Friday, 9 March 2018

In Which My Knits Reflect the Weather. . .

March certainly didn't herald the beginning of spring in the U.K. Instead we got the "beast from the east" - snow, sleet, and minus temperatures, all from weather systems hitting us from Siberia. Our condenser pipe froze and we were without heat or hot water for four days.  We got off lucky - many people got stranded on the highways, or had no water at all after thawing pipes burst.

And at least it didn't happen during the Edinburgh Yarn Festival which is next week - what a disaster that would have been!

I just realized that all three knitting projects I cast on during the last ten days or so are using various shades of grey yarn.  Coincidence?

I have knit the front and back of Spin Me Round by Francesca Hughes. I'm using Blacker's Westcountry Tweed DK which has the most lovely tweedy bits of colour among the grey. I wanted a pattern with a lot of stockinette to show off the smoothness of this yarn but with just a bit of texture so it wasn't too boring to knit.  I am at the stage where I am pondering how long I want the sleeves to be.

Kate Davies keeps releasing a pattern each week as part of her West Highland club and it's now become almost automatic that I'll be stash diving and casting on.  Highland Rogue is a long and wide cowl that wraps around twice and only a really soft yarn will do. I reached for one of my favourite blends - BFL and Masham - from the Countess Ablaze. This colourway is called Grey Skies Over Manchester.  Yep, that fits the weather bill.  I have renamed my cowl Weather Rogue.

It's an easy six row repeat and produces quite a squishy fabric, although you have to knit 64 inches in total so this is a long-term project.  I thought it would be perfect to take for train knitting up to Edinburgh.

But  Kate's also released Stronachlachar, a wonderful cabled short-sleeved top. It works both on its own or as a nice layering piece.

I really wanted a neutral colour for this as it will go with a lot of my wardrobe. I also thought it would be a lovely summer top, but too warm if knit in pure wool.  So I have cast on with Blacker's Lyonesse DK, a mixture of wool and linen. This should give it a nice drape and be quite comfortable to wear in the summer months. It is knitting up quite quickly and I am loving the twisted cables.  I think this will have to be my main EYF project as I'm quite addicted already.

Mind you, I'm already itching to cast on her latest release - Myrtle.  Simply gorgeous.  I may look out for some yarn for this when I'm at EYF.

One more week - so very excited!

Friday, 23 February 2018

FO Tales from the Sofa. . .

A few days after my last post when I was looking forward to a week on the couch, watching the Olympics, and knitting madly away, wouldn't you know it, I caught a virus and for four days, all I wanted to do was sleep and eat jello.

In between naps, I did manage to catch up on taped events (wasn't the Ice Dancing final absolutely spectacular?) and get a bit of knitting done.  And actually, I'm quite chuffed with what I accomplished - it's amazing how just working away at a few rows here and there, no matter how slowly, really does add up.

The cushion was easy - I just needed a couple of hours to sew in a zipper and crochet the remaining three sides together. It's very soft and squishy.

Next, I am over the moon to have finished my Còinneach.  This is the first time I have converted a cardigan pattern into a jumper and it was a bit of a guessing game, but the fit is great. Essentially, I just cast on the number of stitches for the next size up (minus the steek stitches), thinking that would cover the extra width of the button bands. I then made sure that when it came to the yoke, I had enough stitches to cover the pattern repeat.  I really love how the soft colours blend with each other; this has fast become my favourite sweater of all time. It was such an interesting yoke to knit as its intermittent purl stitches added texture as well as additional pattern.  Love, love, love it!

On the last day of my holiday, I was feeling quite a bit better, so sat down and just finished off my Rowchoish.  I wasn't sure about the shape initially, but having worn it all day at work, it's definitely growing on me. I like how it hugs my shoulders but keeps my arms free for computer work.

I made one modification which was to carry the rib pattern straight up the back. I have actually tried this on upside down and the rib creates a cozy shawl collar, making this shrug look more like a vest. I think I need to invest in a bigger shawl pin though.

I've also picked up my long-neglected Vaara Vest, designed by Mary Jane Mucklestone. I'd love to finish this by the Edinburgh Yarn Festival as it will be the perfect thing to wear in a hot and crowded marketplace.  I'm nearly at the armholes, so fingers crossed.

Monday, 12 February 2018

The West Highland Way Club or Why I Have So Many WIPS. . .

What can one week off accomplish?

I had some extra holiday time to take and the Winter Olympics - my favourite sporting event -  are on. What better excuse than to hunker down on the couch and try my best to get some WIPs off the needles?  I am not at all optimistic that I will finish all of these in a week, but I am vowing to knit at least a little bit on all of them and hopefully finish at least two.

I blame Kate Davies for my ever growing pile of unfinished projects. Every Wednesday she releases another gorgeous pattern in her West Highland Way club and my willpower collapses and I cast on immediately, putting aside the previous week's projects.  But I am going to try and focus - at least until next Wednesday.

So, in the order in which they were released, here is what I am working on:

1. Strathendrick.  I am up to the armhole increases on this one. Then I add the steek stitches, do the yoke and then it's just steeking, neck ribbing and sleeves.  I would be quite happy to just have the sleeves left to do by the end of this week.  I am still in love with this garment, but it is a LOT of knitting.

2. Còinneach.  This is an older photo but I actually have one sleeve completed and am nearly finished the body. I am planning on turning this cardigan into a jumper. Sleeves are good telly knitting, so surely I can get the second sleeve done and start on the yoke. That will be so much fun, I won't want to stop until it's done and then, hey, the whole jumper will be completed.  

3. The Shieling.  Again, another gorgeous design and I would love to someday knit the whole blanket. A cushion seemed much more realistic. The variegated yarn I chose definitely doesn't show off the pattern as clearly as I would like, but I chose it because it's the Nova Scotia colourway of Fleece Artist's Back Country chunky, a series that celebrates Canada's National Parks. There were so many Scots who emigrated to Canada and I thought it would be lovely to tie in the shared heritage of the two countries. I am going to knit a plain square for the back. This is currently blocking and the pattern is a little more distinct when you stretch out the square. The wool is incredibly soft and squooshy and this will make a lovely addition on my sofa. This project is definitely doable this week.

4. Rowchoish. I have been pondering casting on another Carbeth (yes, I know I don't need yet another project), in one single colour.  I have some Rowan Hemp Chunky in a grey/black colour and some Cascade Eco in the Pumpkin Spice colourway. When Rowchoish came along on Wednesday, I thought the Cascade Eco would be perfect for it.  Then I woke up literally having had a dream about this grey Woolyknit Country Tweed that I have had in my stash for years.  And then I thought it would be fun to have contrasting bobbles.  Now I think they look like Olympic Gold bobbles and the cables remind me of swaying skiers.  So this is the project I will most work on during my week of Olympic telly. Since the yarn is doubled, it is knitting up quite quickly so let's see if I can hang this shrug proudly around my neck before the Games are over.

Friday, 9 February 2018

My Persephone Shawl and the Books that Inspired it. . .

I've written before about my love of Persephone Books (see here and here for example), so when I thought about matching the patterns from Karie Westermann's This Thing of Paper with inspiration from my own bookshelves, this was the first project that came to mind.  I have been collecting Persephones for over ten years and they are the most elegant and beautifully produced books that I own.  I knew I had some cream and grey yarn in stash (Titus 4ply and Lichen & Lace 4ply) but had to have a real think about how to convey the unexpected and colourful endpapers that are a real design feature of Persephone books.

The solution was a skein of Ripples Craft 4ply Assynt yarn which has just about every colour in it!

The Psalter Shawl was the perfect design to combine all three skeins. I love how the mosaic middle section mimics a patterned print between the solid grey and white. Mosaic knitting, which is essentially slip stitch knitting, is also a lot of fun to do.  I was a bit worried about running out of the grey (I only had one skein), and so I did shorten the border by a few rows.

However the shawl has come out in a lovely size and is very cozy around the neck. These are not colours that I usually wear, but I think it's a very gentle, wintry type of palette and I am enjoying wearing this.

As for Persephone Books - do check out their list and website. They publish the most interesting, forgotten gems - not exclusively by women - from all over the world and in many different genres. Their books are also lovely to hold and read - beautiful paper, nice fonts and those endpapers! If you get on their mailing list, you'll receive their biannual magazine, always filled with interesting articles and short stories, and their website is a treasure trove of letters and posts about interesting exhibits, articles, and reviews relative to their books, authors, history, literature and London life.  You can easily get lost for hours on it and that's even before you get to the books!  And if you are ever in London, do visit their gorgeous little shop on Lamb's Conduit Street. It's not too far a walk from the British Museum and Bloomsbury and just a few streets away, if you are visiting the Dickens Museum, you can also pass the blue plaque showing where Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby lived (Persephone Book #76 is Holtby's The Crowded Street).

If you are new to Persephone or are pondering one of their books for a gift, I have two excellent suggestions to get you started.  Their 100th celebratory book - The Persephone Book of Short Stories - is the perfect taster for some of the more obscure writers that they've championed, alongside well known authors such as Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, Penelope Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker to name just a few.  And then as a primer to why so much of what they publish is important and, more importantly, just great writing, pick up a copy of #78 A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman, the founder and brains behind Persephone Books.  I read this years ago when it was published by Virago, drawn in by its cover, a film still from Brief Encounter (one of my favourite films).  It's a fascinating study of women's writing between the two world wars and will have you itching to discover many of the novels mentioned - no surprise that several have now been brought back into print by Persephone. There is a particular fondness for Dorothy Whipple.

While they have just published their 125th book, I have lagged behind a little in my reading.
I probably own about one hundred and have only read around thirty. Nevertheless, I have never been disappointed by any of their books and really applaud the fact that they are committed to keeping all titles in print.

For what it's worth, here are my favourite top 10 (in no particular order):

#1 William - an Englishman by Cicely Hamiliton.  The first Persephone I bought and read and still so powerful. It fed into my interest in both suffrage and literature by women about the first world war.
#16 Saplings by Noel Streatfeild.  Several novels published by Persephone deal so well with trauma faced by children and this is one of them. Heartbreaking.
#28 Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.  Ditto.
#7 The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. A fascinating novel about a married couple - she really wants a career and he really wants to stay at home with the children, but they don't realize it until circumstances force them to confront society expectations.  This was published in 1924.
#5 An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43. I went on a pilgrimage to see her house when I visited Amsterdam, so moved was I after reading this diary of a courageous and spirited woman in the darkest of times.
#30 Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll.  While many Persephones will make you cry, some will make you laugh, including this delightful collection of essays on food and etiquette in the 1920s.
#56 They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple.  Another heartbreaker but a page-turning one. The film version, while very different in some ways, is definitely worth a viewing too. James Mason in all his best sneering charm.
#92 Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill.  One of the few books they've published by a living author, albeit one who just celebrated her 100th birthday. She's still writing!  This is a very enjoyable collection of short stories and I love that the endpapers were taken from the author's own curtain fabric.
#42 The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.  A great psychological thriller. I have yet to see the film version titled The Reckless Moment. It also stars James Mason.
#98 A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf.  Yes, I already owned a much-thumbed copy but how could I resist a Persephone edition?  The endpapers are taken from the original jacket cover designed by Vanessa Bell.

Currently reading (to celebrate 100 years of some UK women getting the vote): #94, the suffrage novel No Surrender by Constance Maud.

Monday, 5 February 2018

A Little Bit of Spring as Winter Lingers. . .

I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to walking in the UK during winter, but it has nothing to do with the weather or the cold (I am Canadian after all).  No, the truth is, I really can't stand all the MUD! It's exhausting to walk through, not to mention slippery, and I hate cleaning the boots afterwards.

However, when the weather promises a crisp sunny day with no chance of rain whatsoever, the Liverpud and I start itching to get our boots on and get outside.  Yesterday was just such a day and so we headed to the Clywdian hills which are only about an hour's drive from Liverpool.  It's a place we've been to many times but we always enjoy the views and the undulating ridge is a good workout for the legs. Normally we park at Loggerheads and get to the top of Moel Famur via a bunch of fields but since these would have been fairly muddy, we opted to park two miles along the road and take the forest path up, which is very pretty - and drier.

I loved coming across this tree which looked quite festive with its 'pompoms'.

Out of the forest you come across the main parking lot and viewpoint which is very popular. There is even a tiny Shepherd's Hut selling refreshments with a proper espresso machine.  On this clear day, you could see the snow-covered mountains of Snowdonia off in the distance to the right.

We then joined the main path up to the Jubilee Tower at the top of Moel Famur. This was originally built for Queen Victoria's jubilee, then fell into ruin and has been slowly restored (what's left of it).

As we got higher and closer, there was ice on the path and snow on the ground but it was all rather lovely.

Look at these gorgeous patterns on the stones of the tower.

We then headed west along the ridge.

A frosty ground is good walking terrain as the mud is often frozen. However, this ridge is really up and down, and with the downs, the snow melted, it was slippery and muddy and yes, I ended up on my bum.

But then there were lovely, grassy paths to walk on, so all was forgiven.

We went as far as this view of Moel Arthur but then decided to go back, retracing our steps.  In total, we walked about 10 miles.

I never mind retracing my steps - walks always look different when the light changes or when you approach a landmark from another direction.

Oh, it was good to get out again.  We are very lucky to have this area on our doorstep.

Friday, 26 January 2018

My Year of Kate Davies. . .

Definitely more knitting than blogging going on here lately.

2018 is already turning out to be the year of Kate Davies. Last weekend, I finished my Warriston sweater and have been practically living in it ever since.  This is an older pattern of hers, but feels just as current and creative as her latest designs.  Sometimes you just want the satisfaction of a quick, chunky knit. I started this back in December, had knit most of the body and then put it aside. I was then working on a lot of projects on tiny needles; I really needed to pull this out and finish it and I'm so glad I did.

The yarn is Jamieson's of Shetland Aran in a rich chocolate colourway called Broch. It has flecks of deep blue and a bit of orange in it. It knits up a dream.  I decided to add a contrast colour for the pocket linings, just for fun. This is some Hebridean aran that I've had in my stash for yonkers. I like the unexpected pop of purple.

Kate's West Highland Way club is now in full force and everything she's released so far has been gorgeous. I used some of my remaining Milarrochy Tweed to knit the first pattern - the Craigallian hat.  I used all of her neutral colours and added just a teeny bit of the vibrant Stockiemuir green. Against the soft grey it comes out quite muted, but I like the effect. At some point I'll get around to casting on the accompanying mittens. 

Next up was the STUNNING Strathendrick which I cast on almost immediately.  It's a monumental bit of knitting - a huge, boxy, sweater - but I have nothing like it in my wardrobe and the fitted sleeves and split hem give it a very modern look. I'm not the biggest fan of flower motifs so have just removed them and left some white space.  I am loving the colours and yarn I have chosen.  It is all Jamieson & Smith jumper 2ply with the exception of the red which is Cambrian Wool 4ply in Welsh Red.  I bought four balls of this last year at WonderWool and have been waiting for the perfect project to show them off. I am smitten with the colour and think I'm even going to enjoy knitting the sleeves on this one.

I will be quite some time working away on Strathendrick, addictive as it is.  My aim is to finish it for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March.  However, that doesn't stop me planning my next Kate Davies design. This week she released this beautiful yoked cardigan completely at home among the mossy landscape of the West Highland Way.  I've been inspired to dig out my Hebridean wool for this. My precious 4ply from Uist Wool has also been waiting for the ideal project.  I have a few skeins of Alice Starmore's Hebridean 2ply that will hopefully work with it. It'll be a softer look than Kate's but I'm excited to cast on.  Though patience is definitely not one of my virtues, I will try to wait until I'm at least up to the sleeves of Strathendrick. Can't promise though.

This is my inspiration photo for the cardigan (which I may knit as a jumper - not decided yet). It's the view from the top of Eavel in North Uist and one of my favourite hikes from last year's Hebridean holiday.

What will Kate come up with next???

Friday, 12 January 2018

This Thing of Paper, This Thing of Beauty. . .

"As a knitter, I find the connections and parallels between knitting and books compelling. The move from something handmade to machine-made is one which is perhaps most poignant to us knitters as the world keeps reminding us it would be quicker (and probably cheaper) if we bought a machine-knitted garment rather than insisted on making it ourselves. And yet we persist."

These wise words are from the introduction to Karie Westermann's new book This Thing of Paper, which explores these connections between knitting and the early production of books. It rings a bell on so many levels for me.  I started my career over twenty years ago as a bookseller in an independent bookstore.  A bookworm since seven, I absolutely loved my job.  Then came the rise of the chain stores with their unfair discounts and competitive advantages. And then Amazon came along. And then pallets of cheap mass market books stacked high in Costco and Walmart.  It was all about the price, not the experience and not the knowledge and passion of the staff. I got tired of people wandering in, asking for recommendations, browsing carefully curated displays, then writing down titles and ordering online. In short, it was no longer any fun.  I then moved to publishing and found a whole tribe of dedicated people in the indie presses who were as enthusiastic about good writing, creativity and undiscovered talent as I was.  But they were just a small part of the huge publishing conglomerate that I worked for and frequently never given the respect and resources they deserved. When my bosses started regularly referring to books as units, then publishing was no longer fun, particularly when social media was in its early stages and it was more important to get "likes" of books than to actually read or talk about them.

What has all this got to do with knitting?

Well, since I moved to the UK and started going to wool shows around the country, meeting knitters in person and through ravelry,  I have definitely found my tribe again (and it's no coincidence that knitters are often huge readers too). An appreciation of the physical object, of the time and talent that it takes to produce something of beauty, either in text or texture, unites us all.  I will admit that when self-publishing first started to make inroads into the industry, I was skeptical.  But for knitting and other craft books, it's been a revelation; authors and makers have really been able to take a theme close to their heart and produce gorgeous and authentic books that reflect their vision and passion. Would a mainstream publisher have taken a chance on Kate Davies' earliest books ( I think they would now, but I'm glad she has retained all the creative control and is continuing to self-publish).  Would they have looked twice at something like Anna Maltz's quirky and fabulous  Penguin:  A Knit Collection?  Probably not.  And these are only two examples of the many wonderful and original self-published craft books I have added to my collection over the years, and that keep on appearing. Long may it last!

And This Thing of Paper is another incredible example.  The book itself is a joy to hold; as much thought has gone into the production values as the patterns. The paper, font, photography are all beautiful and Karie has written short essays on the various aspects and components involved in creating medieval manuscripts and early printed books.  A bit of book history and part of it too - a copy is going to be held in the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, such an incredible honour.

I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this project and thus lucky enough to test knit one of the patterns - the Rubrication Shawl - back in June.  It is a stunning pattern, which as Karie writes, was designed to resemble "nibs spilling ink across a surface and droplets becoming leaves (we often refer to a leaf of paper, of course). It is a pattern which is both text and texture."

I used Countess Ablaze's English Gentleman Fingering in one of my favourite wool blends, BFL and Masham, and I love the vibrant colour and soft and cozy feel of this shawl. It shows off the intricate stitch patterns perfectly.

There are eleven patterns in total - two cardigans, one jumper, four shawls (a Karie specialty), one cowl, a pair of mittens and a hat and fingerless mitts set. Reading through the essays and seeing the inspiration behind the designs has also inspired me to pay tribute to the innovation and creativity that has personally touched me, as a reader, as a bookseller, as a publishing sales rep and marketer, and as an appreciator and collector of the printed word.  The history of the book is ongoing. The indies are holding on and in some cases making a comeback.  There is every reason to be positive and celebratory. Print is definitely not dead.  We can read. We can knit. Sometimes I wish I could do both simultaneously. We can persist.

I've already knit one other project in the book, inspired by one of my favourite small presses, but I will leave that for another post. There is a KAL starting up in Karie's Ravelry group on Monday, January 15th and running through to March. Pop in and join us!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Productive January So Far. . .

There's a wonderful sense of well-being when all your knitting projects are going well and working out as you'd hoped. I finished my Stevenson Sweater, by Kate Davies, using all twelve colours of her new Milarrochy yarn and I am in love. It fits perfectly and I can now be a walking shade card, whenever I want to choose colours for another project.

Here they are in bright sunshine - the yarn bloomed beautifully and while there is a bit a of prickle factor, I'm not terribly sensitive so am happy to wear this against bare skin.  It will be a great piece to wear in warmer weather as is, and I'll layer it over a long-sleeved shirt in the cooler months.

Kate's new West Highland Way club released its first pattern - the Craigallian hat and mittens - yesterday and I've already cast on for the hat.  I only used about two-thirds of the yarn to make the sweater - below are my left-overs and there is plenty to pop into future designs.

While getting ready for the club pattern releases, Kate also published Carbeth, a very quick and quirky jumper, knit in bulky yarn.  It's such a quick knit that I managed it in four days.  I think it probably does look best in a single colour, but I was good and used up stash.

The brown/olive is some Cascade Eco that I've had for years. The variegated is a skein and half of Fleece Artist Back Country. Last year was the 150th anniversary of Canada's National Parks and this Nova Scotian dyer created special colourways for each of the province's parks. This green is celebrating Gros Morne in Newfoundland. I loved the idea behind the colours and ordered two skeins each of five colourways. When the box arrived, I got a bit of a shock - I had been so focused on ordering the right park, that I failed to notice the weight. I thought I was getting fingering; instead, I got chunky! Since then, I've been looking for suitable patterns to use some of it up, so am thrilled this came along and the colours remind me, appropriately enough,  of a Canadian pine forest.  I made a few mods - added some inches to the cropped length and changed the collar. The original has a rolled up collar, but I can never get them to behave properly.  I have to block this, but it's the perfect jumper to throw over a pair of jeans.

I seem to be a bit obsessed with green and brown at the moment. To match my Elska hat, I've also cast on some mittens in mostly the same colours.  These are the Shaila Mittens by Ella Gordon and it's really nice to have a smaller colourwork project on the go.

I love it when the year gets off to a great start.  So much fun knitting ahead. . .