Wednesday, September 30, 2015

A Woolly Weekend in Yorkshire Part Two: Saltaire. . .

I spent the weekend in Saltaire, as Skipton is only a twenty minute train ride away.  Saltaire has a very special place in my heart; my grandparents lived here for decades,  and I stayed with them for several months when I was six and my parents were going through a separation.  It was here that I first fell in love with walking among the surrounding hills and moors.  I went to school during this time and learned to read and spell (I was way ahead of my class when I returned to Canada), and I believe I first learned to knit in Saltaire too.  I know it was my grandmother who taught me, and while I don't remember the specific occasion, I do remember a parcel of wool and needles arriving as a Christmas gift, so it must have been a later vote of encouragement from her.

One of my favourite places in the world to visit is Salts Mills.  I can remember as a child walking past it when it was abandoned and lying empty with broken windows.  The restoration has been remarkable and the building now houses cafes and restaurants, an antiques shop, an art supply shop and quite simply one of the most gorgeous bookshops in England, both in aesthetics (most books are face up) and stock (I always find something new and interesting that I wasn't aware of). For fun, I bought two Bronte industry novels - Anna Bascombe's Simple Dame Fairfax and Charlotte's Bronte's Secret Love by Jolande Janzing.  Haworth is only a few miles away. 

The mill looked stunning in the early morning as the sun was coming up.

And the water of the Leeds-Liverpool canal was so still.  Saltaire is about 14 miles along the Leeds-Liverpool canal - I love that it connects me to the place I now call home.

On the third floor of Salts Mill is an amazing gallery space where David Hockney often exhibits his work.  Currently on display is The Arrival of Spring.  He originally drew all these works on his iPad and then through some pretty amazing technology, was able to blow them up and print them to enormous size, still keeping the images sharp and intact.

The colours just glow!

I've always loved how Hockney finds and interprets Yorkshire as a place of intense colour, no matter what the season.  And yet in this image below (excuse the glare from the windows opposite), he's also managed to convey the mistiness of the fields and moors behind this tree.  So, so  beautiful.

And just to bring it all back to wool for a moment - in the historical part of the mill, I loved this simple display of handspun yarn by Hannah Leighton-Boyce.  She's called this: If the walls could talk - the last yarn  and she spun it in the original part of Salts Mill where the spinning was done, from fleece remnants that were found in storage recesses built into the wall.  Yes, wool will last a lifetime!

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Woolly Weekend in Yorkshire Part One: YARNDALE. . .

I love taking the train to Yorkshire.  It's so beautiful out the window - hilly dales, boats pootling on the canals, sheep grazing happily in the sunshine and lots of stone mills, remnants of the region's industrial past but not looking at all dark or satanic. 

I change at Leeds and take a smaller train to Skipton, or "sheep town".

I was early so dropped into town centre for a latte and some baked goods, then walked along the canal towards the park.

Very soon you start to see all the welcoming crocheted bunting and yarnbombing on the trees.  Just follow the yarn about a mile . . .

. . . and you reach the auction mart.  Honestly. is there a more idyllic place to hold a yarn festival?

The sheep certainly think so.

As always, the entrance hall was just festooned with colour.

I didn't take any photos of the booths as I know some vendors don't like it, but I had a truly gorgeous time.  I met lots of knitters that I've only chatted with on ravelry and we had a Scollay cardigan meet-up that was fun.  I was also on a mission to find as many British single breed yarns as I could, in preparation for Knit British's swatchalong starting next week.  It wasn't difficult.

From Blacker Yarns I got some Gotland, Cotswold. Shetland and Wensleydale.  From Hilltop Cloud, I picked up their sample pack of roving.  Now, I don't even spin, but what better incentive to start?  I do have a drop spindle and have bought a craftsy class;  I just need to find the time to sit down and have a go. This has added Masham, Jacob and North Ronaldsay to my stash.  John Arbon was especially helpful and suggested Zwartbles (the dark browny-black roving in the top photo) and Polwarth (the white roving) as breeds that would be ideal for the beginning spinner.  And from Sheepfold, I picked up some Black Leicester Longwool and some Hebridean.

And this lovely is a Whitefaced Woodland sheep.

And here is her breed's wool from Gam Farm Rare Breeds.

I'm so pleased with all the sheep varieties that I picked up and I'm really looking forward to swatching them all and seeing their different characteristics.  It was such fun going around to all the vendors - a bit like a scavenger hunt - and I learned a lot.  So mission accomplished and I'd love to say that I limited all my purchases to just the swatch-a-long.  But. . .

Well, here's the thing about Yarndale.  It's so overflowing with such lovely, talented, knowledgeable and passionate people that you just want to support them all!  And oh, the yarn, the yarn!  Resistance is futile.  So I . . . ahem . . . picked up a few more skeins.  Some lovely (and time limited) Cornish Tin from Blacker, Baa Ram Ewe's gorgeous new DK yarn Dovestone,  and a skein of the Knitting Goddesses'  Britsock yarn (earmarked for the BritYarn October sockalong).  How could I resist the colourway name - Laughing Herdy?

And then I was seduced by colour.  This flaming orange on the left is from Midwinter Yarns.  The bluey-grey skein is from The Little Grey Sheep, a farm in Surrey that raises and shears their own sheep, has the wool spun in Yorkshire and then hand-dyes it.  The colours on her booth were so, so beautiful.  Next to that is a skein of Fyberspates Scrumptious lace in the most autumnal colour of Treacle Toffee and then I had to get a skein of Titus in the heathery goathland colourway.

I've already cast on Karie Westermann's Mahy with the Scrumptious lace and it's knitting up beautifully.

So that was Saturday.  I embraced more colour on Sunday but that's for the next post.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lots of Fall WIPs. . .

I'm working on lots of bits and pieces over the next few weeks.  See this mitten?  A pair of them was supposed to be my mum's xmas gift last year.  Now I'm desperately trying to finish the second one in time to send for her birthday at the end of this month. The pattern is Kristi's Mittens from the book Folk Knitting in Estonia by Nancy Bush.  It's knit in alpaca from John Arbon and ooooh, is it soft! But I'm worried that at the rate I'm going, she'll get one fully blocked and one still damp.

Below is take two from Marie Wallin's gorgeous Filigree book.  I originally embarked on Aster but even though I was able to do the basic crochet stitches, I'm still not experienced enough to "read" my stitches and the sides were turning out a bit wonky.  With such an open pattern, it's not going to be easy to hide mistakes in the seams.  So I turned to my comfort zone and have started Anemone instead.  Only the sleeves are crocheted; the rest is knitted and if I really can't do the crochet bit, I can always knit the sleeves and still have a lovely aubergine jumper.  I have to say that the Rowan Summerlite 4ply that I'm using for this is the nicest cotton I've ever knit with.

I'm all about indigo these days, but I always do struggle with finding the right patterns to show off variegated yarns.  I have three skeins of Blue Moon Indigo hand-dyed yarn from the Border Tart but one is not only from another dyelot, but is a different base altogether (I bought these skeins at two different shows).  And there's a lot more white in the third skein. So I'm having to alternate skeins and am somehow hoping it will all turn out okay.  The pattern is Michelada by Nadya Stallings from Pom Pom Quarterly, Issue 13.  I'm hoping to finish this in a few weeks prior to heading off to an indigo dyeing workshop and knitting retreat (so excited about this!)

Ah, my lovely Bowland.  I can't wait to finish this as I think it'll be really pretty but it's too big a project to be portable and I just can't seem to find a couple of hours spare at home to really sit down and work on this. I'm up to the point where I separate for the sleeves.  I desperately wanted to get this finished in time for Yarndale but that's just not going to happen.  I'm aiming for Christmas now.

Possibly exasperated at myself for having too many projects on the go, I grabbed a needle and thread and had a good look through my fabric stash.  I've had these bits of tweed offshoots that I bought in Edinburgh and this piece looked perfect for the backing of a cushion. But I only had enough for one side.

So out came some scraps and a few days later I had a cheery little wool pillow.  I had a little fun with some pinking shears and scraps for embellishment. It's all hand-sewn and there's nothing remotely refined about it all, but it is completed and it pleases me enormously.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Walk Out to Hilbre Island. . .

Sometimes you never get around to doing the things in your own backyard, but I'm a true believer in making time to be a regular tourist in the city in which you live.  It can be as simple as walking in a different neighbourhood, seeing a temporary exhibition or trying out a new restaurant.  And so I told the Liverpud last week that we were going to do something that he - born and bred in Liverpool - had actually never done before. We were going to walk out to Hilbre Island.

Liverpool is bordered on the southwest by the Mersey.  Across the Mersey is what is known as the Wirral.  And on the other side of that is the River Dee which separates England from Wales. About two miles out from the Wirral are three little islands completely surrounded by water during high tide.  But when it's low tide, there is a window of several hours in which you can walk out and back safely.  In the photo below, you can just about see a few people heading towards the first of the islands in the center - Little Eye - with Little Hilbre (also called Middle Eye) and then Hilbre itself, just to the right.

It was a gorgeous day - bright and sunny but with a nice sea breeze.  Perfect for trying out my new Scollay cardigan for the first time.

Here is Little Eye with Wales in the background.

You walk around Little Eye and then start heading for Little Hilbre.

Little Hilbre is lovely - full of weathered cliffs and rock formations.

And a short grassy path to walk over the top of it.

Once we were on Hilbre Island itself,  the views of Wales get even better.  I was astonished that we could see Llandudno and the Great Orme quite clearly.

Part of the fun was examining all the textures and colours of sand and objects revealed when the tide is out.

There were stranded jellyfish . . .

. . .  water-swirled patterns in the moss and seaweed . . .

. . . and lots of purply-blue, crunchy shells.

This is the end point of Hilbre Island with the sea in the background poised to cover up the path again in a few hours.

The island is also a nature reserve and popular for bird watching.  You can see the houses of West Kirby across the sand and further away, the port of Liverpool.

It was lovely and peaceful walking out to the island and I could have spent several hours just sitting on a rock and knitting.  But alas, you don't want to get trapped at high tide and we had other things planned for the day, so it was time to turn around and head back.

A lovely walk though and so close to home!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Whitby and Some Holiday Shopping (Because You Can Never Have Too Much Souvenir Yarn) . . .

One of the things I loved about Whitby was the uniqueness of its shops.  Aside from a Costa, a Boots and a few supermarket chains, all of the stores in the main historical centre were independents and it gave the whole area a wonderful vibrancy; the shop windows just kept enticing you in for a closer look.

Interestingly, my first sighting of yarn occurred in the little village of Staithes.  There was a tiny, cozy yarn shop at the end of the main street (although I can't find any mention of them on the internet to link to), but although I was very tempted by some lovely colourways of Noro, what I really wanted was something British and unique to the area,  and this shop mostly sold American yarn and acrylic blends. 

But keep searching and ye shall find wool!  Following my fibre instincts, I saw a sign for a crafts market up a side street.  This led to a lovely little courtyard and a room full of lovely local handicrafts including photography and textiles.

And in a large basket, I found some Shetland wool, hand-dyed by Phillippa Joad of Wheeldale Woolcrafts. These two earthy skeins came home with me.

Staithes has long attracted artists, drawn to the scenery and the beautiful light in the town.  One of my favourite artists - Laura Knight - had a studio in Staithes, in the early 20th century,  not that you'd know it;  the only plaques around are for James Cook who apprenticed here as a teenager. Nevertheless, there are a few contemporary galleries to browse in and I came across the work (and the artist himself) Ian Mitchell, whose landscapes of the Yorkshire coast and countryside  I like very much.  I bought a few cards and would like to buy and frame some of his prints one day.

And in Whitby itself  I happened to pass a Wholefoods store, almost hidden, tucked away in a small alley . . .

. . . and did a double-take when I looked closer in the store window.

And so I discovered Propagansey! Now I did know that Whitby was a great place to explore the tradition of ganseys - the patterned jumpers that fishermen wore to keep them warm, but also to identify them if the worst happened out at sea.  Once a year in Robin Hood's Bay, there's an exhibition of dozens of these ganseys.  Alas, it wasn't happening while we were in the area, but the shop did sell gansey 5ply worsted 100% British wool from Frangipani (a new wool to me, but it's great that they sell by the cone as well as by the skein) and some gansey patterns. The colourway I got was Falmouth navy which is a very deep navy with a bit of green in it, I think.  It's really lovely.

It was then off to Bobbins which also specializes in gansey kits; their gansey patterns are only sold with the yarn to make them.  Unfortunately they were actually sold out of all their gansey wool, but they also offer patterns that can be knit in a shrinkable denim cotton, similar to Rowan's denim yarn.

Here are some of them displayed on their walls, all named after local places.

I bought a pattern called Scarborough and a giant cone of dark black cotton in which to knit it someday.

Whitby also has the most wonderful independent bookshop; the type that sadly continues to disappear from most towns and cities.  It even has a spiral staircase going up to the first floor.  I bought a biography of Laura Knight by Barbara Morden.

You also can't escape the many shops selling Whitby jet, which I learned is fossilised pieces of the monkey puzzle tree.  Who knew? I previously thought it was a type of rock.  I really wanted a nice pendant but everything I looked at just didn't appeal. They were nice pieces, but nothing special.  Until I popped into The Ebor Jet Works.  You can see the workshop the minute you walk through the door and I knew this was the right place to find something truly unique by a local artist. As I was talking to the proprietor, he told me that while they were committed to only using jet from Whitby (they hire beachcombers to search the shorelines for the rough pieces which they then polish and turn into jewellery), many of the larger companies import it from cheaper sources around the world.

On one of the shelves at the back of the studio was a selection of necklaces and earrings with "Coast to Coast Souvenir" written on the accompanying tag.  The Coast to Coast walk, which I did three years ago,  doesn't end up in Whitby, but further south at Robin Hood's Bay.  But you certainly get a glimpse of Whitby in one of the last legs.  Ebor uses slate from the Honister Mine near Borrowdale in the Lake District, which you walk past on one of the early stages, along with the Whitby jet to create a very simple but beautiful necklace.  I love it!

Finally, on the drive home from Whitby we made a short detour to the Yorkshire Lavender Farm. Even though the plants weren't at their peak of bloom and fragrance, it was still an interesting place to visit.  There's a shop selling lots of lavender products,  a cafe where I had a lovely slice of lemon and lavender cake, and a small garden centre where I bought three different types of lavender; they are currently potted and though small now, I'm eager to see how they grow and the different variations in colour promised by the leaves and blossoms. And I can't seem to get over my current purple obsession.

And that was all. . . honestly!