Thursday, 26 May 2016

Spinning: The First Draft. . .

To be honest, drop spindling is proving to be a lot harder than I thought. I think it's one of those skills that some people immediately get the knack of, and others struggle.  I'm definitely in the latter camp, but then I remember when I first learned to crochet and how awkward it was to learn to hold the hook correctly.  Now I don't give it another thought. So there is hope.

I keep practicing but am still getting a much thicker yarn than I'd ideally like.  It is slowly, slowly getting thinner, but I'm still having problems with tension, too much or too little twist in the yarn and my fibre joins aren't always very smooth.  But I'm determined to crack this skill, because I love the idea of being able to take fibre and mix it with other colours to create a unique yarn to knit with.

I recently managed to spin a thick and thin ball of Jacob fibre.   I've probably gone from super bulky with my first attempts, to chunky.  A DK or 4ply is what I'm aiming for.  I'm trying not to think about the woman I met at the Wharfe Wool Fair who was spinning laceweight after only two months.

I then spun a similar weight of some of my yellow dyed Shetland mixed with some other grey Shetland fibre I bought at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.

Then I plied the two together  (oh, dear, this doesn't look pretty at all).

And got roughly a ball weighing just over 100g.

I was then at least able to knit up a square of about 8.5 inches with a 7.5mm needle.  I thought it might make a useful trivet. I do like how it looks in stockinette but I probably used too small a needle; it was hard on my hands pulling that wool through, especially the thicker bits. 

So I then ripped it out and made a big granny square.  I like the look in crochet - it's thick and substantial and feels lovely to walk on. A number of these would make a lovely rug. 

Over on Erica Eckles' blog, is a wonderful post about all the essentials you need for quilting and among other ideas, she had me thinking about using wool roving as quilt batting.  So if this spinning thing doesn't work out, I at least know what to do with my extra fleece. At the next wool show I attend, I'll be on the lookout for a hand carder, I think.  And a lot more advice from experienced spinners.

Until then, I'm still spinning a little each day.  Trying some Zwartbles fleece now; I love its deep, dark brown shades, and any small bits of colour I add to it really pop against it.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Sew Relaxing. . .

With the Great British Sewing Bee back on the telly,  I've been motivated to get out my fabric stash and do some hand sewing.  A few years ago, I bought two charm packs of Liberty fabrics.  The deep floral prints are reminding me of all the colours in my back yard at the moment.

I'm just sewing up simple nine block squares, using some Moda solid colours in the middle of each.  I like the pop of colour and it makes a very traditional patchwork look a little more modern.  I don't have enough for a full quilt, so it will become a large, comfy cushion cover. 

I'm a very casual quilter.  My seams aren't always going to meet at the corners. I don't always press the seams open before sewing edges.  My quilting isn't terribly even.

But it doesn't matter because I find the whole process enormously relaxing and fulfilling.  I started quilting this at the end of last week, now I just need to find some backing material, a long zipper and a large cushion insert.

When it's finished, it will be really nice to have a little bit of the garden inside as well. 

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Some Knitting Going On. . .

It's been quite warm in Liverpool over the last two weeks and for once I've not really felt like knitting. But there are a few projects in the works.

One of the ones I'm most excited about is a simple short-sleeved top that I've cast on with my Countess Ablaze yarn.  The colours are knitting up wonderfully and it just screams summer to me.  I only have the one skein, so I wanted a top-down pattern.  The top bit will be in these bright colours and possible the short sleeves if I have enough yarn. Then I'll find some neutrals in my stash for the body.  I'm heavily modifying the Timeless Henley pattern by Joji Locatelli and am not sure yet if it will work, but I love the look so far. It's quite an interesting construction too.

I've halted progress on my Kerchief by Kiernan Foley, knit with my Daughter of a Shepherd hebridean wool, some Shetland from Blacker Yarns and some Howgill Tweed from Laura's Looms. I'm not that fond of the spiky lace points of the original pattern and want to find a more gentle edging.  I think this will be a lovely shawlette for the autumn months but it seems too heavy and dark to be working on in spring.

I do need to get this baby cardigan finished though; my colleague is on maternity leave very soon.  I've forgotten how fiddly these small garments are, but I just have to seam the sleeves, knit the neckline and add the buttons, so hopefully it will be finished in time.

I have finished my Sea Wall socks and I love this pattern although it is time-consuming.  They fit quite well and now it's time to see how they fare with walking and wearing.  This was knit as part of  the Joeli Creates No Nylon Socks KAL and I used Elen sock yarn, 100% BFL from Triskelion Yarns. Socks do seem the perfect project to work on during the warmer weather, so I imagine I'll be casting on another pair soon.  Next time I want to try toe-up socks. 

And I managed to finish another square in my British Breeds swatch blanket.  This is knit out of Wensleydale DK from Blacker Yarns and I used a simple textured trinity stitch to try and catch the lustre.

I love how lacy it looks from the reverse side.

This needs a strong blocking and then I'll give it the wear test, wash it again and make notes on its properties.  That will be eight blanket squares done - I'm hoping for twelve by the end of the year to turn into a nice warm blanket.

It feels pretty good to have some smaller projects on the go. I do a few rows here and there each day but really all I want is to go out and enjoy the sunshine.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Flower Power. . .

The weekend was very productive, all about getting lots of mundane tasks done around the house. But there was also time to really embrace spring and enjoy all its colourful vibrancy.

As a reward for a morning of housework, the Liverpud and I went for a walk Saturday afternoon to our favourite park, Calderstones.  We had some lemon sorbet from the ice cream parlour and then went to the Japanese Gardens.  I have wandered through it many times, but never at this time of year and I was pleasantly shocked to see how gloriously red and pink it was.

Just stunning!

My own modest little container garden is also blooming.  I love the delicate shades of deep raspberry and peach on these beautiful flowers.  This was the first weekend we really spent sitting out on the patio and enjoying our garden.  

Sunday we were off to the garden center to add to our little family of flowers, and it was really hard to choose from among so many gorgeous blooms.  I absolutely fell in love with these deep purple - almost black -  petunias in the top photo of this collage.  I bought three small pots with blooms still to come.  Can't wait to see them in all their gothic glory soon.

And I purchased a pot of intense blue grasses, just because I love the texture.  My green grasses survived the winter and so they needed a friend.   I now want yarn in both of these colours.

It's such a technicolour time of the year. How can your spirits not be raised by all the loveliness?

Monday, 9 May 2016

Daytripping: A Visit to Illkley and the Wharfe Wool Fair . . .

With so many wool and yarn festivals each year in the UK, it becomes a really good excuse for a fun day out with friends.  And I love knitting on trains.  I'd never been to Ilkley before, although I did get a glimpse of the town looking down from the top of Ilkley Moor in this walk.  So we hopped on an early train to Leeds on Saturday, changed for the short ride to Ilkley and arrived at the Wharfe Wool Fair just fifteen minutes after it opened.

Ilkley is a very pretty village, nestled in the Wharfedale Valley with hills leading up to the moors on both sides. It has a vibrant high street full of lovely shops and all the trees were in bloom.

Inside the venue was one large room of vendors but the nice thing about these smaller shows is you do get to meet local crafters and businesses who can't afford to exhibit at the larger ones.  There was a nice variety of yarns and fibre and I will be forever grateful to a member of the Craven Guild of  Weavers, Spinners and Dyers who gave me some great tips on drop spindling.  I think I may now know where I've been going wrong.

Freya at Freyalyn Fibres was also extremely helpful, chatting away while drop spindling herself.  Here is her table full of gorgeous hand-dyed fibres.

I also encountered another new-to-me indie dyer, Coastal Colours from Fleetwood which is near Blackpool.  They don't have a website or sell online as every skein is unique, but they are on facebook and will be at the Pop-up Wool Show in Port Sunlight later in August.

I bought two lovely skeins from them.  The one on the left is actually Titus from Baa Ram Ewe, one of my favourite yarns.  They purchased skeins of White Rose and dyed them different colours.  The skein I bought has several shades of grey with some almost mauve bits in it.  The one on the right is 1200m of laceweight and the colours just reminded me of those rocket popsicles I had as a child. 

I also loved these mini-skein "pops" from Baa Baa Brighouse.  They are 100% British Bluefaced Leicester wool, spun and dyed in Yorkshire.  I think they are so fun and colourful.

Buoyed by eternal optimism that I will indeed crack the art of drop spindling, I also bought a lovely new spindle with a polished stone as the whorl, and some bright yellow Shetland fibre.  I'm sure I was influenced by all the gorgeous sunshine outside, but I'm also curious to see how these yellows might work if spun or plied with some of the grey fibres I have in stash. The Wensleydale and Teeswater locks were just so silky and enticing - I shall use them in weaving to add some texture.

As small a show as it was, we still managed to spend almost two hours talking to the vendors and squishing their wares.  Then it was off to Betty's for a bite of lunch. When in Yorkshire. . .

I had the Yorkshire rarebit, grilled to perfection, and the most refreshing organic ginger beer from Devon that I've ever tasted.  I might have also popped into the shop on the way out to snag some Fat Rascals to take home.

We then strolled the high street, popping into the lovely Grove Bookshop, where there was a very nice display of all things Bronte and Bennett.

And then we climbed up one side of the town towards Ilkley Moor.

Under a canopy of blossom.

This is the edge of the moor. Had it not been so warm and had we more time (and better footwear), we might have gone further for a proper walk.

But there was a lovely jazz band playing in the park below and what better way to end a lovely spring day than to sit on a bench knitting while listening to live music. One couple even got up to do a little tango. Yes, it was a thoroughly enjoyable day out. With yarn.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A Brave New World. . .

A few days ago I decided to walk into the 21st century. I got a smartphone.

It's not that I'm a technophobe; I use the internet daily and often. I just didn't want to become one of those people who gets addicted to a gadget, oblivious to the world and people around me. I've always wanted to be the type of person who lives in the moment.

But as my life becomes more settled in the UK, and my group of friends and contacts grows, it was time. Truth be told, I also really, really wanted to participate in Instagram. (I'm blithespirit4 on there)

So I've had my phone for a few days now and I love the camera which is really good. Photos are very quick to upload onto ravelry and Instagram. The photo above is the first one I took with my new phone. It's the first time I'd seen the new statue of the Beatles down by the waterfront which was installed at the end of last year. It's about time there was one of all four of them and the location with the Three Graces towering behind them is perfect.

The other cool thing about this phone? I wrote this blog post with it. Yes, it's a keeper.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Chugging Along with the Crochet. . .

My non-knitting week has resulted in some good progress on crochet projects.  I now have the back and two fronts finished of my Zigga Zagga cardigan, designed by Kat Goldin.  I just have to do the sleeves and the deep edging on the fronts.

And as part of a big stash-busting project, I've embarked on another granny square blanket, this one for my Mum's birthday.  I find doing granny squares incredibly soothing and relaxing and I love how quickly it grows. It'll be for a single bed, so it's nearly at the point where I'll have to think about the best way to turn the square into a rectangle.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Independent Yarn Shop Day: Hanging out at the Countess Ablaze. . .

Yesterday was Independent Yarn Shop Day so I popped over to Manchester to check out the Countess Ablaze Dye Studio which is located in Swinton, a quick train ride out of the city centre.

It was packed with knitters all happily working away, sipping tea or coffee and nibbling on cupcakes and the piles of chocolates and Tunnocks teacakes kindly provided by the shop. We had to hang around on the edges before two seats opened up, but there was plenty of yarny goodness to examine while we waited.

The Countess Ablaze who uses primarily British wool for her bases, is ALL about colour!

I'm trying not to buy any superwash wool otherwise I'd have been seriously seduced by the vibrant and intense sock yarns hanging up.

Fortunately, she also dyes non-superwash wools and I bought two 500m skeins of The Rt. Hon Ronaldsay light fingering in the Oh Kelly! colourway.  I'm in love with this deep, deep green and I think I'll have enough to knit a summer cardigan or top.  Her English Gentleman DK range is 50% Bluefaced  Leicester and 50% Masham and I fell hard for the autumn colours skein that also has a smokey purple-blue running through it.  The final skein on the right is completely out of my colour comfort zone but I think it would be part of a fun summer top; I just need to find the right pattern now.

Brityarn was also there with a trunk show of some of her favourite wools.  I bought one of her sturdy canvas bags and two lovely skeins of Blacker Tamar 4ply. They will be set aside until Kate Davies' new Haps book comes out later this year.

Thanks to Countess Ablaze and Knit British for all their happy enabling, and a very pleasant afternoon.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

A Model Yarn Shop and A Model Village. . .

There are yarn stores that you enter and immediately feel at home.  The Liverpud and I were in Oxford last weekend visiting his cousin and in my never ending quest to check out new yarn sources wherever I go, I knew I had to take the opportunity to visit the Oxford Yarn Store.

It's located about a ten minute walk from the centre of town on a small side street called North Parade Avenue that has other independent shops and cafes. There was a market on too when we visited.

This shop may not be the largest I've been in, but for its size, it is extremely well stocked with lots of lovely skeins.  Plenty of British yarns are represented - West Yorkshire Spinners, John Arbon, Jamiesons, and some local spun alpaca. They also carry Rowan. Isager, Malabrigo, Noro and Sweet Georgia Fibres among many other brands and a good selection of books and knitting magazines.  I had a lovely chat with the owner (who lived in Canada for ten years), and she seems to have created a vibrant knitting community around her store. There are some excellent workshops on offer so do check out their website if you live nearby.

I was quite restrained - I bought some Rowan Pure Linen which was on sale as it's being discontinued. I've heard great things about how the yarn knits up so am eager to try it in a garment.  Perhaps even the one on the cover of the book I also bought.  Classic Knits is an older book by Marianne Isager, but she's a designer that I've long admired and some of the designs in this book are gorgeous.  She likes to use two yarns held together for many of the patterns and since I have quite a bit of laceweight in my stash, this might be a good opportunity to use some of it up.

Of course there are other things to do in Oxford as well. This was the Liverpud's first visit so I gave him a bit of a walking tour after a lunch of yummy Pieminster pies in the Covered Market.

Nearly fifteen years ago, I spent three weeks at Oxford taking a Continuing Education Literature Course.  For an anglophile, I was in heaven.  I stayed in Exeter College and my room was at the top of a tower. I had to write two papers (one on Woolf, the other on Austen) and so I spent many glorious hours in the Bodleian Library which remains one of my favourite places in the world. 

I suggested that we climb up the tower of St. Mary's Church.

For one of the best views of the city and Radcliffe Camera.

We also took a walk along the river and had an absolutely delicious meal at the Red Lion pub.

On the drive home, I suggested stopping at Bourton-On-The-Water, a picturesque village known as the "Venice of the Cotswolds".  Near the carpark is The Bourton Basket which caters to all sorts of crafts - quilting, needlepoint, peg weaving.  Most of their yarn is acrylic although they do sell a selection of West Yorkshire Spinners.

But I did spy some local yarn in their window.  These balls come from Portland sheep which are one of the oldest breeds in the UK, mixed with some Black Welsh Mountain.  The flock is part of the nearby Armscote Manor and the shop owner told me the woman who raises them donates all the profits to charity.  She just wants to support the breed.  From the ball squish it seems to be a very strong and robust yarn.

This is the village of Bourton-on-the-Water.  Not the actual one, but a 1/9th scale model, first built in 1937.  I thought it was absolutely delightful.

Over the years they have tried to update the model by adding actual stores in the real village.

I love how the stone has aged; it just adds to the realism.

Since it is a model of the village, it naturally had to include itself, so here is the entrance to the display, in 1/9th scale.

With a model village within the model village.

And a model village within the model village within the model village.

I felt the real Bourton-on-the-Water was a bit of a letdown after that.

There was lots of bunting leftover from the Queen's birthday.

But apart from a very nice bakery, an interesting church and the stone bridges over the River Windrush, I can't say there was much tempting me to linger.  It felt to me like an artificially constructed tourist version of what an idealised Cotswold village should look like, even though the village has been around for centuries.  Perhaps it was all the stuff being sold in the stores that was 'Made in China' and the lack of any real attempt to showcase anything authentically British.  Which was a little sad.  I loved the model village though!