Friday, 28 February 2014

A February FO. . .

It's been really quite mild and sunny here in Liverpool over the last week or so, and I've been itching to start knitting spring clothes.  The latest Rowan 55 magazine has some really beautiful patterns so when a KAL started up in Ravelry that was all I needed to get started.

I wanted something relatively simple and fast to knit so Sally, designed by Lisa Richardson, appealed right away, especially the interesting construction; it's knit in one piece side to side.  I want to knit only from my stash this year so digging around turned up several skeins of dark gray Rowan Creative Linen that was perfect for this project.   My first choice for contrast colour was this shockingly bright yellow - Premiere  by Classic Elite -  that I picked up in the sales back in December.  It was just calling to me though I had no idea what to use it for.  Alas, when I paired it with the gray, it made the gray look more like navy blue and I just didn't care for it. 

Fortunately, I had a skein of muted mustard left over from a baby blanket that I knit last year. It's Sirdar Baby Bamboo and it paired up perfectly. 

And here's the finished top.  It only took me about a week to knit and I really love it. I opted to change the striping pattern from barcode to more of a pinstripe look which is very easy to do as any combination equaling 96 rows will work (I just turned some foolscap on its side and plotted away).  I think it will be a nice transition piece between the seasons.

And that neon yellow?  Maybe it will work for another project that I've just cast on.  And just in time - I'm determined that March will be devoted to finishing up all the many WIPs in my basket.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Bloomin' Marvellous. . .

One of the things I love most about living in the U.K. is that spring comes early (most Brits would disagree but they're not used to snow coming as late as April).  It really feels like spring is just around the corner here.  The camellia bush is just about to burst into all its full glory.

My daffodils will be out any day now.

And these hyacinths on my kitchen window ledge are also just about to bloom.  I love the smell of them.  And it's still only February!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Magical Latvian Mittens. . .


I am so pleased with how these Latvian mittens turned out even though I nearly gave up in exasperation. By far, they are the most fiddly and time-consuming things I've ever knitted. It took me five hours to do each thumb and trust me, there was plenty of swearing involved and one broken dpn.  But I absolutely love them. I bought the kit at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show last fall at the Hobbywool stand which was gorgeous - mittens in numerous patterns and colours hanging like bunting everywhere.

So I finished the mittens and soaked them (the wool really softens up) and then realized I didn't have any scarves or cowls to match.  Luckily, you get a very generous amount of wool in the kit and there easily was  enough to knit a cowl. I used the pattern from the cuff. 

And here it is. It went so much faster on a large circular needle without having to worry about keeping the pattern within the rib. I really enjoyed knitting this. 

The two shades of gray and the white yarn all came from the kit - and there's still a bit left! Not bad at all for only £10.   I didn't have enough of the red but had a similar shade in my stash and there was enough to knit an inner red lining to hide the strands and make the cowl extra cozy. 

Only problem - it's a touch too big.  However - see those notches at the bottom and top (also a part of the original cuff design)?  They are basically a row of yo and k2tog but came in very useful.  I crocheted a quick foundation chain, weaved it through the notches and now I can pull it tighter around my neck. 

I've been wearing them all with pride.  They go perfectly with my lightweight winter coat. 

And they match my waterproof too so I'll definitely take them hiking (as long as it's dry - there's nothing worse than soggy mittens). 

Included in the instructions are some historical facts about Latvian mittens, a tradition that is a thousand years old and apparently "endowed with magical significance". They were often a part of an unmarried girl's hope chest and knitted as gifts for wedding guests - each one in a different pattern - and dedicated to cows, sheep and horses.  My Harrogate companions also bought kits and are busy knitting and swearing away at them; as keen walkers, we certainly plan to bless the sheep when all three pairs are completed. As for magical powers, working on them has certainly given me a lot of confidence in my knitting.  They were by far the most challenging project I've ever tackled but now I feel I can knit anything!  And that's a pretty magical feeling to have.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

In Which We Stroll Through History (and past some knitting). . .

I'm almost embarassed to talk about how lovely the weather was in Liverpool last Sunday ( 9 degrees and sunny) when so much of the U.K. is under water, and my friends back home in Canada are in such a deep freeze, but you have to make the best of good weather when you have it, so I told the Liverpud we were definitely going for a long walk. Mind you, he's always happy to oblige.
I had a specific destination in mind and wanted to go through as much green space as possible which is fairly easy to do as the city has such lovely green spaces and plenty of public footpaths. We started in one of my favourite parks - Calderstones - and stopped to pay homage to this magnificant tree, said to be a thousand years old!

I love looking up at its twisting knarled branches covered in such a rich green moss.  It's quite a wonder to contemplate.

Calderstones is truly a fantastic park and full of wide open spaces.  There's a lake in the middle of it usually populated by ducks and Canada geese, but also a heron if you are lucky enough to catch sight of it (alas not today).

These are the types of short public footpaths that dot so much of England. It's just so nice not to always have to walk alongside noisy traffic.

We walked through a golf course and on more footpaths.  A certain part of our journey inevitably involved a stretch of urban pavement but I'll spare you any photos of the ugly shopping mall we passed (useful though, for a quick latte however) and the boring roundabouts and roads that passed by the industrial side of John Lennon airport.  Past all that we entered this lovely wood.

And a short circular path took us to the Mersey.

And then we headed into the estate proper and here we are: Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion restored in the 19th century, now owned by the National Trust.  Apart from the bones, there's not much left that's original Tudor but the Victorian touches are just as interesting; there's original William Morris wallpaper in the library for example.

Come on in  (just duck your head as you pass through the door) and marvel at all the interior decoration. I loved all the detailed woodwork and the beautiful ceiling plaster reliefs.

I especially liked the bedrooms.   That white counterpane was handknitted probably in the late 19th century, and was donated to the house.

Gorgeous isn't it?

I also loved the crewel work on this crib coverlet.

Like most National Trust properties, there was a lovely cafe where we had a very good bowl of hearty winter vegetable soup for a late lunch, and I picked up a recipe for a local fruit cake called a "Wet Nelly" (I may try it with blueberries) that is made with bread.  I really enjoyed wandering around Speke Hall and its gardens, and inspired by the textiles, I picked up a cross-stitch kit depicting the house which I might turn into a throw cushion (even though . . . ahem. . .  I haven't done any needlework in years).  I became a National Trust member last year but this is the first historic house I've had time to visit. I'm sure it won't be the last - I'll be ticking them off, one by one.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Walking Through the Rowan Landscape: Hartington. . .

One of my favourite recent Rowan pattern books is last fall's Autumn Knits, a collection of designs by Marie Wallin which has several wonderful cabled sweaters that are definitely on my to-knit list.  But I was also intrigued by the names of all the patterns which seem to be places in Derbyshire,  some of which pop up on my ramblers' walks.  So whenever we're going to that county, I scan the countryside for the natural inspirations behind the designs. 

This is Hathersage.

I went walking near the village last September and yes, it is indeed a horizontal landscape, full of edges and ridges and striations in the rock. The pattern fits, and it was a lovely walk, but it's not really my style of garment, although I love the colour. 

I was far more excited to visit Hartington because I really want to knit this namesake sweater.  Isn't it gorgeous?

So on a recent walk in the area, I kept a sharp look-out for triangular peaks and valleys.  Yep, found plenty; it wasn't hard - we had to continually walk up and down them.

The views from the tops of the hills were of fields enclosed by criss-crossing stone walls, also referenced I think, in the sweater's design.

I also loved the springy wind-blown tufts of grass that accompanied us on our way down one of the slopes.

At times the landscape looked almost gothic.  You can just see the opening of a large cave in that triangular outcrop in the distance. 

It had been a day of mixed weather, to put it lightly.  During our five hour walk we experienced rain, sleet, a short bout of hail, and lots of strong winds.  About half way, the rain mercifully stopped and the sun tried to peek out, giving us just enough time to dry off before it started up again.  And there was a LOT of mud.  But as my friend S always says (or shouts through the gusts) - you do feel alive. 

Our last half mile back to the village of Hartington was done on the road as we'd all had enough of the mud. But it did afford a good look back at our up and down route.  I know from this angle, the hills look quite puny. 

Until you are at the bottom of one looking up. 

Still, I enjoyed the walk immensely.  And I'd love to live - albeit briefly - in a Rowan catalogue which I could do if I knit that Hartington sweater and wore it while tackling this walk again. I'd lose the dog though.

The next place I'd like to visit (both in a knitting and rambling sense) is Wye (named for the river).  I love the cabling at the top.

I also love Derwent which is a lost village, buried under the waters of the Ladybower Reservoir (which I did get a glimpse of during our Hathersage walk).

And Tissington, named after a picturesque village in Derbyshire (not been there yet).