Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Finally - the one about the Wool Museum

Today, after going on about it for some time I am going to tell you about the visit my sister and I made to the National Wool Museum of Wales at the beginning of December. We'd been promising ourselves a visit for some time, but it's quite a long drive and of 'minority interest' so we chose a day when it would be 'just us' while the children were at school.

The museum is housed in a former woollen spinning mill with most of the machinery still intact. It is a working museum with the exhibits arranged around the process although on the day that we visited the machines were quiet. In fact, the whole place had a tranquil hush about it with us being virtually the only visitors.

Despite its idyllic rural setting the museum is essentially about an industrial process with skilled workers spending long hours in noisy rooms for very low wages. It is important that we affluent textile artists by choice do not make the mistake of romanticising the weaving industry. We thought about our late Aunty Annie who started work in the cotton mills of Accrington in Lancashire at the age of 12 and was so small she had to stand on a box to reach the loom. By the time I knew her in her later years she had been made completely deaf by the sound of the machines but was an excellent lip reader - a skill that needed to be quickly acquired.

Here is one of the vessels used to wash the raw fleece.

And this is a boiler used to supply hot water for the process.

An enormous amount of craftsmanship was evident in the building of the machines for the woollen mill which is still in full working order.

And here are some examples of the sorts of traditional Welsh woollen cloth that this mill and many like it produced, some of which are still in action today.

Apart from the main exhibit which followed the industrial process through, the museum wove social history throughout the story they set out to tell. The role of hand spinning was not forgotten with a few examples of spinning equipment such as this great wheel on display. What I hadn't realised was that in the impoverished villages, spinning on the great wheel continued well beyond the invention of treadle versions because the great wheel was simple and affordable by a wider range of people. One poignant image that stuck in my mind was of an elderly lady standing barefoot outside her cottage at work at her great wheel.

The museum also put together some good interactive pieces of social history where they had collected memoirs from local people about the thriving bustle of the village while the mill was in operation compared to the few shops that remain to serve a far more dormitory settlement. Our attention was also caught by the window frame on which it had been a tradition to write the names of mill workers who got married while they were working there.

Whilst this museum was not specifically orientated towards hand knitting it was striking that a large amount of the folk art and photography of the archetypal Welsh woman would contain references to hand knitting. Again, women would knit not as a restful hobby at the end of the day but out of necessity, either for their families or as outworkers on piece work rates.

Here is an example of a rather romanticised image of an elderly Welsh lady knitting stockings at her doorstep.

And here is a rather fearsome array of Welsh knitters who don't look as if they indulge in the pastime for fun.

All in all Sue and I had a wonderful day at the museum. The exhibits are well presented and there is also an excellent cafe and shop (these things matter!). As we said when we got together this weekend it was one of those days we treasure away to revisit when we're feeling a bit low - two sisters having a day out together doing something at least one of us is passionate about.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Home for the Holidays

As every year, my little family has gathered on the Isle of Wight. As I write, the children are asleep in bed with stockings securely tied with my knitting yarn to the ends of their beds and the adults are snoozing in front of Christmas Carols on the television. All is well in our small world.

Today in between last minute present wrapping, cooking and visits from friends and relations we took a walk down to the river and my nephew and I captured a few images we'd like to share. It was a typical Christmas Eve, a little dull and chilly but all the ice and snow that had threatened to keep us apart had disappeared. Difficult and uncertain journeys were forgotten.

The river was quiet and calm with the silence broken by the calls of curlews and oyster catchers. We made out the exotic shape of an egret at too far a distance to capture on camera.

We took a last look at the crumbling remains of the Ryde Queen, a paddle steamer that used to run between Ryde and Portsmouth but in later years served as a nightclub where we did some of our growing up as teenagers. It's sad to see the state it is now in as it waits to be scrapped next year.

This time of year makes me reflect on how many journeys this ship has taken people on - too and from their loved ones, from youth to adulthood. So many hellos and goodbyes, memories happy and sad.

I hope you all have the opportunity to spend the holiday season with everyone you love and love you.

Sheep courtesy of Sheep Poo Paper. You didn't expect an entirely sheep free post did you?

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

If we were lobsters...

...we wouldn't have so many fingers and I wouldn't have procrastinated so heavily about finishing test knitting this lovely glove pattern by the very talented Littleberry. I have had it on the needles since February and sailed through the cuff and the stranded knitting. Then came the thought of all those fingers....

I was given a reprieve for the summer months but as the days grew cooler my conscience began to prick me so I picked up the first glove and started knitting fingers. I have to admit that it was a lot easier than I had anticipated although it still isn't one of my favourite knitting activities.

Despite the temptation to take new projects with me on a recent trip to Wales to be with my family I took only works in progress and distracted with family chitchat managed to finish the second glove in double quick time.

The yarn is one of my favourite standards, Jamieson's Spindrift in Pistachio and Blossom and took just over a 25g ball and a half of the green and half a ball of the pink so the project is very economical. The Shetland yarn blooms beautifully and always gives colour work that sense of cohesion that stranded fabric needs.

The finished gloves are a really good fit and may be pressed into service sooner rather than later as the temperatures in London plummet and my customary fingerless mitts need replacing with something offering more comprehensive coverage.

I hope Littleberry makes this pattern available soon as I can highly recommend it as simple ,straightforward and well written with only the absolute minimum number of fingers required ,assuming they are not a gift for a lobster.

The promised trip around the National Wool Museum of Wales is not forgotten - I just have a few photographs to take which require daylight - as I leave home in the dark and come home in the dark Monday to Friday, the weekends are the only times I can get photos done for the blog. I am so happy that the solstice is just around the corner and we can soon look forward to a few more minutes of daylight every day.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

I may never take this scarf off....

I know the last few posts have been a bit of a repetitive parade of finished projects but that is only because I have been really good and resisted the temptation to cast on new stuff.I'm not sure how long I can hold out however as while I am knitting away on a piece of work where the pattern is firmly embedded in my memory my mind can wander off and generate all kinds of wild and wonderful ideas.

Mind you, I am delighted to say that I have managed to finish the Lace Ribbons Scarf. This is a pattern by Veronik Avery from Knitty and has turned out to be the perfect showcase for this yarn which is Acero, a wool, silk and viscose fingering weight blend from Brooks Farm which I bought at the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival last year. I had originally intended to make a shawl which was made up of what seems like hundreds of little spirals all knit together but quite honestly, when it dawned on me how many ends that meant sewing in I fell at the first hurdle...

I have used two 100g skeins for this project and the scarf is a magnificent 3 metres long. Which is hard to photograph.

I knew that is was longer than I anticipated when I started blocking it on my bedroom floor, followed it across the landing and into the bathroom....

It has, however become a wardrobe staple as it is light enough to throw around my neck several times and also works perfectly with a long light brown boiled wool jacket that I wear a lot for work at this time of year.

I also think it looks equally good from the back

As well as the front.

Next time, by way of a change I will have news of my visit to the National Wool Museum of Wales, once voted the most boring museum in Britain. I of course, might have a slightly different view....

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Leaves are finally falling

Last time you saw this shawl must have been back in May when I was first planning some proper lace knitting with lace weight yarn. I chose 100g of cashmere lace weight from Knitwitch which gave me over 800 metres of entertainment.

So I knitted

and knitted but the ball of yarn never seemed to get any smaller.

Eventually I decided that the piece was big enough and I stopped. With 25g still to go. And there she lay for a few weeks until I decided to go on a blocking spree and the magic happened.

I find it very difficult to photograph large pieces successfully but I hope these images give you and idea of the floaty airy pinkness of this project.

It amazes me that there can be so much warmth and substance from 75g of yarn but at the same time it can be so insubstantial.

The mild variegation's in the yarn don't detract from the simple lace pattern which I found very easy to memorise and the yarn very pleasant to work with.

I think I may be ready for something a little more complicated next time.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

When Ishbel was very young

...she looked like this. 100g of grey blue faced Leicester and silk over dyed in blue, green, pink and jade but with plenty of the natural colour showing through. The fibre was dyed by the lovely Marianne in her Etsy shop Fluffenstuff.

you can see from the predrafted fibre how well the colours blend with each other.

and this is how the yarn turned out. Maybe a little unevenly spun in places but overall a reasonably bouncy yarn which averaged out at about a 4ply.

I wound the yarn and have to say that it sat on my desk for a long time while I decided what project it was best suited to. I wanted something which would show the subtle striping of the yarn but would also add a bit of movement to draw the eye from some of the lumpier bits of spinning.
Ishbel by Ysolda Teague presented herself as the perfect project with an expanse of stocking stitch which gives the yarn a chance to show its real character and a lacy edge to break the whole thing up.
I'm pleased with the result - I made the centre to the specifications for the larger size and the edging for the smaller as I was determined to use every last morsel of yarn. In fact, I ran it so close I had to hastily Andean ply myself a couple of metres from the leftover single on the bobbin so that I could finish the cast off - phew!

I really like the combination of the yarn and the pattern. It puts me in mind of the effect of one of those giant clam shells with the iridescent mother of peal inside and the fluted edges to the shell.

It's also just the right size to throw around the shoulders to keep the chills off or to fill that gap between your coat and jumper and has the unmistakable texture of hand spun.
Thank you Marianne and Ysolda - a lovely combination.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

A pair of Cranfords to call my own

With all of the excitement around P-hop's birthday celebrations I was drawn to thinking abut the Cranford Mitts that I donated to P-hop back at the beginning of the campaign. One of the reasons that I designed them was that I really wanted to wear a pair of warm but feminine fingerless gloves. As a public transport user in a pretty temperate part of the world, fingerless mitts are a perfect alternative for mitts and gloves as I don't have to keep pulling them on and off every time I search for a ticket or some change but they keep that important part of the hand warm and also stop those annoying draughts which whip around bus shelters and train stations from finding their way up a girl's sleeves.

The first pair that I made were a gift for my friend Natalie who was, at the time in need of a bit of a mid winter pick me up and the second pair went to my friend Mary's mum who, at 96 was finding that keeping her hands warm wasn't as easy as it used to be. It therefore dawned on me that despite them being designed as something I really wanted to wear, I didn't have a pair of Cranfords of my own.

One of the lovely things about having a stash of yarn on hand is that sometimes, on a night when the wind is howling and sleep is a bit hard to come by, I can lay in my bed and contentedly match yarn and projects. Sometimes, however, the match seems so perfect that I have to resist the urge to leap out of bed and start the project immediately. This was the case when I remembered that I had this yarn waiting in my stash.

I bought it at Woolfest this June and it really does tick all the boxes for a yarn nerd such as myself. The sea green yarn is a mixture of Corriedale and Black Welsh, over dyed with a lovely translucent colour which allows the shade of the original fibre to shine through and the natural is a blend of Corriedale and Manx Loughtan which gives it the warm beige colour. It is a fairly gentle two ply woollen spin, and although marketed as a 4ply, is a little heavier than something like a Jamieson's Spindrift. In texture the feeling is somewhere between a Shetland and a Merino, not kitten soft but far from rustic - perfect for mitten knitting! This line of yarns is so new that Blacker Design only had these prototype balls with them but very kindly allowed me to have them and posted them on to me after the festival.

The Cranfords knitted up very quickly and I am very pleased with the results - Cranfords of my very own.

And here's a closer look - I love the texture of the very natural yarn against the architectural qualities of the lace stitch.

The mitts used just under 50g of the main colour so there is plenty left to make the edgings on my next pair in a gorgeous soft lavender, this time in Corriedale with Hebridean over dyed.

Thinking about the yarns I bought at Woolfest last year has also reminded me of the very difficult time our hosts in Cockermouth are having at the moment in the aftermath of the terribly destructive floods of last week. I have already booked accommodation for next year as a way of showing support and I know many knitting groups are thinking about how they can help. A fund has been set up here by the Cumbria Foundation.
I'm off to knit more Cranfords...

Friday, 27 November 2009

P/hop Eddie Izzard competition

We take a break for normal programming to bring you some very exciting news. If you visit the P-Hop site here today, not only will you be able to read blogs from a whole lot of fabulous people and download a loads of lovely new patterns, there is a competition to pledge and win tickets to see Eddie Izzard live at the O2 next week.

Now I love Eddie almost as much as I love knitting so it breaks my heart to part with them but events have conspired against me and I need to be somewhere else. But my loss is your potential gain so please join the silent auction and give as generously as you can.

Good luck and say hi to Eddie for me....

Monday, 23 November 2009

Friday, 20 November 2009

Beautiful and Brainless

Believe it or not, I have been a good and dutiful knitter (for the most part). I have been through all my works in progress, bagged them up so that I don't lose essential elements and find an excuse for putting them down again and stored them all in a large work bag by the sofa. And a large work bag it is I might tell you. A work bag which is struggling to contain its overflowing contents....

Of course when you go diving around in your projects you find bits and pieces that remind you of events and people. Remember the IKnit Day at the Horticultural Halls back in the summer? I was lucky enough to attend a sock knitting course with Yarnissima aka Marjan Hammink and here is the little sock that I produced as coursework.

As a way of consolidating my learning I thought I would make pair of adult socks using one of her patterns and chose this rather attractive skein of Koigu.

The pattern I chose is called Brainless. It seemed like a good idea to me - how hard could it be after all? I have to say that on the first sock I struggled with the very exacting and unfamiliar instructions, right and left handed lifted increases, changing the placement of the work on the needles and the endless rows of ribbing knit through the back of the loop.

I have to say, however, that it fits beautifully and is, after all, a rather handsome sock. Apart from the fact that it appears that I am unable to estimate how much yarn needs to be saved at the end to do an inch of ribbing.

I am now half way up the foot on the second sock but almost as I cast on and read the first few lines of the pattern, the penny started to drop and I understood the flow of the pattern and the elegant attention to detail in the way that the toe shaping moves into the cable motifs at the side of the foot. I still struggled with rearranging the stitches on the needle but I am sure this is to do with my issue with left and right. I am sure that these socks will not languish for very long in my knitting basket as they have become a real pleasure to knit and I am certainly planning to knit more Yarnissima patterns in the future.
They are in fact both beautiful and Really Rather Clever.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Hold the front page - my first finished crochet project!

This is a short but rather momentous post. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present my first crochet project, not only complete but completed by following instructions in a real life book!

You may remember that while I was on my road trip in America, one of the things that my friend Laura had promised to do was to teach me to crochet properly by following a crochet pattern. Previously I could knock out the odd lumpy granny square but when I looked at a pattern my eyes just crossed so I really didn't feel as if I could call myself a crocheter.

When we were in Philadelphia we visited a beautiful yarn shop called Loop where I found this really accessible book and some lovely Blue Skies Organic Cotton to start with. It's true that lovely materials inspire us to greater effort so I was eager to get started. The helpful assistant wound my skeins for me, found me the right sized hook and I was ready to go!

Washcloths seemed to be a good start. You can never have too many, it doesn't matter if they are maybe a little misshapen and not all exactly the same size....
I found, as with many things, that a crochet pattern isn't as difficult to decipher as I thought it was going to be. Laura is a very good and patient teacher which helped considerably, and generously crocheted along with me using her own selection of colours which of course, came from exactly the opposite side of the spectrum as you would expect from two best friends who consider gentle bickering to be a satisfying part of their relationship!
Before long I was hooked (did you see what I did there?) and over the course of the next few weeks consolidated my learning with three matching washcloths. The dense, nubbly stitch makes a perfect washcloth texture when you use this ultra soft cotton.
In fact I like it so much I thought you might enjoy a closer look. I love the colour combination which reminds me of the rich shades you might see in an Indian spice market.

I wonder what my next crochet project might be....

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The eternal clapotis

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am an habitual knitter of Clapotis, probably one of the most virulent of viral knits on the internet. I make no apology for this. I knit fast and furiously on it, enjoying the process but also because I really wanted to wear it and knew exactly which outfit had a red Clapotis shaped hole in it!

So here is is, knit in just over seven balls of Noro Silk Garden with one extra repeat added for luck! The broad,random stripes in this yarn cross the bias knit shape of the Clapotis beautifully.

Although it does remind me ever so slightly of those magic eye puzzles which I am never able to fathom out!

Another reason to love this particular pattern is that it looks especially good unblocked or roughly dried and the back is as decorative as the front.

My favourite aspect of this pattern, however is the way that the ripples fold up on each other and flow around the neck - right side...

...or wrong side.

This is the perfect wrap for blustery autumn weather - I have already worn it a couple of times to great success. My knitting will always fulfil many functions. Sometimes I want to stretch myself and knit new, complicated things in new techniques and sometimes I knit simple things over and over again for comfort. This project is slightly different as this is a garment I wanted to wear so I got out wool and needles and made it - the product was the most important thing rather than the process.This is one of the things that I love about the place that knitting holds in my life - there is a project for every occasion, every mood or every hole in an autumn wardrobe!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Travellers Impressions: Souvenirs

You will know by now that I really don't like laying out great displays of booty from my travels. I am consciously trying to be more selective in the purchases that I make, walking that delicate balance between supporting fibre artists who are doing a wonderful job in the creation of materials for us to work with and the fact that I truly and honestly do not need any more wool and fibre.

Life is, as ever a compromise. As I may have said before, when you create things with you r own hands you really come to appreciate the craftsmanship of others. For some time I have erred towards small and delicate drop spindles so I thought it was time for some slightly heavier tools to expand my spinning options some more.

I am consistently drawn to Golding spindles for their workmanship, attention to detail, balance and beauty. I love the ebony, top left for its simplicity and balance. The mother of pearl I have to admit is a sheer indulgence - I just wanted something pretty....

Finally, a Lily spindle by Gilbert Gonsalves, maker of Robin Spinning Wheels which I haven't tried before. I will let you know how it handles.
As I tend not to give large inventories of purchased yarn I don't think this one will be familiar to you. I needed a project on larger needles to knit on the plane as I judged that British Airways could hardly object to a Denise Interchangeable. This yarn seemed appropriate - it is Brooks Farm Acero a sock weight yarn with a fibre composition of 60% wool, 20% silk and 20% viscose. I bought it at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last year so it was about time I got round to using it!

I decided to make the Lace Ribbon scarf from Knitty. Six feet later it may be becoming a little tedious but the colour and pattern work beautifully together and I'm really looking forward to the finished article. The silk and viscose give the whole thing a lovely sheen and drape. I'm using two 100g skeins of this yarn as it's a scarf that deserves to be long. It filled my two plane journeys beautifully without comment from crew or fellow passengers incidentally. I had to suppress a smile when I found my tiny Swiss Army Knife accidentally tucked down the back of my flight bag - two weeks after my trip...

Finally, I did make substantial progress on the Malabrigo mansocks. The colours just chimed in so perfectly with the autumn leaves as I travelled about it really was the only project to knit on.

It's now two weeks since I got back home with a head full of impressions and a bag full of dirty laundry. The laundry is now clean and I have to address myself to the enormous shifting pile of half knitted projects that are starting to weigh on my mind. I have loads of ideas and inspirations - just need to do some simple, head clearing finishing off knitting before I can get to it.
I'll let you know how long I hold out before casting on again!