Thursday, 5 April 2018

Hiking the Howgills. . .

If you ever take the Settle to Carlisle railway, or travel up to Scotland on the west coast lines, you'll inevitably pass by the Howgills. These are a gorgeous series of hills that are just a wee bit east of the Lake District and much less populated.  They are a great place to head on a holiday weekend as there are lots of great hiking trails and open spaces, and you'll likely not encounter a soul.

I've previously hiked these hills from Sedbergh (a village well worth a visit in its own right), but on Easter Sunday, the Liverpud and I decided to tackle them from the north side and we parked at Ravenstonedale instead. The beginning of our ten mile circular walk was through lovely fields.

With the hills beckoning in the distance.

The sheep were all enjoying the sunshine and so were we.

The paths up are quite gradual and a lot less steep than some of the Lakeland fells. Apart from a few boggy bits lower down, by the time you are on the top, the paths are dry and springy underfoot.

This is the view from our first summit - Green Bell Hill.

I have nicknamed these hills "the Pillows" because they do have that look of soft, slightly crumpled, slightly squishy, dishevelled bedlinen.

My camera couldn't really capture it, but when on the top of the Howgills you do get marvellous views. The Lake District is to the west, the Pennines are to the north and to the east you can see the Yorkshire Dales.

We came down via Hooksey and found a field full of happy Herdies.  What a nice way to end a walk.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Edinburgh Love. . .

One week later and I'm still trying to absorb all the inspiration and activity that was the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  Five full days of meeting up with friends, rushing around the marketplace, popping into a class and a talk and living off lots of coffee, adrenaline and far too little sleep, took their toll and I arrived back exhausted and with a nagging cold. I haven't even unpacked my yarn purchases yet and while my list of things to knit - I saw SO many amazing garments - has grown and grown, I've been almost paralyzed in trying to organize my knitting this week.

I will blog more about my purchases and plans when I can get my head around them, but for now, I'm just going to look back at the fun I had in the city itself - which is half the reason for going there!

I had travelled up a few days earlier with the Liverpudlian, hoping we'd get to do some hiking in the Pentlands. Unfortunately, when we took the bus up, we found the lower levels far too icy and we were slipping and sliding.  So we abandoned that idea, took the bus back to Stockbridge and walked the several miles via the waterway to Leith.  There was sunshine on Leith when we arrived and it's quite a pretty place.

We also went up Arthur's Seat which is such a gem of a place to have in the middle of a busy city. This is the view of it from the castle.

And when you are at the top, the views in all directions are spectacular.

We also visited the National Museum of Scotland which is a magnificent building in its own right with great views (such as the one of the castle below) from its rooftop terrace. It's well worth a visit - lots of interesting stuff to see.

 I also love popping by the Dovecot Studios where I was amused to see yarn being put on a pedestal! Well, why not?  Especially when you see what happens when you weave these colours together.

Incredible isn't it?  That centre just glows.  It's all part of this exhibition and will be hanging there until May.

Thanks Edinburgh - you were fantastic as always!

P.S. OK - one quick yarn purchase photo. How could I resist the Jamieson's of Shetland booth?

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.