Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Five Year Anniversaries. . .

This week marks five years since moving to the U.K.   I can't believe how quickly the time has flown, or how much has happened to me over the years.   I can say, without any hesitation, that moving was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  Yes, I definitely miss friends and family back in Canada and in many ways in terms of day to day activities that we often take for granted, Canada just works better as a country to live in (don't get me started on U.K. banks or U.K. politics).  I certainly still get homesick for the strangest things and miss that feeling of just being a Canadian. Hard to explain but I know my fellow Canuck ex-pats will understand.

But I feel really settled in my new home. I initially moved to be with the Liverpud and we're still together, still having tons of laughs, and still planning and enjoying the ongoing adventure. This island remains one of the best places in the world to be a walker and I continue to be awed at the infrastructure available for hikers and the amazing and beautifully varied countryside and coastlines open to all. I have a good, non-stressful job that I enjoy and which allows me to work part-time -  a complete switch in the life-work balance game -  something I feel so profoundly grateful for. I've made some really good friends, I have good neighbours, I actually know my neighbours (never did in a busy city like Toronto), and it's been wonderful to have a proper backyard and to indulge in some amateur gardening (haven't had one since I was a kid). I planted some lettuces this weekend - never thought I'd ever do that.  And of course, I now feel really connected to the British knitting and wool community and have met so many amazing people from all over the U.K. through Ravelry, at wool shows, at knit and natters and on social media. It's a fabulous community and through it, I'm even going to be visiting the Shetland Islands later this summer with seven fabulous knitters.

But I'm not the only one celebrating a 5th anniversary.  Pom Pom Magazine is also 5 years old.  I've been subscribing since Issue 6 and they just published their 21st.  I've loved them all;  it's so encouraging  to see a print journal be successful, but they've really found the perfect blend of original indie designs, interesting articles, and a good recipe or two. It's also filled with beautiful photography and design elements.  I think they've been the perfect model for other really creative and beautiful magazines now publishing such as Laine or Making. I was never a fan of self-publishing in the book world but there's a lovely revival going on in crafting that I can certainly get behind and love to support.

I knew I wanted to knit something out of this anniversary edition and since one of my favourite yarns - Baa Ram Ewe's Titus 4ply -  is also celebrating its 5th anniversary, it seemed only right to cast on and combine the two.

I chose Jamboree designed by Francesca Hughes. Her original version shown below is knit in lace weight but it was a bit too wispy and see-through for my liking.  Knitting it in 4ply created a much firmer texture but the alpaca and BFL in the Titus still keeps it soft. 

The garment is knit sideways so it's very easy to work out the width that you want.  Unfortunately, in my eagerness to cast on, I didn't swatch so didn't really pay attention to the length.  Thus when I'd joined the shoulders, it was far too short. 

I nearly despaired at this point.  I didn't want to rip it out and start again and I was so in love with the look and the feel of the top. The arm holes were already finished nicely because they incorporated the cast on and bind off so it was easy to go for a sleeveless option.  But what to do about the hem?

I tried various forms of ribbing and mesh but nothing seemed to look just right. Originally I was knitting it in the dark grey and it just emphasized the mistake in length.  It was only when I switched to the blue and made a mistake doing a twisted rib (instead of twisting both the knit and purl stitches, I was only twisting the knit ones), that I felt it was going to work. The more circular-looking rib stitches tied in to the overall pattern and I was finally happy with the look.  I decided to knit a split hem.

I then finished off the neckline with a few rows of simple garter stitch, decreasing stitches evenly around to pull the neckline in.

And here is the final top - I am so glad I didn't give up on this. I love the colours, the texture and the hem.  It's a nice - if warm - summer top and I can also wear it over long sleeves in the winter.

And if you want to hear more about why I love Titus 4ply so much, check out Episode 85 of the Knit British podcast.   Apologies if I accidentally blast your ear drums - I do get very excited - and loud -  when talking about wool!

Happy Anniversary to all of us!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Windy Wales: Blown Around in a Circular Route from Trawsfynydd. . .

I don't have the greatest photos to show you from last Sunday's walk. It was grey and raining in the morning and then all afternoon the wind, while not particularly cold, was battering us from all directions, high and low.  It got so bad at times, I was afraid of getting my phone out in case the wind snatched it from my hand.

Still, it was a new-to-me area for walking, in the north Rhinogs part of Snowdonia.  We started in the village of Trawsfynydd and crossed the lake of the same name on one of the longest footbridges over water I've ever been on.

That hill range in the distance was what we were heading towards.

And this is the view halfway up the hill, looking back at the lake.

It was quite steep but the journey up was made harder by the boggy paths. You really had to be careful where you placed your boots.

There was a bit of scrambling on the rocky tops.

I have to admit that every summit we gained looked a bit like this.  I know we got to the top of Moel Ysgyfarnogod where apparently you can see the Welsh coast around Porthmadog. But clearly not today.

However, all was not lost. It was the perfect weather to test out my new Bousta Beanie, designed by Gudrun Johnson for this year's Shetland Wool Week.  It's a free pattern for a year and I knit mine using Jamieson & Smith 2ply jumperweight. Not only did it keep my ears warm, but it stayed on my head the entire time! You really can't ask for more from a hat.  Lots of fun to knit too, and you can add a pom pom if you so wish. 

Coming down, there were glimpses of magical light.

This is really wild country - very few paths and kudos to our leader for his navigational skills.

The wild ponies seemed right at home.

And so we ended back where we started from.

And then the sun decided to come out.   Sigh.

I think we all fell asleep on the coach back. While not the hardest of walks, the constant wind created quite a workout and I was yawning well into Monday morning.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Seventh Wave Cowl or My First Humble Forays into the Design World. . .

So a funny thing happened after attending a knitting retreat. . . 

Back in February I was in Manchester for a weekend of knitting workshops, talks and general socializing with lots of creative and fun people.  One of the workshops I took was given by designer Karie Westermann and it was about publishing patterns in magazines.  I wasn't really that interested in the actual designing process but curious as to how the magazine industry worked. About two weeks before the retreat, we were assigned homework: to pitch an idea for a design around the theme of Romantic Beachcomber and send it to her ahead of the workshop.

I got some good feedback on my pitch and shortly after, LoveKnitting put out a call for submissions on - surprise, surprise - a coastal theme.  On a whim, I tweaked my homework and sent it in and to my shock, it was accepted!  Now came a strong learning curve - I had a few weeks to write up my first pattern, knit it and take some photos. Oh, and for some reason I had submitted a design in laceweight!!!!

I was kindly supplied with some yarn, a skein of Portland Lace from the Yarn Collective. It's merino wool and the colours are curated by designer Melanie Berg. They are very subtly but beautifully tonal.  I used a colourway called Morning Rain (pictured above)  but I'm in love with most of the shades in the collection, Washed Denim and A Day in the Woods in particular (well worth a look at the links above).  The yarn was smooth and soft, very pretty and easy to work with.  I'd definitely knit with it again.

And so after a few weeks of knitting almost non-stop and then grappling with excel and various layouts, the pattern for the Seventh Wave Cowl was born.  It's a free pattern available for download from the Love Knitting website as part of their Coastal Adventures Anthology and their Indie June promotion. There's a link to it also from Ravelry.  It's suitable for beginning lace knitters and for more experienced ones, it's an easy repeat to memorize so this may be the first lace pattern you can knit while watching telly (at least it was for me).

The Liverpud kindly agreed to take some photos and we headed to Formby trying to get that coastal vibe with the sea and the dunes as background. Unfortunately, it was so, so windy that it was really difficult to get a decent shot.

This was the best of the lot but I wasn't completely happy with it. 

And so to Plan B.  As we were walking around our neighbourhood, I spied the wall of a new restaurant recently painted a duck egg's blue.  As the deadline was looming, I decided that the wall, plus a striped top would have to suffice to create a sense of the seaside.  Am I anywhere close? Maybe I should have been holding an ice cream cone too.

I learned an awful lot from this process and while I won't be quitting the day job any time soon, I have been bitten by the designer bug and would like to try something new in the future.  Problem is, there are SO many patterns by other designers that I'm itching to knit first.  Still, nothing ventured. . .
Watch this space.   (And thanks so much to the lovely knitters who have sent me supportive messages on Instagram and ravelry  - I think it will be very strange, but very marvellous to see this knitted up by someone else).

The knitting journey continues. . .

Friday, 2 June 2017

A Long Weekend in Eskdale. . .

Every second Bank Holiday in May, our rambling group books out several rooms at a youth hostel and off we go for three days of walking.  Last weekend we were in Eskdale, in the south-western part of the Lake District,  a much quieter spot, far from the usual hordes of tourists in Keswick or Windermere.  Hostelling isn't for everyone; the food is basic and sleeping on a bunk bed in a room of six isn't ideal, but it's all about the walking!

One of our leaders always plans a shorter walk for Friday afternoon.  It was incredibly hot and hazy as we trekked over Muncaster Fell.

Great views looking north.

And to the south and west, you can see the sea.

The sheep were keeping cool in the shade.

On the Saturday, we were disappointed to learn that thundershowers were forecast for noon. You don't want to be caught out in lightning high on a fell.  So the plans changed and we set out for a lower level walk.  This is the Eskdale river where there are many deep pools for swimming, as you can see how wonderfully clear the water is. We followed a path beside the river for a couple of miles.

Then, as we walked through the tiny village of Boot, I saw a sign for ice cream.  Even though it was only 10am, I really fancied a cone so popped into the store and ordered a single scoop of a flavour called Thunder and Lightning (cinder toffee and white chocolate), hoping it would be a good omen against the weather.  And it was (moral of this story - ALWAYS stop for ice cream!).  The store owner told us that he'd just checked the latest forecast and the storm wasn't due until 4pm.  That gave us several more hours to go a little higher.  And so we did.

A path out of Boot lead us up onto moorland towards Burnmoor Tarn.  That's Scafell you can see to your right.

On the other side of the tarn is the imposing bulk of Illgill Head. It's much steeper than it looks.

But it affords wonderful views of Wast Water and Green Gable.  And as the sun came out at just the right moment, we stopped for lunch.

 And a wee bit of knitting. As you do.

Then with the wind picking up, it was back along the moors which turned very boggy.  I've never seen so many sheep perched on rocks, but they aren't stupid.  It was a lovely walk - the best one of the weekend - and we got back just in time before the heavens opened up.

Our final day was a much gentler ramble through relatively flat forest paths as we walked from Eskdale to Ravenglass.

It was so exciting to catch our first glimpse of the sea.

We passed the remains of Roman baths along the way.

And then it was down to the water.  Ravenglass itself is a small but lovely little town, very quiet and peaceful.

It's known for its steam railway, which we took back to Eskdale.  The trip took about forty minutes amidst lovely scenery, but the carriages are really kiddy-scaled and your legs get quite cramped during the ride. Still, how can you not have fun on steam train? Ours was called the River Mite.

One of the more incredible sights were these cliffs filled with lush rhododendrons.

I really liked the Eskdale area - there's never enough time to do all the walks that beckon so I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Two More Off the Needles. . .

April was a very productive month on the knitting front and these are the last two projects that I cast off last week.  When I was at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I stopped by the Uist Wool booth.  I'll be visiting the island of Uist in September as part of a hiking holiday in the Hebrides. Their yarn is absolutely gorgeous - rustic, full of earthy, rich colours in blends of Shetland, Zwartbles and Cheviot. The fleeces are local from the island and spun at a mill on North Uist.  I love their Reothart blend - it's a magic DK ball of various coloured wool that knits up into gorgeous gradient stripes.

I chose a very simple pattern to let the yarn shine.  Nuuk, designed by Jonna Hietala, is a simple top-down knit from the first issue of Laine Magazine (which is full of lovely patterns - issue 2 is out this month and I can't wait).  Honestly, this thing practically knitted itself in about a week - just rounds of stockinette made so enjoyable by the feel of the wool in my hands and the constant change of colour.  The only tricky bit was to fiddle with the colours on the ribbing of the sleeves to match the body, but this wool is great for spit-splicing.  This photo was taken before the top was blocked as I was so anxious to wear it to Wonderwool which was the next day.  I have since washed and blocked it, and the ribbing at the bottom completely evened out and the whole garment is smooth to the touch.  I absolutely love it and it will definitely be coming to Uist with me later in the year.

I also finished Hap #9 from The Book of Haps.  This is the Harewood Hap by the very clever Bristol Ivy and knit in Northern Yarn's Poll Dorset 4ply for the white, and various shades (Coal, Brass Band, Eccup and Wesley Bob) of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus 4ply for the colours. I thought it would be fun to take my inspiration from Mondrian as the design was so graphic.

I have to admit I'm a little out of my comfort zone with these bold colours. They look fine over a black dress, but I rarely wear this dress and I'm not sure how to style it casually with a pair of jeans.  A friend suggested that it would look lovely draped over a chair when not in use, and I can see this living on the back of my living room sofa.  Still, it will be the perfect hap to wear to an art gallery, particularly if there's a Mondrian exhibit touring!  Nine haps down, four to go. . .