Thursday, 30 May 2013

Old yarn, new tricks

I've been spending some time checking over the stash recently. I don't know about you, but sometimes I will get a skein of yarn that is so pretty I am almost afraid to use it. Such has been the case with this skein of Yarn Yard Aurora, a merino and silk lace weight in a lovely subtle shade which Natalie called Corn Dolly. However, being in need of a travel project with plenty of plain stocking stitch, I remembered a really pretty stole that Rachel over at My Life in Knitwear made some time ago and decided that this skein would be just right so I wound it. All 1200 metres of it. The pattern is the Float Stole from Interweave Knits in Spring 2009. I don't have quite enough yarn so am working on a slightly reduced version.

I haven't done a lot of knitting in yarn as fine as this so it seemed like a good way to practise before maybe attempting something a little more complex in the future. However, despite appearing deceptively simple, even casting on 355 stitches and working a few rows of garter stitch in yarn this fine can take some getting used to.

You also have to get used to working away for what seems like hours and hours only to produce a rather unprepossessing crumpled heap.

However, this apparently simple stole has some hidden treasures. Its flowing lines show off the gentle variegation of the yarn perfectly. It also includes pleating, a little feature that I have never tried before where you insert a lifeline,knit ten rows of stocking stitch and then pickup and knit the stitches from the lifeline together with the next row to form an elegant little pleat. Together with rows of eyelet holes this pattern really plays around with the translucency and opacity of a fine lace yarn.

Whilst this project may well take me some time as I have lots of exciting things to do over the next few weeks at least, I am really looking forward to the moment that I take it off the needles and block it and really see the pattern properly.

Lace knitting is certainly an exercise in delayed gratification....

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Airing the stash

 Much as I appreciate the subtle charms of the colour grey, now that the sun has finally decided to show its face, all of a sudden I am greedy for colour. Some people will tell you very firmly that there are some colours that they love and others which they actively dislike. I have to admit that I am happy in most cornerss of the spectrum. There may be particular shades that I struggle to love, which might have less than pleasant associations, like school uniform bottle green or surgical appliance beige for example but in general I embrace them all.

Not being one to 'waste all that lovely sunshine' as my mum used to put it I thought I would take the opportunity to air my fibre stash and show you a little of what I mean about my love of all colours.

 I decided to air the stash for several reasons. Firstly, to get an idea of exactly what was there. Secondly to give it a good going over to ensure it hadn't fallen prey to the wee wool chewing beasties whose name we will not mention. Tidying my kitchen cupboards during the week had revealed that I had rather overdone it regarding the purchase of freezer bags so i thought I would put the glut to good use.

Over the course of the afternoon I aired, checked, plaited and re plaited, bagged and sealed just over 5kg of hand dyed fibre. It was a really worthwhile thing to do as not only did I reassure myself that there were no signs of wee beasties, by closely handling the fibre I discovered things about it that I might have overlooked, subtle gradations of colour, clever colour placement and the spaces in between.

Taking care of what are effectively the tools of my trade is important to me, not only as someone who is trying to live within a modest income but also as someone who cares about the environment. I don't want to be in a position that I have to throw away fibre because I wasn't careful enough to protect it properly. It was quite sobering to realise how much I have accumulated. You know what it's like, you buy a pretty braid here, a pretty braid there and before you know where you are you have enough to keep you spinning for a couple of years without adding to it at all. I have to remember this next time I go to a fibre festival. Please remind me if you see me hovering over fibre at Woolfest or Fibre East!

I am also developing some ideas for spin to knit projects so watch this space and see this fibre appear again in some new and interesting guises.
And just to prove that I have been spinning recently I thought I would show you my latest project. This pretty skein of Corriedale by Spindlefrog has short colour repeats as well as white space in between. 

I wanted to make sure that the colours stayed reasonably unblended as there was a danger of  the finished yarn becoming a little too murky with such a range of shades in the braid. I decided to enhance the space in between and maximise the size of the individual colour repeats by not splitting the braid down and predrafting the single.

 I then decided to ply it against some cream and beige natural Corridale roving from Black Hills in New Zealand and ended up with 200g of  DK weight yarn. As you can see it's also a way of making a little bit of relatively expensive hand dyed fibre go that little bit further.

Now I need to come up with a project that will show the variegation off to its best advantage - any suggestions?

Friday, 24 May 2013

For the love of grey

As a knitter I am always nervous about knitting larger garments. I have drawers full of socks, mitts and shawls but tend to shy away from committing myself to a cardigan or jumper. The main reason is the worry that after all the work involved, the garment won't fit or suit me. Top down construction and gaining an understanding of what shapes suit me have helped, as well as finding a pattern which is interesting enough to keep working on.

Last year I noticed the Vitamin D cardigan pattern on lots of people of various shapes and sizes as I went round the shows and festivals so thought I would have a go. I dipped into my precious stash of Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool and knitted one in a vibrant lime green. I have to say that this cardigan is probably the most successful that I have ever knitted. I love wearing it and adore its vibrant colour that doesn't necessarily go with everything but it is still the first garment I pick up if there's a nip in the air.

In fact I love it so much I thought I would make another one in a slightly less in your face colour, this time a gentle blue grey, once again my favourite cardigan yarn, the good old EL Silky Wool. It has the perfect drape and texture to make it just as wearable on a cool summer evening as through the autumn and winter. It's a little heavier than the yarn specified in the pattern so I adjusted needle size and size knitted.

I like simple shapes and the elegance of stocking stitch but it can be a bit of a slog in quantity. The joy of this pattern is that there are a couple of ingenious wedges of short row shaping which put a lovely curve on the bottom edge but also prevent long row tedium setting in. I'm sure this cardigan will also become a wardrobe favourite. I do have a nice cone of orange Silky Wool too...

Despite my preference for bright, vibrant colours Id o have a soft spot for the gentle subtlety of grey. This bowl is one of my favourite pieces. It's from a set of Poole Pottery that I inherited from my mum and dad. I love the neutral dove grey outside which conceals the robin's egg blue inside.

 A brief browse through my stash reveals a clutch of beautiful skeins of grey yarn waiting to be used.
They are, from left to right, Sparkleduck BFL/Nylon sock yarn, Nickerjac 100% BFL 4ply, Highfield Textiles Shetland DK with The Yarn Yard Toddy in the centre. I'm resisting the urge to have a casting on frenzy.

The Nickerjac skein has a small addition - a lovely hand made matching shawl pin. I am so lucky to know such multi talented people.

Finally, I have to mention my friend Lyn's blog, Shades of Grey, which I am sure has been partly responsible for reminding me how beautiful and sophisticated this shade can be.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Home cooking

I thought I'd take a brief detour from the knitting today to show you another of the precious heirlooms that have now come to me. All stationery in our house seemed to have 'HMSO' or 'government property' stamped on it - clearly 'liberated' from the office stationery cupboard by my dad, a lifelong NHS worker. These three volumes belonged to my mum. 

Whilst we always had everything we needed I know that mum did struggle to make ends meet and was always on the look out for cheap and tasty ways to vary the family diet. Every morning at 11.00am she would get out pen and paper and wait for the recipe slot on the Jimmy Young show on Radio 2 which she would note down in Pitmanscript Shorthand, a skill she learned in her days as a secretary. She would then write them down in longhand in one of these books.

 I am very grateful that she didn't attempt to try all the recipes she wrote down.

Although I think I might try one or two of them myself.

 Sometimes, if one of the dishes we made in school cookery classes turned out particularly well she would allow my sister and me to copy it into her book.

Many of the recipes became family staples.This Westmorland chutney was the perfect way to deal with the annual glut of plums and courgettes.

After mum died, dad took over the books -he may have disagreed slightly on questions of alphabetical order.

As interesting as the books are, sometimes its the things that drop out of them that can be the most revealing. Here mum calculated the difference in price of the Christmas cake in 1980 compared to 1979, showing how she really did need to watch every penny.

I also found a sheet of paper where she had written out the lyrics of a song that she loved. She wasn't much older than I am now when she died and it's lovely to think that, inside these pages, filled with practical stuff about looking after her family, a trace of the thoughts and dreams that crossed her mind as she worked still remain.

To me these heirlooms are priceless.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

slow, slow, quick, quick...

Sometimes a project takes a while to come to fruition. Last year I bought a beautiful braid of bluefaced Leicester and mohair fibre from Picperfic Marianne. I had only spun with mohair once before when I was a fairly inexperienced spinner and quite frankly made a total hash of it. I was hoping that by blending it with my favourite bluefaced Leicester it might be a little kinder to me this time.

 I split the fibre down the middle and spun about 350 metres of fingering weight two ply yarn. As you can see, the resulting yarn was in fact rather lovely with the sheen of the BFL and the fuzziness of the mohair. Whilst I spun it up quite soon after I bought it, this skein sat in my basket of hand spun yarn for rather a long time. I just couldn't decide what I was going to do with it.

A few weeks ago I went out for lunch with a group of fellow knitters. I am only too aware that once I get chatting, there is no point in me taking anything but the simplest of projects along with me. Of course, all the work in progress that I had on hand were either too large to be portable, design prototypes or too complicated for public knitting. Time was running short so I grabbed the nearest skein (this one), wound it and flicked through my pile of patterns for something simple. The centre section of Ishbel seemed ideal.

I have knit the pattern before so I knew that it should showcase the variegation in the yarn well.

I started knitting on the bus and by the time I had got home I had pretty much finished the stocking stitch section. There is something really satisfying in knitting your own hand spun yarn plus the added interest of seeing how the colour changes will work out.

Two evenings more work and I realised that there was no way that I was going to have enough yarn to complete the edging of the shawl but I cast off anyway. There was enough wiggle in the edge for me to be able to block it reasonably successfully.

Now I have a lovely light, slightly fuzzy shoulder shawl. After all my procrastination and fiddling about it went from pet skein to finished project in the course of three days. Sometimes decisions made on the fly work better than long cogitation....

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Wonderful Wales

Yes, I've been on my travels again- this time to Wales. First stop was Wonderwool Wales. This show has been going for some years now but despite having family in Wales circumstances have always seemed to conspire against me attending.
This year, however my very well organised friend Laura made all the arrangements and all I had to do was hop in the car and we were off!
The weather was brisk and springlike and the venue was airy and spacious which meant it was really lovely to potter around. Plenty of space between stalls, lots of places to sit and drink coffee, chat enthusiastically to complete strangers and friends a like as well as to guiltily gloat over skeins of yarn that might have followed me home...
There were also plenty of  'when I have the space and the money' spinning wheels to sigh over.

 Rows of woven surfboards to admire and wonder at.

Tempting displays of yarn.

One of my personal favourites, Jillybeans Yarn where when I asked to take a picture everybody scattered. I can assure you the stall wasn't often this empty!

Sometimes the array of colours was quite overwhelming.

Overall I was really impressed by Wonderwool Wales. There was a good mix of well known sellers and more local craftspeople. As I think about the sort of work that I want to do, I am increasingly drawn to wanting to design with yarns that are locally produced from interesting and different wools. I'm pleased to see that quite a few indie spinners and dyers feel the same way as there was plenty here that met these criteria so I am going to be busy for quite some time!

Having come all the way to Wales it seemed silly just to turn around and go home so we took an extra couple of days to do some exploring and meet up with my lovely sister!

We based ourselves in Lampeter in a frankly rather grim hotel only relieved by the hard work of it's long suffering young staff team. Lampeter is not a large town but well worth a visit for crafty types. There is a very well stocked quilting shop as well as the Welsh Quilting Museum. The highlight for me, however is a very newly opened yarn shop, The Red Apple, which has taken over the old Post Office. Even though it has only been open six weeks, the knowledgeable mother and daughter team have a really well chosen range of stock from the big box brands to local independent producers. I wish them every success because they deserve it.

We also visited the National Wool Museum near Newcastle Emlyn which is based in a former woollen mill whose equipment is still in working order and continues to produce the distinctive Welsh cloth.

They also have displays of equipment used before the advent of the mill.

And plenty of  opportunity to try new skills. My sister, a very talented felter seems particularly pleased with her progress on the giant knitting needles.

Even the weather was kind to us.

I will definitely be coming back to Wonderwool Wales and am sure that many of the yarns that I brought home with me will be featured here very soon.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

From earth and sky to sea and shore

This being a knitting blog I thought maybe you would like to see what I have been knitting recently so here is something that came off the needles in the last couple of weeks, my version of Romi Hill's Coyote Trail shawl.
I have been a great admirer of Romi's work for some time now. For me, she always manages to strike the right balance between creating a design that it interesting to knit but that has enough simplicity that the overall finished shawl works as a whole. This design comes from her latest collection, Home is Where the Heart Is, inspired by her new home in the Nevada Desert. Now the desert is just about as far as you can get from my background so I thought that I would take the inspiration for my colour combination from the sea and shore rather than from the desert and sky.

The yarn I chose is one of my current favourites, Tough Sock by the Uncommon Thread in Orion (blue) and Twig (brown). The base is Blue Faced Leicester which as a spinner and a knitter I have come to love better than the more ubiquitous merino. It has a sheen and lustre compared to the flatter, chalkier consistency of merino without losing any of the next to the skin softness we have become used to with merino.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the direction I want to take with my knitting and spinning and am being drawn more and more to supporting independent, local dyers and spinners who choose to work with materials that they can source more locally. When many of us are thinking seriously about the distance our food travels in terms of food miles, perhaps we prolific knitters need to be more aware of 'yarn miles' too.

Thankfully, through the wonders of the internet, one thing I don't have to worry about is 'Pattern Miles'. It is wonderful that knitters and designers from all over the world can come together and share inspiration. For me this yarn and pattern work beautifully together. Through some very creative use of short rows, Romi has been able to create and asymmetric shawl which gives the impression of rambling, meandering shapes without losing the overall balance of the piece and not losing sight of it needling to be a practical, wearable piece.

The texture change where one element meets another ensures that this large piece stays interesting to the end. All in all I really enjoyed the whole process of this project from choosing the yarn to blocking and wearing.

I can't wait to see what Romi comes up with next and adapting it to my very different home environment.