Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lovely Laceweight. . .

Some people think knitting with lace weight is a bit nuts because it's so, so fine. But I never fail to be amazed at how such a thin, delicate thread can turn into something so substantial and fabulous. Of course there's the little matter of knitting thousands of stitches first!

I've finished two projects in lace weight recently. Due to the fading hours of daylight it's taken me a while to photograph them. The first is Mahy, designed by Karie Westermann.

It is a lovely shawl to knit, constructed as a hap with a garter stitch center and then stitches are picked up for the lace edgings. The yarn is Scrumptious Lace from Fyberspates. I fell in love with a toffee coloured skein at Yarndale and knew it would be perfect for this project.

This photo show better how intense the colour is.  I just love it.

My second finished project is Vijante, designed by Martina Behm.  Yes, it's a poncho/shawl/thingy but it is wonderfully cozy  to wear over your shoulders and the lace weight gives it plenty of drape.

I made it much shorter than the pattern called for because one edge is significantly longer. You can drape it around an arm, or wear it as a triangular or asymmetric garment.

It's a very versatile garment and I love the cowl neck which is loose enough not to feel suffocating, but warm enough to dispense with a scarf if I'm going out.  The brown -hued yarn is Madeline Tosh Lace and the deep blue is a skein of silk lace weight from Natural Born Dyers that I picked up in Sedburgh. I tried to minimize the impact of the colour changes by adding stripes and increasing their width when I was ready to knit with the blue.

It's a fairly easy knit - just rounds and rounds of stockinette although the hypnotic nature of this and the use of lace weight is a perfect recipe for accidentally dropping stitches.  And it is a LOT of knitting; I started it back in June and seem to have been working on it forever.  Really glad I finished it though - it may just be my favourite knitted item of this year. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Wovember and the Great British Breeds Swatchalong. . .

It's the middle of Wovember - the month dedicated to all things pure woolly - and there have been so many amazing posts and photos up on the Wovember website that really explore the breadth and depth of what wool and sheep means to farmers, dyers, spinners, knitters, and creators of all types. It's all very, very inspiring and informative.

I've embarked on my own woolly project of exploration and celebration, participating in the Great British Breeds Swatchalong organized by Louise Scollay of Knit British, who is passionate about British wool. Knitters across the UK (and the world actually) are knitting up swatches of either British or local breeds.  We have to use single breed and undyed wool, but the stitch pattern is up to the individual knitter.

We then put each swatch through its paces and write up detailed notes at every step.  We squish the skein, we note how each yarn feels while knitting, and we observe the characteristics of the unwashed swatch. Then we soak and block it, spend a day wearing it against our skin, rub it for a fuzz and pill test, and then wash and block it a second time.   Louise wrote up an excellent set of guidelines and FAQs here.  There is no deadline and you can apply the same routine to any wool local to you.  It's all about getting to know a local yarn really well, opening your knitting stash to breeds and small, local suppliers you may not have previously considered, and really thinking about where your yarn comes from.

So far I've finished four swatches which are, starting at the top left and working clockwise:  Herdwick, North Ronaldsay, Gotland and Norfolk Horn.  For my first two swatches, I just knit a random combination of stitches, but then I thought I'd really like to end up with a beautiful blanket of all my swatches, so I'm now trawling stitch design books for inspiration.  I love quilt blocks with names that tell a story, so I'm trying to pick designs that either seem to fit the yarn or have some personal meaning for myself, which can be as frivolous and fun as a stitch pattern called "croissants" that I came across recently ( my favourite weekend morning treat with a cuppa and the Guardian - and I think I may have the perfect naturally coloured wool for this!).  For the North Ronaldsay swatch, I used a square called " A Little Bit of Scotland", out of the book Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips.  This breed live on one of the northern Orkney islands and eat seaweed.

For my Gotland swatch, I used a Barbara Walker stitch pattern called "Northern Lights" as the breed originates from Sweden.

So far, I'm really enjoying this process.  I find that the yarns are vastly different, not only in terms of colour and texture and smell, but in how they change (or don't) after blocking.  It's also quite fun to try and collect a sample of each breed.  Yarndale was a great starting point.

But my bag is now overflowing. I currently have about 25 different breeds which, given that each swatch easily takes a week to fully test, should keep me going for some time.

Many of my balls have come from Blacker Yarns which sells a wide variety of different single breed yarns.  But one of the joys of this project is to discover lots of different, indie producers, often just making yarn from their own flock of sheep. At Yarndale I had a great chat with the folk from Gam Farm Rare Breeds and saw one of their Whitefaced Woodland sheep.  They are located near Grassington in Yorkshire, where I've gone walking in the past.  I love knowing that I've tread the same gorgeous landscape as the sheep whose wool I'm knitting. In many cases it's also the sheep who have made that landscape over generations.

Herdy sheep who roam freely over the Lake District are a favourite of mine, which is why I started with a Herdwick swatch.  And while I knew it wasn't going to be the softest of yarns, it definitely wasn't as coarse after washing as I'd anticipated. And it is really strong and sturdy - perfect for a pair of waterproof mitts that I'm planning.

I also discovered  Crookabeck Farm near Patterdale in the Lake District.  They raise Herdwicks and Angora goats and have combined the two to create a yarn that is 50% Herdy and 50% mohair.  I've ordered a skein and will be really interested to see how the mohair softens the wool.  The farm also sells yarn from the Red Fox breed originally from Germany.  A ball of this has also gone into my bag; even though it's not a British breed, the actual sheep it comes from is raised in the U.K. so I think it counts.  Swaledales also hold a place in my sheepy appreciation heart, mostly from the beauty of the Swaledale valley in Yorkshire which we walked through as part of the Coast to Coast walk.  In the tiny town of Muker is Swaledale Woollens where you can purchase wool or knitted garments from the Swaledales.  And I've also bought a skein of Texel wool from Orkney Wool.  I squealed when it was delivered - so squishy and bouncy.

So this is a big and long term project, but one that I'm sure is going to be fascinating and very rewarding. And I should end up with a gorgeous blanket by the end of it.  Here's my latest swatch knitted this weekend in Pure Cotswold.  Somehow white wool cries out for lace, so I've done some simple repeats of a Twin Leaf pattern.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Weeping Window. . .

These are some of the many ceramic poppies outside of St. George's Hall in Liverpool.  These made up part of the huge installation outside the Tower of London last year.

This piece is called The Weeping Window by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.  St. George's Hall is where the recruitment of soldiers took place during the First World War.

Outside the hall is the Liverpool Cenotaph, one of the finest war memorials I've ever seen, sculpted by Herbert Tyson Smith and finished in 1930.  On one side you have all the soldiers going off to war.

And on the other, the grieving families placing wreaths in remembrance.

 The contemporary detail is beautiful and striking.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Dave is Done. . .

Hooray, my first ever pair of full socks completed!  The pattern is Dave from Rachel Coopey's Coop Knits Socks, Vol 2.

I used a skein of 4ply sock yarn from the Knitting Goddess that I bought some a year or so ago.  The colourway is called Love Lies Bleeding, and I have to say it did bleed a bit in the washing machine, so the blood red has become a bit more pink.  The yarn feels lovely on the feet though.

I did make a few mistakes here and there, and the heel is a bit knobbly, but I'll wear them a lot and see how long they last before becoming a committed sock knitter.  It is a nice portable project to have in one's bag and I'll have to dig out my Latvian sock kit again, now that I've grasped the basic construction techniques. So there probably will be more socks in my future.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Gwlana 2015 Part Two: Wanting to Turn the World Blue. . .

It was extremely grey and damp yesterday and my thoughts turned towards blue skies, cocooning and crafting, so it was a good time to reflect on some of the ideas/projects that came out of my recent Gwlana retreat.

I was so excited about all the different techniques and so eager to try them all, that I went a little crazy (read clumsy and haphazard) with my tea towel and napkins, instead of methodically trying to work out a proper pattern. The end result was that taken as a whole, each dyed piece of fabric didn't look that great, but there were little patches where I quite like the final result. These lines for example, were formed by wrapping the tea towel around a pole and then tying it tightly with cotton string.

What did turn out well were my individual solid charm squares in various shades of blue and beige.  So at about 10pm on the Saturday night as I laid everything out on the bed, I was inspired to start madly cutting up the best bits of my tea towel and napkins into squares to add to my dyed ones.  Originally intending to do a 40 square wall hanging, I spent quite a bit of time trying to decide on the perfect layout before realizing that many of my squares were just too pale to fit nicely with the tone of the darker ones.  In the end, I found a nice 5 x 5 combination that I was happy with.  It was now midnight and I really should have gone to bed but instead, I started hand sewing the squares together. This is the finished piecing and yes, I realize some of the squares don't line up that neatly, but somehow it seemed okay at two in the morning. At any rate,it's a great souvenir of the weekend.

The plan is to use my dyed cotton yarn to weave a backing and border for this wall hanging and then to quilt it.  I'm quite happy with my dyed scarf. Most of the other participants meticulously ironed theirs; I crumpled it up and stitched a few chevrons on the edges.  This photo isn't great at showing all the depth of blue shadows that resulted, but they are there.

On the Sunday morning, we all had a bit of a show and tell and I couldn't resist taking some snaps of the other participants's work.  It just goes to show the endless possibilities both of pattern and colour.

But see that cotton skein below in four different shades of blue?  I was chuffed when Alison asked me (trusted me really) to dye it for her.  She wanted four distinct shades; I'm going to do something similar when I set up an indigo dye bath in the back yard next summer.  Yes, I will do it!  It's so much fun.  I also love her napkin pattern - those white marks look like knitted stitches.

We were asked to bring a man's white dress shirt to dye.  Monday morning's class was all about turning a man's shirt into something more feminine by cutting away the stiffer parts around the collar, button bands and cuffs, changing the shape and reusing discarded bits. We also learned about the Japanese boro - the art of mending with decorative stitches.  I love the look of Sarah's shirt when she unstitched the darts.

Catherine used reverse applique on the back of her shirt, using bits of her silk scarf. I think it looks amazing.

Here's my shirt in progress. I shortened the sleeves and will use the dyed cuffs as tabs to keep the sleeves rolled up. I removed the stiff interfacing from the collar which I had dipped in the dye bath and I cut away part of the tail of the shirt at the back.  That material which is dyed the darkest will form a pocket.  I also added some darts on the front of the shirt and purposely made them visible.

This was a really fun project and I really need to finish it off - I should have the perfect work shirt for next summer's dyeing.

It was a great and productive weekend.  I met so many interesting and inspiring people from all over the UK, one woman from Minnesota and another from Switzerland.  And it was so refreshing to be able to take out the needles whenever I wanted; we knitted at breakfast, during workshops, at lunch, in the pub, watching Downton Abbey on Sunday night - my fingers actually were quite sore by the end of it, especially as I got quite a lot of knitting done on the train ride home too.  But it was so marvellous to be able to completely absorb myself in creativity and craft for five days and to share that enthusiasm with a group of like-minded obsessives.  The next Gwlana will take place in May 2016 - a different location and set-up, but it should be as equally enjoyable.  More information as it becomes available will be posted here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Season of Mists and Grellow Fruitfulness. . .

It's the first day of November and the Liverpud and I decided to do our favourite long-way-in walk into town, via four parks and the Mersey.  It was a mild and absolutely still morning with mysterious mist everywhere.  I really miss the intensity of colour that a Canadian autumn delivers, but on a day like this, the greys and yellows have their own muted beauty.

And when we got down to the Mersey, it too was many shades of grey as sky, water and sand all blended into one smudgey palette.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Gwlana 2015 Part One: Mood Indigo. . .

I've spent most of this week recovering from last weekend's Gwlana retreat which was so amazingly inspirational and such fun.  My head has been buzzing with ideas and projects and since I was basically running on coffee, profiteroles and adrenaline most of the time, I've had to catch up on some much needed sleep before being able to process it all.

Gwlana, which is Welsh for woolgathering, is a series of annual retreats run by Brenda Dayne of Cast-On podcast fame. It's a four day retreat held at a lovely hotel in the heart of Pembrokeshire and you basically spend four days knitting, attending great workshops, knitting, eating, chatting with interesting people, knitting, eating, making friends, buying yarn, knitting, eating, and jotting down creative to-do and to-finish lists that ae far too long. 

This autumn's theme was all things indigo, something I've been really keen to learn more about.  The workshops included practicing Japanese shibori techniques, learning how to hand dye with indigo,  incorporating colours into your knitting, and making do and mending with Japanese boro stitching and repurposing old clothing. 

We spent the first day preparing all sorts of material for the dye bath.  In terms of fabric, we were given a goodie bag in hemp (which could be dyed), a cotton tea towel and set of four napkins, and a silk scarf. We were also asked to bring a man's white dress shirt from a charity shop and anything else relatively small that we wanted to dye.  I grabbed nine solid colour squares from a quilting charm pack in light blues and various shades of beige and brown.  Below are some of the techniques you can use to resist the dye - I tied material around a pole, scrunched it into odd shapes held with elastic bands, clamped geometric shapes to crisply ironed triangles, and went a bit free form with running stitch lines pulled tightly to create folds and gathers. 

And then we also got YARN!!!!!!  From left to right: a skein of superwash merino Aran, a skein of 100% silk, one of cotton, and a laceweight merino too.

We soaked everything in cold water overnight, and on Saturday, we made our way to the Village Hall where Caerthan Wrack (isn't that a fabulous name), of Triskelion Yarns and our resident dye-master, showed us how to set everything up. 

It doesn't look the most appetising, but just you wait. . .

The lovely thing about dyeing with indigo is watching the object emerge from the dye bath as a shade of yellow and then as the oxygen hits it, it starts to turn various shades of blue.  I could watch this alchemy all day long.

Honestly, how much fun is this? The photo in the bottom right shows how my different yarn fibres took the dye and the different intensity of colour I could get depending on the number of dips and how strong the dye bath was. 

Here is a shot of my dyed objects drying.  I particularly like how the tote bag turned out - I just dipped the bottom third in.

I went a little crazy snapping shots of everyone else's dyeing too - you can really see all the different shades that can be achieved, especially with the yarn.  You could go from the palest, almost seafoam green, to the deep midnight blue of the darkest denim.

And all of our shirts were hung outside in the sunshine to dry.  People passing by must have wondered what the heck was going on.

I hung my yarn up to dry in my hotel room overnight.  After soaking and rinsing several times to get the residual dye off, the colours do fade a little, but I was still so pleased with the end results.  The skein on the far right was an extra one of a Masham/BFL mixture that was naturally a rustic grey and turned into a lovely blue-silver after soaking it in the darkest dye bath.

Whew - and that was only the first two days.  I'll show you some of the further outcomes and works in progress in my next post.