Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cables and Colourwork, Or How I went to Edinburgh and Learned to Love the Swatch. . .

I know I seem to be babbling on and on about the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, but honestly, it was so darned inspiring.  I have a million creative ideas crashing up against each other in my brain and tons and tons of projects that I now want to do.  And in just three days, my knitting confidence went sky-high due to two incredibly talented and inspiring people.

On the Friday night, we'd gone to the book launch at Kathy's Knits of Lucy Hague's Celtic Cable Shawls. I had long been eyeing Taliesin on ravelry but while I've done basic cabling, I've never attempted anything like this. It looked way too hard for my skills.  But nothing ventured . . . I bought the book (which is gorgeous - I want to knit all of the shawls) and after the launch and a lovely dinner, I got into my jammies with the book, just intending to read the introduction and look at all the pretty pictures.

But a few pages in, Lucy suggests doing a swatch.  It was only about 25 rows and intended to teach you all the techniques you'd need to knit her shawls.  I couldn't resist and got out a pair of needles and the closest wool to hand.

That tiny swatch took me two hours! And involved several curse words.

But it was completely invaluable.  The first shawl I've cast on is Nine Maidens which is knit from the bottom up, so after a few set-up rows it plunges right into the cabling. Having done the swatch, with a little practice (and a whole lot of concentration - I recommend complete silence while doing the cabling bit), I was completely in the zone and really enjoyed seeing these cables build up.  I've been carrying that swatch around in my project bag as a lucky knitting talisman; I am really proud of having mastered some of these techinques, which are explained very well in the book; with a little practice, anyone can do them!

The other big inspiration of the weekend came from the colourwork workshop I took with Felicity Ford.

I was quite nervous about this because you had to bring an inspiration object and then through sketching it, find motifs and colours to transfer to your own fair isle pattern. Now I am completely rubbish at drawing.  This was my inspiration - Above Lake Superior,  by Canadian Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris, painted in 1922.

Felicity had brought a skein of nearly every colour in the Jamieson & Smith range, all set out on a large table.  Our first task was to pick just one colour from our inspiration - I chose that heathery purple of the mountain.  And then I just doodled away.

It's hard to explain precisely what clicked in my head, but having the restriction of only using two colours per line, and trying to find a motif that would happily divide into a factor of three or four, seemed to simplify things and I suddenly saw lots of different triangles and geometric shadows.  It was all very exciting.  We only had three hours, so I decided to focus on the stark yellow-white of the tree and that pattern on the right is what I came up with.

But I really wanted to represent the purple mountain too.  And that's when Felicity taught me about background shading (as she was gleefully piling more and more colours of yarn onto the table in front of me!)  My swatch is not finished but here's what I completed during the task.  The trick is to shade gradually, so the orange into the purple doesn't really work as it creates too great a contrast. Above the purple however are two closer shades that she picked out for me, and these merge really well. The whole point of the exercise is that you won't know until you swatch!

The workshop was so much fun and I really learned a lot.  Felicity's swatches (mistakes and all) are huge and could easily hang on the wall as art.   I have this arching ambition to create one long swatch representing the Coast to Coast walk that I did almost three years ago.  I've bought lots of mini-skeins of wool in tons of colours.  We'll see how it goes . . .

Friday, March 20, 2015

Edinburgh Yarn Fest Goodies. . .

I suppose the first thing to admit is that I totally blew my yarn budget.  But then you couldn't go all the way to Scotland and attend a really cool yarn festival and not buy wool ?  I had resolved not to buy any yarn this year over my yarn budget (determined by putting every £2 coin I get in my change into a sheepybank and emptying it out the night before a wool show - you'd be surprised how fast this builds up) and for most of the show I stuck to my coinage.  And if I'd only gone to the show, I'd probably have been fine.

But. . . .

Just around the corner from our hotel was a lovely yarn shop called Kathy's Knits.  I highly recommend it if you are visiting Edinburgh. Kathy is just wonderful - very knowledgeable with a great sense of humour and she stocks lots of lovely British and especially Scottish yarns. We went twice; first on Friday night for the book launch of Lucy Hague's Celtic Cable Shawls (we all cast on for one while in Scotland, with Scottish yarn), and then again on Sunday morning as she opened up especially for this weekend. And even though I really didn't need any more wool, how could I resist these heathery colours?  The skein on the left is New Lanark DK in a really deep rusty hue called Autumn.  I bought a sweater's worth; I think I may have found the perfect UK workhorse yarn to replace North America's Cascade 220.   The skein on the right is a saturated purply-red 2ply from Jamieson & Smith just perfect for colourwork.  Kathy's also sells adorable stitch markers recycled from old wellies - I got some bright yellow and orange ones. 

Then it was off to the yarn festival itself.  It was such a wonderful group of vendors; many of whom I had never seen at any other yarn show.  I could have gone really crazy, but limited myself to really unique skeins.  Take a look at these lovelies:

The gold and silver are 50-50 merino/silk from Old Maiden Aunt which was probably the most popular booth at the festival.  I'd been reading about her yarns for some time but the colours really need to be seen in person - just stunning.   The skein on the right is Riverside Studio 4ply and actually hails from Wakefield, Quebec. I bought it at La Maison Tricotee's booth and just love the colourway - Moroccan Spice.

Then there was The Border Tart.  She specializes in hand-dyeing with indigos.  I've not seen yarn like Blue Moon before - deep, deep blue with just a hint of white, similar to Japanese shibori fabrics. I had to buy two skeins of DK and am quite excited to find the perfect project for this.

And speaking of colourwork, how perfect are these J.C. Rennie 10g mini-balls, bought at Wee County Yarns?

Ooooh, and what's in that tote bag??

Yes, I succumbed and bought a foldable loom from Once a Sheep. I couldn't believe how light it was, and I can't wait to set it up and start weaving.  I'm hoping it will be a great stash-buster.

All very special purchases and they will all remind of the fabulous weekend spent in Edinburgh.  Can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sous Sous Big. . .

Well my second sweater of the year is done but I'm in two minds about the result.  It took over three months, but I have to say I really did enjoy the process of knitting it. The pattern is Sous Sous by Norah Gaughan, who is known for her interesting constructions and I absolutely loved the cables.  I also fell in love with the wool - West Yorkshire Spinners undyed Blue-Faced Leicester DK.  It's smooth, has great stitch definition, washes well and has a lovely, comforting sheepy smell. 

I really spent a long time making sure I got things right. At one point, I ripped back sixteen rows because I noticed a row in the moss stitch was all wrong.  At another, I made a mistake on the cable and that's the focal point so it really needed to be perfect.  There are a few errors in the lace portions, but I could live with that.

The problem came when I went to block it. I don't know what I was thinking; I knew I wanted to open up the lace eyelets a bit, but impatient to have it dry in time for my trip to Edinburgh, I took it off the pins and hung it over a clothes rack near a radiator.  The weight of the still wet wool completely stretched it out. When it dried it was so huge on me, I wanted to cry.  The neckline was down to my navel and the back had such a huge gap, it looked ridiculous. 

So I did something I've NEVER done with anything woolly.  I gave it a good spray with water and threw it in the dryer, albeit on a wool setting.  And prayed.  I figured I had nothing to lose - if the shrinking meant I lost all the cable and moss stitch definition, at least I'd still have a sweater I could actually wear.  Here's the result.

It did shrink to just a little bit bigger than pre-blocking. It looks okay from the front but there is SO much material under the arms and the back that it really feels more like I'm wearing a poncho.  

In retrospect, I should have knit about twenty to thirty stitches less in width and done an extra cable repeat on the front.  I still love those cables!

These photos were shot on the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh which we climbed the day before the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  We also knitted on the top even though it got a bit chilly.  This wool is really warm and cozy though.  I've learned a lot from this project and it's definitely been one of the most challenging knits I've tackled.  And now I'm completely obsessed by cables!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Postcards from Edinburgh. . .

Is there a more gorgeous city in the world?

I love that it has the only train station in the world named after a novel.  And Sir Walter Scott quotes are emblazoned everywhere.

There is beautiful architecture and warm stone.  It has the feel of a really substantial and historical city but without the chaos of London. 

And it is surrounded by hills and water!  After dropping our bags at the hotel, we immediately headed up Arthur's Seat.

Beautiful views in every direction.

Next visit, I want to go walking in the Pentland Hills which you can see on the other side of the city.

There was also time to visit the Tartan Weaving Mill (a bit too touristy but I did pick up some tartan and tweed remnants that I could quilt with or use as cushion backs).

And of course the castle.  The last time I was in the city, I was on a strict backpacking budget and couldn't afford to go in. I took a moment outside the gates to remember this with a smile and think how far I've come in twenty years.

And then plunged right in.

Stunning woodwork in the Great Hall.

Scotland's National War Memorial is also located here.  It has very moving stained glass windows depicting various scenes from the First and Second World Wars, both on the battlefields and the home front.

In particular I was very moved by St. Margaret's Chapel which is the oldest surviving structure in Edinburgh, built around 1130.  I tried to imagine this tiny building perched alone on top of this huge hill without the bustling city below.

I loved the patterned stonework inside.

Whew - it was a very busy three days and I haven't even gotten around to the yarn yet!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Excitement Is Building. . .

Tomorrow I'll be going up to Edinburgh for the weekend which I'm really excited about as it's been almost twenty years (!) to the day since I was last in that gorgeous city.  I'm travelling up by train with five friends and really looking forward to the journey.  We're leaving early and should be in the city just after eleven; I'm hoping we'll tackle Arthur's Seat in the afternoon.

Because. . . the rest of the weekend is going to be fully taken up by the Edinburgh Yarn Festival!

I've been to several wonderful woolly shows in the UK but this one packs such a punch. So many interesting people are going to be there - designers whose patterns I've knitted (what to wear?), podcasters and bloggers that I regularly listen to and read,  other knitters I've only known on ravelry and hope to meet in person.  It's going to be really fun.  And then of course there are the vendors. Oh my, what a great ensemble of yarny treats.  So many gorgeous hand-dyers.  My favourite UK store, Baa Ram Ewe will be there with new shades of Titus (greys and blues and a lovely Yorkshire heather colour).  The Icelandic Knitter will be there.  Tin Can Knits and La Maison Tricotee will be there (there will be Canadian wool!).  Stephen West is going to be there. It goes on and on.  Just fabulous.

And there's a yarn shop about five minutes from our hotel.  They are hosting a book launch of Lucy Hague's incredible Celtic Cable Shawls book on Friday evening.  I've been eyeing Taliesin for ages. Will definitely be buying the book and probably some yarn to cast on right away.

Saturday kicks off with a course on turning a favourite object/photo into stranded knitting with the amazing Felicity Ford.  I've already bought her book, The Knitsonik Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook and it's so inspiring.  I'm torn between a number of photos I could bring for this workshop and will probably pick one at the very last minute as I'm heading out the door at 6am. I'm also quite excited that this course includes some instruction on steeking, which I've been too scared to attempt.

Ford recently hosted a swatch knit-a-long using pomegranates as the inspiration starting point.  You only have to read her blog post here and see the amazing results from knitters around the world to appreciate how beautiful and dynamic fair isle can be.  I just can't wait for this workshop.

I've barely been able to sleep this week with anticipation.  Been also working really hard on finishing my second sweater of the year in time to wear it for this trip.  That's fodder for another post as I've had some harrowing moments with it but while I'm not 100% happy with it,  I think it's ready to face the outside world.  I've heard the train journey is really pretty too.  So much to pack into just three days.

I'm also probably in real danger of coming home with a loom!

Monday, March 9, 2015

More on the Needles. . .

My FO Februrary didn't come off so well as I only finished one project.  However, I spent a good portion knitting, frogging and then knitting again on my Byatt so it was still time well spent.  And of course how could I resist casting on new projects?

I'm nearly half way through Philomena by Marie Wallin, from the latest Rowan Mag 57.  The grey is Rowan Pima Cotton which is a fantastic cotton to knit with - it's so beautiful in stockinette.  I love how the blue Kid Silk Haze looks against it.  However, I'm still committed to using up my stash and I only had one ball of the blue.  So I've decided add another colour for the stripes. . . 

Is the orange too much?  I'm hoping it'll be a fun summer top when it's completed.  I have to say I LOVE the KSH.  This is my first project knitting with it and I can see why so many people are addicted; it's so incredibly soft.

I do love the orange however in this Latvian sock kit that I cast on with the same two friends I did the Latvian mittens with.  All the colour work is in the cuff and the rest of the sock is just the oatmeal colour.  Since I've never knitted a sock before, I'm rather relieved that I'll only have to deal with one colour for the rest of the construction.  But aren't these colours fun?  Mexico meets Sweden.

And then surprise, surprise, I've actually knitted a swatch.

This will hopefully become a Beatnik, by Norah Gaughan.  Because who doesn't need a woolly cable challenge just as the weather is getting warmer? 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Byatt Shawl. . .

Here finally is my Byatt shawl and I love it!

I really agonized over colour choices for this one.  I knew I wanted to add a third colour so I wouldn't run out of yarn but trying to harmonize the three in terms of tone proved a bit tricky.  I used three skeins from my stash - Rowan Fine Art for the first section, Titus in the lovely teal Eccup colourway for the lace and contrast colour, and then the brown is Polana Ranch Alpaca which was a gift from my friend Roz and is sooooo soft and squishy.

I also added beads to the lace section as I love the extra weight they give to a shawl. Again, I switched colours going from using copper beads which proved to be a bit too shiny to these matted silver ones.

I probably spent four times as long as I needed to, knitting this project but am so happy to get there in the end.   This is the perfect shawl for throwing around my shoulders at night while reading in bed.  I absolutely loved reading The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, which inspired this shawl design and it is so rewarding to combine my love of books and knitting into one project.  In a former life, I used to work for Byatt's Canadian publisher and I did get to meet her twice which was the greatest thrill. She was also very gracious with her time and granted me a fascinating interview about researching and writing The Children's Book.  It's still knocking about the internet and if you are interested you can read it here.  Needless to say, I highly recommend the novel; I think I like it even more than Possession.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Much Ado About Theatre. . .

I salute the genius who came up several years ago with the brilliant idea of broadcasting live theatre to cinemas around the world; I absolutely love it.  

Last night I saw the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Much Ado, which they were calling Love's Labour's Won.  They used the same cast as in Love's Labour's Lost which I saw last month.  Lost was set in the summer of 1914 and at the end when the four men in uniform marched away to war, I couldn't help but think of the four men in Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth.  The men do come back however in Won which is set in 1918.  The stately home has been turned into a hospital where Beatrice has been nursing, and instead of hiding amidst the garden foliage, Benedick scampers behind first a curtain and then a large Christmas tree to great comic effect.  Overall, the whole modern concept worked very well - the two leads, Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry were sharp and witty, and the sets and costumes were gorgeous, as was the music by Nigel Hess.  I may need to purchase the CD as I do love a good Noel Coward pastiche and wouldn't it be grand to end every Shakespearean comedy with a Charleston?

On the darker side, I thought it was intriguing to suggest that Dogberry was suffering from shellshock; it made more sense of his character's language idiosyncrasies and nervous tics and Nick Haverson gave a very poignant portrayal. It was so moving at times however, that I couldn't laugh at the humour and felt very uncomfortable when the audience did.  Don John also had war injuries and walked with a crutch, which perhaps added to his envy of Claudio but this could have been further developed. 

But overall,  a very interesting idea that I think the RSC pulled off splendidly.

I'm certainly spoiled for live theatre in Liverpool too.  Last month I saw Willy Russell's Educating Rita at the Playhouse. This has to be the quintessential Liverpool play and I was quite proud to get all the local references although I only caught about 90% of the words in Leanne Best's Scouse accent.  

Next up is some Beckett at the Unity Theatre

And then more theatre on the big screen - two National Theatre productions that I'm really excited about.  Mark Strong is getting great reviews in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. . .

. . . and if I'm going to sit through the full version of Shaw's Man and Superman, it needs to be with a mesmerizing lead.  Ralph Fiennes should fit the bill.

Returning to Shakespeare - this project looks intriguing.  Contemporary novelists will be retelling Shakespeare's plays in novel form.   The pairings are quite good.  Jeanette Winterson (The Winter's Tale), Margaret Atwood (The Tempest), Anne Tyler (The Taming of the Shrew), Harold Jacobson (The Merchant of Venice), Jo Nesbo (Macbeth - that should be quite intense!), Gillian Flynn (Hamlet - hmmm, not sure about that one),  Tracy Chevalier (Othello) and Edward St. Aubyn (King Lear).

I'm still trying to catch up with the recent Austen retellings.