Monday, 19 September 2016

A Weekend of Clarity. . .

I've had a wonderful weekend with lots of time to ponder my crafting life   It really started on Friday morning when I attempted to sort out some of my yarn stash. I'd bought these large plastic clothes bags from Lakeland which I thought would be perfect to store some of my sweater quantities of yarn and then I could use the rest for other single skeins (the package contained 10 bags).  I thought I maybe had about 4-6 sets of sweater quantity yarn. Eight at the most.

Ahem.  I was wrong.  Turns out when you really start digging through all the baskets, all the boxes, and all the project bags that contain yarn, you find all sorts of purchases you had forgotten about.  I had enough yarn for at least sixteen sweaters, not including various skeins in twos and threes that I could combine for colour work or stripes.  In short, I need to go back to Lakeland for more bags.


I am a bit horrified at how much yarn I have.  This has sobered me up which is a very good thing with Yarndale looming.  I really need to be much more restrained.  I need to keep all this lovely wool in my head against all the temptations of more lovely wool that I know I'll encounter at the show.  I am not good at self-control but this experiment has really opened my eyes and I'm actually looking forward to a challenge of restraint.  The good news is that I've planned specific projects for almost all of the wool, so it will just be a case of casting on and working my way though it all.  For the next decade or so. . .

Saturday, I went over to the Wirral with my friend Sue, and took a six hour workshop on eco-dyeing at The Wild Dyery.  Below, I think is the madder plant which you use to get a reddish colour.  I was all excited to buy some of these plants and grow them in my garden until I touched the leaves which feel a little tingly/spiky. You certainly don't want to stroke them.  And the colour comes from the roots and can take up to four years to cultivate.  In the workshop we used natural madder powder which you can just order online.



It was a very well organised and enjoyable day.  Justine showed us this beautiful sample that she made showing how the addition of extra material such as iron, copper and soda can subtly change the colours.


We then got to make our own little swatch books with these silk squares. And spent the morning learning various shibori techniques to play with patterns on square bits of cotton.  


After lunch we all got to play and dye our own silk scarf.  I just love how different and vibrant everyone's turned out (mine's the one on top - I later took it off the line and had one more dip in the indigo so those lines of squares are now blue like the scarf in the bottom left.  Yep, I totally stole her idea because it looked so good).


Sunday I went off to York for the day, pottered around the streets in the morning and then met up with a lovely group of knitters who call themselves the Northern Knitting Powerhouse and had come from a number of different cities to have lunch, a couple of drinks and some good conversation.  Now, it may seem daft to travel two hours for a knit and natter group, but I really, really enjoyed the afternoon.  They meet once every two months and though I follow and communicate with several of them through ravelry and social media, there's no substitute for just getting together in person, eating good food, having a laugh and doing a lot of knitting.  For various reasons, I haven't been able to go to a regular knit group in Liverpool and I've really missed it. Plus, I got a lot of knitting time on the train, tried some Earl Grey beer, had some excellent fish and chips for lunch and some tasty mini Yorkshire puds with gravy for the ride home, so all in all it was a very productive day.

And I had a good conversation at the knit group about spinning.  I have tried for several months now to improve my drop spindling.  It's not getting much better.  And even when I have spun something I'm happy with, I'm really hopeless at plying.  I was toying with the idea of investing in a spinning wheel, but honestly, do I really have the time to learn yet another craft?  No I do not. I have a lot of knitting to do.  I'm actually fairly good at knitting and that is my main enjoyment.  I need to dig out my loom again as I really loved weaving as well (and it will use up stash).   I had lots of fun at the eco-dyeing workshop and can see myself giving it a go at home but in a very small way.  I have a lot of fabric in my stash and learning to sew my own clothes would be far more useful than learning to properly spin.  So that was a great weight off my shoulders.  I will use my fibre for felting instead.  One of the women in my workshop described how you could add it to silk scarves as an embellishment and then felt it. Perfect.

And if it's a choice of getting on a train, travelling to another yarn festival (I've already been to six this year!) and buying more stash, or going to another knit group in York, I think for the time being (Yarndale being the exception - but I really will be a model of restraint!) the latter will win out - at least until I have about five more sweaters finished.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Preparing for Yarndale or Why I'll be Making a Beeline for the Blacker Booth. . .

Next week is Yarndale, one of my favourite woolly shows, and really the start of the proper autumn knitting season.  Last year, it was all about finding different single British breeds for the Knit British swatch-a-long, which is still ongoing.  And I was determined to get my hands on some of the limited supply of Cornish Tin, the 10th birthday blend from Blacker Yarns.

I did get three skeins of undyed Cornish Tin DK and knit the body of my Gwindra Shawl in it earlier this year.


The demand for this limited wool was so popular that Blacker are just about to release Cornish Tin II for their eleventh anniversary, and Sonia was kind enough to send me a sample along with some shade cards.  It is a glorious combination of all-British fibres: Alpaca, Portland, Saxon Merino, Gotland, Jacob, Shetland, Black Welsh Mountain, Mohair and English Merino.

I decided to crochet a little coaster as it always surprises me that more crochet designers don't use pure wool or natural fibres, apart from cotton; I regularly see glorious and very time-consuming blanket pattern kits and they often come with yarn that is 50% or more acrylic.  Which just turns me off.  Personally, if I'm going to spend months on a project, I want to use proper sheepy yarn which will keep me warmer and last longer.  Marie Wallin will be releasing a new Winter Crochet book at Yarndale and I believe she'll have some of the garments on display, which is another reason why I wanted to test out Tin II with my hook, which was a 3.75mm one.


From just feeling the ball of yarn, I could tell that it was much softer than its predecessor.   It was very smooth to crochet and my washed and blocked swatch has bloomed slightly and has a wee bit of a halo with a few stray black and white fibres sticking out. It is soft and cozy to the touch and I think it would have a decent stitch definition and look fantastic in a cabled sweater.  Seen side by side with the undyed Tin I (which, when washed and blocked got softer), I would say the only difference is a slightly more brownish tinge to Tin II, but it's barely noticeable.  Running my hands over both projects, I can't really tell the difference in terms of texture or softness.  Suffice it to say that fans of Tin I will be really happy with this newer version too.


Tin II will not only be available undyed of course. Have a look at these luscious colours!


At the moment, the Ding Dong Purple which is a deep plum, and the vibrancy of Wheal Kitty Orange are calling to me. Cornish Tin II comes in both 4ply and DK weights and will be available online on September 20th from both Blacker and online retailers such as BritYarn.  And of course they will have plenty of skeins (I hope) at their Yarndale booth.  It will be limited though, so get your hands on it early.

Blacker has also teamed up with The Knitting Goddess for their St. Kilda lace, a mix of Boreray and Soay wool, and she has dyed the most beautiful rainbow of colours.  These will also be making their debut at Yarndale and will be available at both the Blacker and Knitting Goddess booths.  There's a great interview with Joy at the Knit British podcast here, where she talks about the collaboration with Blacker and announces that there will be mini-skeins available of the St. Kilda lace too.  A bundle of those is definitely at the top of my want list. I'm very pleased to see that Blacker has also introduced a darker undyed colour which is also very beautiful.


I need to be quite restrained at Yarndale as my stash is really getting out of control, but it's hard when so many lovely vendors are showcasing new yarns and new colourways. I want to support them all. 

Another booth I'll need to visit is the Border Tart. I've bought some of her indigo dyed yarn previously but she's really been expanding her colour palette.  I was especially taken with these packages of Masham/BFL wool that she posted on Instagram.  All her colours not surprisingly,  go very well with indigo. 

And I always need to stop by Baa Ram Ewe. There are some new shades of Titus out and also their Dovestone range is now available in five undyed aran colours This is a mixture of BFL, Masham and Wensleydale and is very, very covetable. 

Daughter of a Shepherd will be there and I need to pick up a few more skeins of her gorgeous wool. She recently posted a teaser photo on IG that suggests she may have a few project bags woven out of that same wool.  Oh, so, so tempting.  I bet they will not last long.

I'd also like to pick up some natural coloured linen from Midwinter Yarns, or Namolio,  already thinking to next summer's knitting. I have various gradient colours in my stash and need some neutrals to balance them out.

And given my recent Scottish holiday on the north west coast, I will need to visit Ripples Crafts and revel in all the beautiful hand-dyed yarn, inspired by the colours of the Assynt that I fell in love with too. 

I live in constant danger of coming home with a spinning wheel too. 

But mostly Yarndale is all about the train ride up to Skipton with coffee, knitting and friends, walking along the beautiful canal, bumping into people I know from ravelry and IG and putting faces to names and knitwear, getting inspired by the creativity of awesome vendors and just soaking in a wonderful atmosphere.  Can't wait. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Hap #6: Noro Nut-Hap and More Autumn Knitting. . .

I recently completed my Nut-Hap, designed by Jen Arnall-Culliford and though it's a bit wonky (due to my careless knitting), I think it is an interesting piece.


I had always wanted to do this in lace-weight to bring the size down a little as the original piece is huge and would be far too warm for me. I cast on the same number of stitches but added a few rows for width. This has changed the sleek stream-lined shape of the original pattern (sorry Jen), but as I plan to mostly wrap this around my neck, I'm not too bothered about it.

I was lucky to find three balls of Madeline Tosh Prairie lace in my stash - leftovers from previous projects and the colours really matched the Noro yarn.  I only had the three that would work, so just  did three tucks.  And this was a lovely technique to knit, although  with such small stitches, you really had to be vigilant so they wouldn't slip off your needles.  I wasn't so keen-eyed and a few stitches dropped which I managed to secure and somehow get knitted again, but I'll be the first to admit my technique was a bit sloppy and the tucks don't lie as flat as they perhaps should do.  Well, I'm happy to sport the crumpled look.  It's the colours I think that make this project zing.


I will admit that I was happy to get the Nut-Hap off the needles.  I love the design but it is a LOT of knitting and I was getting a bit bored with it.  The only cure is to cast on something new that is easy and really interesting.  Waiting For Rain fit the bill perfectly.  This is designed by Sylvia, a Canadian who goes under the name Softsweater Knits and this is a brilliant pattern, using short rows to create the lace panels. This is an easily adaptable pattern for size, number of colours and panels - it's a quick and lovely knit.  The rusty colour is called Moroccan Spice and it was hand-dyed by Riverside Studios in Wakefield, Quebec. It is absolutely gorgeous yarn - the colours glow.  The lace panels were knit using Life in the Long Grass yarn, a new-to-me dyer based in Ireland.  The colourway is Peninsula.



I really love this shawl - I would have made it bigger but I only had one skein of the main colour.  Still, it's big enough to wrap around my neck and I can see this being the go-to scarf for this autumn.


 What else am I knitting?  Why, more lace-weight because I'm obviously crazy.  But I love this Kidsilk Haze striped yarn that I recently bought. It has blues, greys, greens and yellows in it and it's perfect for a Slovenia, designed by Kaffe Fassett.  And it's self-striping so I don't need to add the stripes myself and weave in a hundred ends.  This will make a simple but cozy top.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Kidsilk Haze.  The fabric created is so light and soft, but with its mohair halo, it can be really hard to see the stitches clearly.  Still, this makes the perfect project to carry around in your bag - it weighs hardly anything!


And the colours are reminding me of the hills near Llangollen.  We were back there yesterday, leading the walk for our group and the smudgy colours still strike me with awe.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Bring on Autumn. . .

September has arrived as a sunny, summery day but I'm actually looking forward to crisper, cooler weather which I hope will spur me on to finish a number of knitting projects that will be perfect for a fall wardrobe.  I'm eyeing all the warm, rich, reds and oranges and yellows in my stash and wanting to cast on a dozen things.

First off, I'm fairly close to finishing my Miette cardigan, which is a free pattern designed by Andi Satterlund who does the sweetest cropped sweaters. I've got another sleeve to knit and then the button and neck bands.  I've been playing yarn chicken with this project, but think now I will be fine and this will be such a useful piece to throw over a dress.  I think I may even have the perfect buttons for it, but will have to fudge the number of button holes.  The yarn is two different weights of Cascade Eco and Cascade 220 Heathers, in approximately the same colour.  The ribbing and bands will be in the lighter weight which hopefully won't be too noticeable or jarring.


I haven't stopped knitting haps though.  Nearly finished my Noro Nut-hap, designed by Jen Arnall-Cuilliford.  I'm on to the tucks which I'm doing in some Madeline Tosh laceweight from other projects. The sheen on the yarn is a nice contrast to the silk/wool texture of the Noro which I used for the main ribbing.  I've goofed and done the tucks in the wrong direction, but as long as I'm consistent, it should work out fine. The colours are definitely wintry even though I was aiming for a lighter, summer scarf.  But this will really spice up a plain black or grey outfit so I can't wait for it to be finished.


And since I always need a hap on the needles, over in the Jen Arnall-Culliford ravelry group, a new Picture This KAL has begun - you can knit anything that is inspired by a photo.  I really want to capture the hills that I love to walk in, with all their heathery glory, particularly at this time of year, so this is my inspiration photo.

And with a little bit of stash diving, I've come up with these skeins to knit up a Montbretia designed by Carol Feller.  


Heather was also on my mind when I dug out a bag of Noro Kochoran bulky that I bought when it was being discontinued.  I had ten skeins and each one has been used to crochet a lovely big granny square. This will make a lovely blanket for the sofa.


And I'll be adding a cushion to go with it.  Back at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I purchased the pattern for Janie Crow's amazing Persian Tiles blanket.  I still intend to make the full blanket some day, but was curious to see if I could make it.  So just using some scrap bits of wool, I spent a morning crocheting one of the main motifs.  I really love how it turned out and it's just the perfect size for a pillow. The instructions are very clear and it's simply a case of just doing one round at a time, although there are a million ends to weave in (that's a project for another day).


I don't want to look at another pastel colour until maybe March - time for wool and warmth.  And to that end, even though Yarndale is less than a month away (yay!), I couldn't resist ordering some of Ripples Craft's gorgeous skeins, inspired in part by the Assynt coast that she lives near.

If these beauties don't say autumn, I don't know what does.


Monday, 22 August 2016

A Weekend of Colour: Wool and Walking. . .

Despite rain on both days (Saturday, especially), it was a weekend completely filled with colour.


On Saturday, I traveled the short distance over to Port Sunlight for the Pop-Up Wool Show.  It was held in Hulme Hall which was a lovely venue for a small but really great collection of vendors.  In particular, I was really chuffed to see so much British wool on display. I picked up two skeins of tweedy Hebridean mixed with Whitefaced Woodland from Gam Farm Rare Breeds, two skeins of WYS signature 4ply and the Yorkshire Shores pattern book from The Loveliest Yarn Company, and a skein of dyed Corriedale from Coastal Colours. They don't sell online but do several shows - they will next be at the Bakewell and Kendal wool gatherings - and I love the feel of this yarn and the muted yellowy-green-brown colours.  That gorgeous Rhubarb and Custard Shetland roving is dyed by Yarns From the Plain and as I was walking through the gardens towards the Lady Lever Art Gallery, I couldn't help but stop and take the above picture.


Then I got home to a lovely package from the Countess Ablaze.  She's recently introduced a fingering version of her English Gentlemen yarn. It's 75% BFL and 25% Masham and is absolutely lovely. It has a bit of a rustic feel, but is soft and springy.  I think it looks fantastic, undyed as in the far left, but equally takes dye beautifully.  The other colourways from left to right are Stardust, Grey Skies in Manchester and Shiver.  And these are pretty tame compared to the really vibrant colours the Countess comes up with.  I'm really excited to knit with this wool - it may well be my new favourite yarn; I've been squishing it all weekend.


On Sunday the Liverpud and I were off to North Wales to recce an upcoming walk.  We did a circular along parts of the North Berwyn Way, starting in Llangollen.  The heather was out in full force and stretching as far as the eye could see.





Intermingled with the vibrant green grasses - this is nature's palette at its very best.



And below is my favourite photo.  It's not been retouched in any way - these truly were the colours of the Berwyn Hills in dappled light and shadow.


These shorn sheep just popped against the colourful landscape.


After the walk, we took a short drive to the nearby Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the longest one in the U.K. You can walk across it.


Or stand and wait for a canal boats to go across.


The day ended with heavy rain, but the head is buzzing with all sorts of colour inspiration.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Blown Away Again in Birmingham: The Festival of Quilts 2016. . .

This is becoming an annual pilgrimage and a happy one at that.  Even though the crowds get bigger each year and the venue becomes hotter, I absolutely love this show and always come away completely inspired and eager to get sewing.  Here are just a few of my favourites, among the many, many, many amazing quilts that were on display. If you want to see more, just head over to instagram at this link.

To begin with, this was the one that took first prize by Laura Kemshall. Yes it is a quilt.  What you can't see that well in the photo are the various words and phrases interwoven among the landscape. Just amazing.


As is this one - The Photographer by Constanze Botel and Britta Beutnagel.   I took a close up of that "knitted" sweater cuff, but there's nothing knitted about it - that's all clever fabric choice and stitching.


Loved this huge quilt too: Ruins 6 by Leah Higgins.


Below are a bunch of other jaw-droppingly beautiful pieces.  I'm sorry I forgot to write down the names of all the artists, but you can see the variety of styles and stitching techniques on display.


The one in the top left corner is Tartan Tatoo by Linzi Upton.  Below is a close -up of some of the amazing stitching in each square.


This was my favourite in the Pictorial Quilt category: Harbour at Low Tide by Kate Dowty.  I love how she even got the shadows of the balls into her quilt  (that long diagonal shadow in the top left corner actually is a shadow - it was a bad angle to take the photo, sorry.).


There were some smaller quilts in a display by the Yorkshire Quilter's Guild inspired by Charlotte Bronte and created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth.


And some very colourful quilts from Japan and Korea.


Heather, Peat and Lichen by Julie Bower used woolen tweeds and some very impressive stitching to create all this texture. It reminds me of one of those miniature Buddhist sand gardens,


Kaffe Fassett was also there, with an exhibit of quilts from his own collection - ones that have inspired his design work. I caught a glimpse of him later at a book signing where he was knitting a striped sock. He'll be giving a talk in Liverpool later this year - already have my ticket!

 
I loved all the colours in this one.


Of course there was also a marketplace but I was relatively restrained.   My favourite booth was Linladan Embroidery with their gorgeous selection of flax threads.  I bought a book of Swedish historical embroidery patterns that would also work well for knitted colourwork.  I couldn't resist - look how beautifully they packaged it, with a little bundle of free tapestry wool thrown in,


I also got some wonderful 100% wool felt to back a crocheted cushion, some sashiko samplers and thread, some calico for an upcoming eco-dyeing workshop that I'm very excited about, and some fun fat quarters. I particularly like the "paint by number" fabric which could look fabulous with some embroidery dotted here and there, Swedish or otherwise.


All in all it was a great day out.  I'll be back next year for sure.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Five Little Haps, All in a Row. The Sixth is Steeked and the Seventh's a Go. . .


And here's my finished Houlland, all blocked.


The yarn - Gotland lace from The Little Grey Sheep - blocked out nicely although it has a slight halo so the pattern isn't as defined as it would be with a smoother yarn.


I still think it looks quite elegant and it is very, very warm. And no itch factor at all. 


It can also be worn quite casually around the neck and the colour will go quite nicely with my dark brown winter coat.


I've been absolutely obsessed over the last two months with knitting haps - they've been such interesting and fun projects and I now have plenty of stylish warmth on hand.  The two KALs on Ravelry have been full of inspiration and encouraging tips and chatter - such a lovely group of knitters -  and I hope the threads will continue well past the KAL deadlines.  I certainly still want to knit all 13 patterns in the book, although I will slow the pace down a little now as I have quite a few sweater wips on the go.

But I've steeked the shoulders on the Hamegaet Wrap.


And cast on for the Nut-Hap with some Noro Taiyo lace.  This will make a much smaller scarf, rather than a large shawl, but I'm happy with that as I really want something more summery to wear. It means knitting a lot more rows to get a good width though.


Now I just have to think about outfits for all of these haps.  No problems with my Happenstance - I recently ordered a new dress when Seasalt had their sale, and the colours are a perfect match. Happy happenstance indeed.