Friday, 7 April 2017

A Yarn Inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. . .

Running until May 7th, over at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery, there is an exhibition called Victorian Treasures.   Among the many 19th century paintings are several by the Pre-Raphaelites, as wealthy Liverpool merchants were very fond of acquiring them and the gallery has quite a good collection.  This is my favourite: I have always loved the petulant expression on Frederick Sandys' Helen of Troy, painted in 1866. All subsequent photos of paintings in this post are taken from this exhibition.

The exhibition is free and well worth a visit. I popped in just before the Edinburgh Yarn Festival to re-acquaint myself with the rich colours of the paintings, and to get in the proper mood for Blacker's new yarn that was being launched at EYF.

Samite is a silk/wool blend that was directly inspired by an irresistible combination of the Arts and Crafts movement, Pre-Raphaelite artists and Victorian poetry.

It is a 3ply mixture of 40% Shetland, 30% Blue-faced Leicester, 10% Gotland and 20% Ahmisa silk which is cruelty-free silk, allowing the moths to emerge from their cocoons before the silk is extracted.  As such, it has a rustic texture, but with a lovely drape.  Sonia from Blacker Yarns kindly gave me a shade card and a mini-skein to try out.  The alluring colourways are all deliciously pulled from Victorian poetry - Bursting Figs, Drowsy Flowers, Peacock's Neck, Aspen's Shiver.  Just fabulous. Makes me want to dig out my copy of A.S.Byatt's novel Possession and arrange myself languidly on a chaise-lounge.

I swatched with 'Tide of Dreams' that perfectly echos one of the colours found in this John Everett Millais' painting, The Good Resolve.  As you can see, the yarn has great stitch definition (there are tiny cables in the swatch ) and would also work really well for lace patterns. It's got a great handle, flows very nicely through the fingers and while firm, it's not at all rough. I have only washed and blocked the swatch once, but I feel it will get softer with each wash and will be lovely to wear against the skin.  The yarn isn't cheap, (£24.60 a skein) but you get 460 metres/ 503 yards per skein, and for a special project, I feel you'll get years and years of wear out of it. The price reflects the extra cost of using Ahmisa silk but it's also nice knowing that Blacker has gone out of its way to source an ethical material.


I bought two skeins of 'Burnished Night' which matches the gorgeous robe worn here in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting, Sibylla Palmifera

And I have decided to knit Lucy Hague's gorgeous Uncia from The Book of Haps.

You might remember that I cast on this hap a few months ago with some Texel wool which just wasn't right for this project.  It gave me texture, but not the drape that I think Uncia really deserves.  So far, I think the Samite will give me both and I can already feel the difference, just in the small portion that I've knitted so far. It's hard to depict in a photo, but the Samite is much lighter and looser while still maintaining the stitch definition.  I am really happy about the switch.

Kudos to Blacker Yarns for yet another innovative and interesting yarn with a great story and ethos behind it.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Spring Colour and a Spring Cowl. . .

A completely frivolous post for a Monday, but with lots of colour.  I was in York over the weekend at a knit and natter and was completely captivated by these daffodils cascading down the hill from the city walls.

York is a wonderful walkable city and I popped into their relatively new Seasalt store as we don't have one in Liverpool.  I love their clothing - it's comfortable, well made and designed with interesting prints.  But today it was their bags I was on the hunt for and I have now bought my perfect summer bag.  It's so large and roomy - a sweater project can easily fit, along with all the other essentials that need to travel with me, and I love the bright orangey-coral colour. This will be the perfect carry-on bag for flights and also a good wool festival bag - I can squish an awful lot of yarn into it.

As a bonus, I picked up one of their new canvas shopping bags too - one can never have enough project bags!  It's so pretty and was only £4. The print is meant to evoke the nautical, but all I see are Crazy Zauberballs!

This might be because I spent several hours on the train and also at the meet-up, knitting away on my helical striped cowl.  I finished somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool and grafted the ends together this morning.

It does have a spring look and feel to it, although it was far too warm to wear it today.

Despite my intentions to knit to the end of both Zauberballs, I quit with possibly 15- 20% of each ball still remaining.  The cowl was certainly long enough and I think I was starting to see stripes in my sleep! I'm pleased with the outcome and it'll be a cozy and cheery cowl to pull out on really grey and cold winter days.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My Shivery Dunyvaig. . .

I have another finished shawl!  Or scarf.  Or both. This is Dunyvaig, from Kate Davies' new book, Inspired by Islay.

It's knit in Countess Ablaze English Gentleman 4ply, in a skein of the undyed and a colourway called Shiver. The yarn is a mixture of BFL and Masham and it is really soft, but also shows the gansey-inspired texture beautifully.

I made several changes to the pattern apart from choosing to stripe it. I made decreases at the end to mirror the increases, and also didn't start the textured patterns until I'd increased to the full width. I also knit less pattern repeats and it has definitely ended up wide enough.

It's now shortly off to Canada as an early Mother's Day gift - there is still another month of winter to go.  I think Mum will also find this useful to throw over her shoulders on chilly spring or fall days as she sits on her balcony or goes for a walk. But I may just have to knit another for myself! The Countess Ablaze has just opened a new store in Manchester and I feel a visit is imminent. And I will definitely be tempted by her bolder and brighter colours. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

First The Rain, Then The Rainbows. . .

You might remember last month, the Liverpud and I did a recce for an upcoming walk near Grasmere.  The following week, he went off with a mate and decided on a different route which he assured me I'd like better.  So on Sunday, it was time to for him to lead the walk with our rambling group. It had been raining quite hard - and was still raining - in the Lake District.   This was the overflow near the White Moss car park where we left the coach.  The water was knee-deep over many of the paved paths resulting in a few detours.

Head for the hills! The higher paths definitely were better.  This is the famous view of Grasmere, unfortunately most of it made obscure by the rain and mist.

Things got better as we continued up Silver How.  Essentially we're walking on the other side of the valley, opposite Helm Crag and the ridge we hiked back in February.

Halfway up Silver How and you have a lovely view of Grasmere with Rydal in the background.  It was still raining though.

And from the top, you can also see Windermere off to the right in the back, and Loughrigg Tarn just peeping in view.  We had lunch here and while Silver How may not be the highest hill around, it's an underrated view.  The whole walk was very different in feel - more gentle ups and downs and lots of tufty mounds.

The road ahead - full of rich colours and mysterious mists.

And here was our first rainbow.

Followed by another.  You've never seen such glee among hardened and soaked walkers.  We were all kids again, ooohing and aaahing.

And one more.

I also love coming across unexpected tarns, especially when the water is clear.

And speaking of tarns, here's our first view of Easedale Tarn. In our previous walk we'd climbed up to it from the valley on the right. In this walk, we're descending down towards it.

The waterfall was fairly fierce - there was no way we could safely cross it. So we stayed on the near side and headed back to Grasmere. This cut the walk by about half an hour, but we were all ready for a warm fire and the pub by then.

Only we still had a few more challenges before making back to Grasmere.  These fast flowing streams are actually the paths we're supposed to be walking on. I don't think any of us avoided that squelchy feeling of having the cold water run over your boots and into your socks.

We got there in the end and it was lovely to end the walk by the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden in full bloom.

But primarily this walk will be remembered for those rainbows!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Experimenting With Colour. . .

I wanted this year to be all about colour in my knitting and lo and behold, two surprise projects have been providing me with lots of opportunities to play.

The first pattern in The Year of Techniques was the Hyacinthus Armwarmers, designed by Jen Arnall-Cuillford. This uses a new-to-me technique called helical striping which removes the jog you can get when changing colours while knitting in the round. The original pattern uses a brightly coloured ball of Zauberball fingering weight which has long colour changes.  I decided to tone it down by striping it with another colourway full of chocolate and coffee browns and creams.  Basically, I wanted to see what would happen when I dipped a rainbow into a mochachino.

I love this technique - it's very simple to do and addictive. I don't think I've ever had so much fun with endless stockinette.  I knew early on that I wanted to knit every single bit of both of these balls, so ripped out the small bit of armwarmer I'd started and cast on for a cowl. The Zauberball is surprisingly soft and this will be very cozy around the neck.  My yardage should allow me to make it long enough to wrap around the neck twice. This was my major train knitting up to EYF and back.

Stephen West's Marled Magic Mystery Shawl KAL has proved surprisingly fun.  In every section you hold two different strands of colour together for different colour effects. I am knitting mine in odd balls of laceweight from stash and previous projects, and just going for it. There will be so many colours in this shawl that if I don't like one pairing, I'm sure it will either disappear among the others, or hopefully bounce against and compliment another clue in the future.  Below is Clue 1. On the right, I did the lace mesh bit in Steady Marl - I held one grey strand all the way through and then striped it with alternating colours.  On the left, the seed stitch section was knit with the Fading Marl technique: Start with holding colours A and B together.  Then drop A and add C for the next section, knitting with B and C together.  Then drop B, add D and hold C and D together etc.  I really liked this effect and how the one colour could completely change when held against something very different, yet blending in nicely at the same time.

Clue 2 brought us brioche and I chose Classic Marl for this, holding the same two colours together for the entire section.

And the second part of Clue 2 brought us garter stitch. Again I used the Classic Marl technique but added some mohair.  This shawl is also full of textures - the brioche is wonderfully squishy against the nubbly seed stitch, which butts up against the softness of the mohair.  This is the shawl with the first two clues finished - can't wait to see where he takes us next.

I am having so much fun seeing how the different colours play with each other.  Look at how different this turquoise changes when paired with a lime green in the brioche bit. . .

and some light blue Kidsilk Haze in the garter section.

I was originally thinking this would be a study in various greens but I can't resist adding some punches of brighter colours. This will be a patchwork type of shawl but I don't have one of those in my wardrobe, so why not?  Looking forward to the next clue on Friday.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Whirlwind Edinburgh Yarn Festival 2017. . .

What a wonderful two days I have had in Edinburgh, starting with my wardrobe.  It came down to the wire, but I finished my Kildalton just in time.  The pattern is by Kate Davies, from her new book Inspired by Islay, and knit in her Buachaille yarn which really highlights the cables.  This was the first time that I knit set-in sleeves using short rows and it's a really effective technique.  The buttons are from the Border Tart which I bought at last year's Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

I absolutely love everything about this cardigan - the fit is just perfect.

It was a good sign when I arrived in the city, checked into my hotel and saw that this was my headboard! (The hotel was the budget chain Ibis, just off the Royal Mile).

I arrived around noon on Thursday and spent some time walking around. This beautiful city was just blooming and the weather was perfect.

I would have loved to have walked up Arthur's Seat but I didn't have time. So I did the next best thing and climbed up the Scott Monument on Princess Street.  I remember my first visit to Edinburgh - over twenty years ago - and being completely awed and delighted that there was such a huge monument to a writer.  But until now, I'd never climbed up.

It is definitely worth it, although I did get a bit dizzy coming down. There are four levels of viewing platforms and as you climb higher, you see more and more of the city and especially the water surrounding it.

Sorry for the bad photo below - the sun was in the wrong place - but from the top platform, you get a wonderful view of the castle and the Pentland Hills rising behind it. 

And Sir Walter looks even better at night!

The festival started with a lovely knit and natter at Akva, a Swedish restaurant that had been reserved for all of us eager knitters.  I was able to chat and knit with many friends - new and old - from ravelry and instagram.  We were all working on our helical stripes from The Year of Techniques (more on that later in another blog post).

Then it was fairly early to bed to prepare for Friday and the first day of the marketplace.  I didn't have an advance ticket, so got up early to queue for one.  This festival has gone from strength to strength and its reputation (deservedly so) for being one of the best yarn festivals in the world attracts a really international attendance.  I chatted with lots of Scandinavians, Germans, Aussies, French and many North Americans too. It was the busiest I'd ever seen it, but the organisers were fantastic and I only waited about 45 minutes before I got in.  I didn't take that many photos inside, but here is just a teeny bit of what was on offer.  The big non-British booth was definitely Brooklyn Tweed with their colourful wall of fabulous yarn.  It was hard to resist grabbing several sweater quantities, but I already have at least two in my stash, so just bought one skein of Shelter to use as a possible future contrast colour. For something in the future.

The Crochet Project had a new book out and I was in love with several of their new shawls, including the blue one on the bottom which is actually Tunisian crochet.  The construction just looks so interesting.

Garthenor has the most beautiful organic British wool.

And John Arbon, which is always a must see booth for me, was debuting their new Devonia yarn - 50% Exmoor Blueface, 30% Bluefaced Leicester and 20% Wensleydale.  Just gorgeous colours and a really beautiful lustre .

I was only able to stay for about four hours before heading back to Waverley to catch the train home but managed to bump into most of the people I was hoping to have a chat with.  It was very crowded, but I probably got to about 90% of the vendors and for the first time at a yarn show, I was actually able to stay on budget.  I had made a list for the must-buys and then allocated some money for the inevitable temptations, and that seemed to do the trick.  Here is my EYF haul:

In the back, the greeny-blue Skein Queen Voluptuous yarn has great yardage and those two skeins will easily knit up into a sweater or cardigan.  The grey and tan skeins to the left of the Shelter are from Uist Wool and they are so lovely in sheepy texture and colour - they need to be smelled to be believed. I'll be hiking on both North and South Uist in September so it's lovely to have some of the island's wool in my stash. The deep red in the middle is Blacker Yarn's new Samite silk/wool blend.  It is gorgeous.  I've been given a small skein to swatch with and a shade card, so will do a full review of it shortly but I am really looking forward to knitting this up.  I couldn't resist a skein of the Devonia and it's the same colour as Baa Ram Ewe's new Brass Band colourway for their Dovestone.  This mustard/gold/harvest colour was really on trend throughout the marketplace.  And I love the little 10gram balls of laceweight from Garthenor - perfect for shawl borders.

Whew - it all went by so quickly, but such a satisfying visit, although next year, I really must book more days in Edinburgh.  No one wants it to end - there were impromptu meet-ups and brunches happening all over the city.  And for those who couldn't make it - there was always the #bedinburghyarnfest which is also well worth searching out on IG.  It will put a smile on your face.