Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: A Look Back at the Year of Knitting. . .

Wow!  It's been a great and fun year of knitting and looking back, I'm pretty amazed and proud at all I've accomplished.

One of my knitting resolutions for the year was to try and complete 12 garments in 12 months.  I didn't really think this would be possible (and it wasn't, though I came really, really close) but I'm still chuffed at what I did manage to finish. Ten full garments and a few others that just need some sleeves!  One of my favourites of the year is the first one - my colourful chunky Wendy Sweater knit in Rowan Big Wool colour.  I wear it all the time.  The Sous Sous was lovely to knit but alas, just was too big for me but I gave it to a friend and it looks terrific on her.  I was pleased to finish my Wytham which had been a longtime WIP and is a nice dress-up cardigan.  My Hap Cardigan was part of a really enjoyable Hap-a-long but if truth be told, I'll probably unravel it and use the wool for something else.  It's not the most practical of garments - I made mine a bit too long and if it's cool enough for a wool cardigan, then it really does need some longer sleeves.

Having completely broken my yarn diet at the Black Sheep annual sale, I came home with four large bags of discounted and discontinued Rowan Summer Tweed.  My challenge was to get at least six garments out of the lot.  I finished four this year and will look for new inspiration for my remaining balls when the spring/summer patterns start coming out.

I'm quite pleased with how these turned out, but I'm not so enamoured of the ragged holes in my Humbug anymore, although I love the fit and feel of this top. I may try and sew them up so that they still provide an interesting textured feature.  My Scout (top right) was challenging to knit in this yarn.  I still wear it but am not completely happy with it. I find the weight of the back pulls up the front so that the v-neck doesn't stay put where it should be.  Not sure how to fix this.  The bottom two tops, Chard (bottom left) and Kiku (bottom right) are great for summer and I love them both.

Finally, there was my Scollay cardigan and my Viajante, both projects that I took on my trip to Norway so happy memories knitted into them, and also they are both garments that I absolutely love to wear - the first because the fit is so good and the yarn is so cozy and warm, and the second because the colours of the yarn are so gorgeous and it's such a unique piece in my wardrobe.  Viajante also wins the prize for the most stitches in anything I knit this year.  I don't want to think about it and it may be some time before I knit another garment in laceweight.

There were also many shawls knitted in 2015.  The year started and ended with two Stephen West mystery knit-a-longs: Exploration Station and The Doodler.

In between was a Byatt (knitted, frogged, knitted, ripped back, knitted, completed then not happy, ripped back and knitted again in a different colour)

I also had fun with Lucy Hague's cabled shawls: Nine Maidens (alas, knitted on too small needles so not the size I wanted) and Ishneich.

And knit two lovely lace shawls: Hap for Harriet and Mahy.

There were mittens:

And my first pair of socks!

And lots of Baffies (love this pattern, both the striped and stranded versions - these are SO comfortable to wear around the house).

I also improved my crochet skills with the Rowan CAL designed by Lisa Richardson.

And knitted a boyfriend, bought a loom, and tried weaving for the first time, making this project bag.

Whew!  That's a lot of projects in one year.  I think I may slow down a bit and think more thoughtfully about what I knit next year and try to refine and polish my skills.  I also really want to finish a number of WIPs and yes, try yet again to focus on reducing my stash.  But it's lovely to look back and reflect on new skills learned and confidence gained.  Bring on 2016!  I'll be pondering my resolutions for the new year over the remaining hours of this one.   Happy New Year to all.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

A Sheepy Xmas Tree. . .

I have not had a proper Christmas tree since I moved to Liverpool.  The Liverpud had a little tinselly tabletop tree that, once plugged in, changed colours from the most garish of purples and pinks to slightly less offensive blues and greens. We both decided we couldn't stand looking at it for another year.  The problem is that, having always had real trees as a kid in Canada, I've never warmed to plastic boughs.  So what to do?  A bunch of branches in a large vase?

The solution came when I was passing an arts supply store. They were having a 50% off sale on artist easels, which of course are made of wood, fold out into the perfect triangular tripod and best of all there are no needles to clean up.  I bought a bunch of long screws and wingnuts to create hooks for the decorations and ledges for the lights. A few strands of white fairy lights later, and we had all we needed to get cozy against the early dark nights.

But what REALLY makes my tree this year are these fabulous sheep decorations from The Knitting Goddess. 


The sheep bodies have been screen-printed from various knitting stitch patterns onto white felt. The kit comes with two sheets; you simply draw a circle around two sheep, stitch them up (I used blanket stitch with various leftovers from my British breeds swatch-along), stuff them, crochet a little hook and you're done.  Don't they look terrific?  And they work perfectly with the light wood of my "tree".

At the time of writing, she still had some sets left on her site. All proceeds are going to charity so you'll also be supporting some wonderful causes.  I think some British Breed wool pom poms are the next thing I need to make.

Monday, 14 December 2015

London Stitch and Knit. . .

I'm afraid I do have a weakness for eye-candy books especially if either sheep or yarn is involved, so when I heard about London Stitch and Knit: A Craft Lover's Guide to London's Fabric, Knitting and Haberdashery Shops by Leigh Metcalf, I succumbed and ordered the book, and I've really enjoyed browsing through it.

I don't get down to London nearly as often as I'd like; in fact I think I visited the city more when I lived in Toronto.  Though the trip only takes about two hours from Liverpool, and there are many trains a day,  the fares are quite expensive unless you book many weeks in advance.  I have on occasion treated myself to a rare Saturday trip and those tickets come with an all-day underground pass so you can easily whip around the city.

This book is exactly what it implies in the title.  Metcalf has divided this guide by neighbourhood and included a brief description of each of the almost 50 shops and their wares.  I've only been to a handful of them and those include London stalwarts like Liberty and the big John Lewis on Oxford Street, so there are plenty of new establishments to explore on my next trip - knitting, fabric, buttons and trims, and even a weaving shop!  There's a handy map at the beginning of each section - the one below is of Islington, around Angel station where I usually make a pilgrimage to Loop and Ray Stitch.  I'm thrilled that there are a few more stores in the area because it's such a great part of the city to walk around in, with lots of intriguing indie shops and restaurants.

Guides like this are fun; I want to pick an area of London that I'm totally unfamiliar with, and see what else I discover as I walk from one store to another.

But the book's main appeal to the non-Londoner, is of course the photography of haberdashery goods, so it works well as a coffee table book too.  The photos give a nice insight into how each shop has curated and displayed their goods, and they certainly can inspire some colour palettes and get the creative juices going.

What can I say?  I just love looking at colourful yarn and fabric.  The Liverpud and I have a mini-break planned for London in February - I certainly won't be able to drag him around to all these shops, but should be able to sneak a few new ones in.  Prick Your Finger is definitely on the list!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Doing the Doodler. . .

I finally got around to finding a morning without rain and getting some photos of the Doodler shawl by Stephen West in action. I'm really loving this shawl. It's so unique in design and all that garter stitch makes it so very squishy and cozy.

There are lots of different ways to wear it., each one showing off one of the shawl's main design features.  Here the stripes take precedent.

Or you can showcase that huge cable around the neck.

Or stretch those lovely, big wedges right around you.

I am just so chuffed with this shawl.

Monday, 7 December 2015

In Praise of the Swaledale. . .

Here's my next finished British Breeds swatch.  It's knitted in Swaledale wool from Swaledale Woollens.

I have a lot of love and good memories tied up with this breed, as part of the Coast to Coast walk involved going through the lovely Swaledale Valley where you can visit the village of Muker where this wool was bought.

The landscape is patterned with these lovely fields surrounded by Yorkshire drystone walls and of course you see the Swaledale sheep everywhere.

I chose "Sheepfold" in Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns for my swatch as it reminded me of these fields.

The yarn is really great to knit with; it's wonderfully crisp and creates a soft but strong fabric (I wore it against my skin for a day and practically forgot it was there).  The stitch definition is also terrific as you can see, and it would make a fabulous cabled jumper.  I ordered enough to make one,  and just need to find the perfect pattern now.  I also love the silvery-grey colour.

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Doodler: Another Stephen West Mystery KAL. . .

November knitting was all about another Stephen West mystery knit-a-along.  I've participated in four of these now and never fail to be amused and enthralled at his creativity. I can't say that I wear a lot of his shawls on a regular basis out in public (somehow, I just don't have the accompanying wardrobe to wear them with the verve they deserve), but I always enjoy knitting them and seeing the crazy colours that everyone else comes up with.  They are usually quite big and so I do wrap them around me at home quite frequently.  And I always learn some new techniques over the four weeks.

So this year's mystery pattern - The Doodler - called for three contrasting colours.   Week one was fun but a lot of knitting.  It created this almost butterfly shape of increasing wedges with a lovely i-cord edging.

Sponge was very interested in seeing if I was providing  a new bed for her.

But then she decided to try and mimic its shape instead.   I used a skein of subtly hued Scrumptious Sock by Fyberspates that I've had in my stash for a long time, for the main colour.   It paired nicely with some Titus 4ply in the rich Parkin colourway. I love how it glows in the sunshine.

Week 2 was a complete surprise.  I have never knitted a huge increasing cable on the edge of a shawl before.  Just fabulous!

I made some modifications for Week 3.  You had to pick up a lot of stitches along the edge and then knit several wavy wedges.  I wanted to use some Frangipani 5ply Guernsey yarn (colourway is Falmouth Navy) that I picked up in Whitby this summer, but felt it would be too oppressively dark and weigh the whole shawl down.  So I added some new colours and did stripes that gradually get bigger.  Really happy with the balance now.

And then the last week was essentially the i-cord bind-off, with the option to do some picots on the "crest" of the waves.  I picked up the teal colour from my first stripe of Clue #3.

And here's the beast blocking. It took up all my blocking mats and given the damp weather outside, it will probably take several days to dry.  I'm really pleased with it though. It's a very original and creative design and I went a bit out of my comfort zone with the colours.  At least for this one, I didn't have to rip back and start again.  We'll see how wearable it is when it dries. 

There are over 3,000 projects on ravelry from all over the world and in some incredibly bold and exciting colour combinations.  You can take a look here.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Lovely Laceweight. . .

Some people think knitting with lace weight is a bit nuts because it's so, so fine. But I never fail to be amazed at how such a thin, delicate thread can turn into something so substantial and fabulous. Of course there's the little matter of knitting thousands of stitches first!

I've finished two projects in lace weight recently. Due to the fading hours of daylight it's taken me a while to photograph them. The first is Mahy, designed by Karie Westermann.

It is a lovely shawl to knit, constructed as a hap with a garter stitch center and then stitches are picked up for the lace edgings. The yarn is Scrumptious Lace from Fyberspates. I fell in love with a toffee coloured skein at Yarndale and knew it would be perfect for this project.

This photo show better how intense the colour is.  I just love it.

My second finished project is Vijante, designed by Martina Behm.  Yes, it's a poncho/shawl/thingy but it is wonderfully cozy  to wear over your shoulders and the lace weight gives it plenty of drape.

I made it much shorter than the pattern called for because one edge is significantly longer. You can drape it around an arm, or wear it as a triangular or asymmetric garment.

It's a very versatile garment and I love the cowl neck which is loose enough not to feel suffocating, but warm enough to dispense with a scarf if I'm going out.  The brown -hued yarn is Madeline Tosh Lace and the deep blue is a skein of silk lace weight from Natural Born Dyers that I picked up in Sedburgh. I tried to minimize the impact of the colour changes by adding stripes and increasing their width when I was ready to knit with the blue.

It's a fairly easy knit - just rounds and rounds of stockinette although the hypnotic nature of this and the use of lace weight is a perfect recipe for accidentally dropping stitches.  And it is a LOT of knitting; I started it back in June and seem to have been working on it forever.  Really glad I finished it though - it may just be my favourite knitted item of this year. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Wovember and the Great British Breeds Swatchalong. . .

It's the middle of Wovember - the month dedicated to all things pure woolly - and there have been so many amazing posts and photos up on the Wovember website that really explore the breadth and depth of what wool and sheep means to farmers, dyers, spinners, knitters, and creators of all types. It's all very, very inspiring and informative.

I've embarked on my own woolly project of exploration and celebration, participating in the Great British Breeds Swatchalong organized by Louise Scollay of Knit British, who is passionate about British wool. Knitters across the UK (and the world actually) are knitting up swatches of either British or local breeds.  We have to use single breed and undyed wool, but the stitch pattern is up to the individual knitter.

We then put each swatch through its paces and write up detailed notes at every step.  We squish the skein, we note how each yarn feels while knitting, and we observe the characteristics of the unwashed swatch. Then we soak and block it, spend a day wearing it against our skin, rub it for a fuzz and pill test, and then wash and block it a second time.   Louise wrote up an excellent set of guidelines and FAQs here.  There is no deadline and you can apply the same routine to any wool local to you.  It's all about getting to know a local yarn really well, opening your knitting stash to breeds and small, local suppliers you may not have previously considered, and really thinking about where your yarn comes from.

So far I've finished four swatches which are, starting at the top left and working clockwise:  Herdwick, North Ronaldsay, Gotland and Norfolk Horn.  For my first two swatches, I just knit a random combination of stitches, but then I thought I'd really like to end up with a beautiful blanket of all my swatches, so I'm now trawling stitch design books for inspiration.  I love quilt blocks with names that tell a story, so I'm trying to pick designs that either seem to fit the yarn or have some personal meaning for myself, which can be as frivolous and fun as a stitch pattern called "croissants" that I came across recently ( my favourite weekend morning treat with a cuppa and the Guardian - and I think I may have the perfect naturally coloured wool for this!).  For the North Ronaldsay swatch, I used a square called " A Little Bit of Scotland", out of the book Knitting Counterpanes by Mary Walker Phillips.  This breed live on one of the northern Orkney islands and eat seaweed.

For my Gotland swatch, I used a Barbara Walker stitch pattern called "Northern Lights" as the breed originates from Sweden.

So far, I'm really enjoying this process.  I find that the yarns are vastly different, not only in terms of colour and texture and smell, but in how they change (or don't) after blocking.  It's also quite fun to try and collect a sample of each breed.  Yarndale was a great starting point.

But my bag is now overflowing. I currently have about 25 different breeds which, given that each swatch easily takes a week to fully test, should keep me going for some time.

Many of my balls have come from Blacker Yarns which sells a wide variety of different single breed yarns.  But one of the joys of this project is to discover lots of different, indie producers, often just making yarn from their own flock of sheep. At Yarndale I had a great chat with the folk from Gam Farm Rare Breeds and saw one of their Whitefaced Woodland sheep.  They are located near Grassington in Yorkshire, where I've gone walking in the past.  I love knowing that I've tread the same gorgeous landscape as the sheep whose wool I'm knitting. In many cases it's also the sheep who have made that landscape over generations.

Herdy sheep who roam freely over the Lake District are a favourite of mine, which is why I started with a Herdwick swatch.  And while I knew it wasn't going to be the softest of yarns, it definitely wasn't as coarse after washing as I'd anticipated. And it is really strong and sturdy - perfect for a pair of waterproof mitts that I'm planning.

I also discovered  Crookabeck Farm near Patterdale in the Lake District.  They raise Herdwicks and Angora goats and have combined the two to create a yarn that is 50% Herdy and 50% mohair.  I've ordered a skein and will be really interested to see how the mohair softens the wool.  The farm also sells yarn from the Red Fox breed originally from Germany.  A ball of this has also gone into my bag; even though it's not a British breed, the actual sheep it comes from is raised in the U.K. so I think it counts.  Swaledales also hold a place in my sheepy appreciation heart, mostly from the beauty of the Swaledale valley in Yorkshire which we walked through as part of the Coast to Coast walk.  In the tiny town of Muker is Swaledale Woollens where you can purchase wool or knitted garments from the Swaledales.  And I've also bought a skein of Texel wool from Orkney Wool.  I squealed when it was delivered - so squishy and bouncy.

So this is a big and long term project, but one that I'm sure is going to be fascinating and very rewarding. And I should end up with a gorgeous blanket by the end of it.  Here's my latest swatch knitted this weekend in Pure Cotswold.  Somehow white wool cries out for lace, so I've done some simple repeats of a Twin Leaf pattern.