly.

I cast on just over a hundred stitches and worked a couple of rows. How could anyone possibly enjoy knitting with this stuff? I was hanging on to it so tight I was exhausted... I almost gave up then and there but in the spirit of the King of the Mountains I pressed on and have produced... a whole inch of crumpled fabric, lousy with stitch markers. Not much sign of creative symbolism there...

I've already hopped off a couple of times to mend a couple of punctures as I couldn't bear to get off the bike and start again. Surely things can only get better....

Thursday, 3 July 2008

The extent of my spinning obsession

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that despite my dithering, it was very likely that a new spinning wheel would come home with me from Woolfest. My first wheel, the Ashford Traditional has been an absolutely fabulous wheel to learn on. Big, simple, straightforward, and surprisingly flexible. However, it does have its limitations, particularly in portability and in the size of its bobbins. Having enjoyed the Woolfest Spin In on Saturday I would really like to be able to use my wheel in the company of other spinners and learn more from them.

So when I sat down and tried wheels on Sunday morning it was only a matter of time. This wheel is very different to my current wheel.

It has a small, solid wheel with elastic drive bands.

It has a rolling double treadle.

And is very small and portable but has huge bobbins, a delta orifice which is much easier to thread and a sliding yarn hook rather than the rows of cup hooks on the Ashford.

May I introduce my Majacraft Little Gem.

Of course, the moment I got home on Sunday night I had the wheel set up and was spinning away. It really is a joy to work with, so smooth and comfortable. Here is my first bobbin full.

I bought the roving at Woolfest.It is from Bonkers Fibers and is 40% bamboo, 60% merino in a colourway called Peverel. I have spun about three quarters of the skein and am managing to spin an even and fairly fine single. I am looking forward to seeing how it looks when I ply it. Natalie spindle spun and Andean plied a small sample of it on Saturday night and it had a wonderful drape so I am hoping for good things!

Here is the roving before I started working with it. It's a very distinctive colour way with blacks and greys and flashes of vibrant green.

There was so much beautiful fibre on sale that resistance was futile.
This fibre is a merino tencel blend, also from Bonkers called Obscure Rainbow.

This fibre is a Blue Faced Leicester and silk blend from Fyberspates.

These batts from Yarn Yard were irresistible. I've never spun from a batt before so it will be a fun new experience.

This one is in a chocolate and orange blend.

And look at this pink and yellow confection. Batt- enberg?

This was a wonderful end of the day bargain from P & M Woolcrafts. 400g of merino silk for £10. I bought some of this fibre last year and have already spun it up. This means that I may be able to make something substantial with it.

After all that glorious fibre I just had to show you these. Yarn Yard eggs - courtesy of Stourie and Smudge. Thanks to the cushioning effect of all this fibre they got back to London unscathed.

That's all for now. I have more to show you, particularly the whole fleece that came home with me but parts of it are in various stages of cleaning and processing so I'll let you have a look at what I'm doing with that next.

Assuming, of course, that I don't reduce it to a felted mess...