Friday, 30 October 2015

Gwlana 2015 Part One: Mood Indigo. . .

I've spent most of this week recovering from last weekend's Gwlana retreat which was so amazingly inspirational and such fun.  My head has been buzzing with ideas and projects and since I was basically running on coffee, profiteroles and adrenaline most of the time, I've had to catch up on some much needed sleep before being able to process it all.

Gwlana, which is Welsh for woolgathering, is a series of annual retreats run by Brenda Dayne of Cast-On podcast fame. It's a four day retreat held at a lovely hotel in the heart of Pembrokeshire and you basically spend four days knitting, attending great workshops, knitting, eating, chatting with interesting people, knitting, eating, making friends, buying yarn, knitting, eating, and jotting down creative to-do and to-finish lists that ae far too long. 

This autumn's theme was all things indigo, something I've been really keen to learn more about.  The workshops included practicing Japanese shibori techniques, learning how to hand dye with indigo,  incorporating colours into your knitting, and making do and mending with Japanese boro stitching and repurposing old clothing. 

We spent the first day preparing all sorts of material for the dye bath.  In terms of fabric, we were given a goodie bag in hemp (which could be dyed), a cotton tea towel and set of four napkins, and a silk scarf. We were also asked to bring a man's white dress shirt from a charity shop and anything else relatively small that we wanted to dye.  I grabbed nine solid colour squares from a quilting charm pack in light blues and various shades of beige and brown.  Below are some of the techniques you can use to resist the dye - I tied material around a pole, scrunched it into odd shapes held with elastic bands, clamped geometric shapes to crisply ironed triangles, and went a bit free form with running stitch lines pulled tightly to create folds and gathers. 

And then we also got YARN!!!!!!  From left to right: a skein of superwash merino Aran, a skein of 100% silk, one of cotton, and a laceweight merino too.

We soaked everything in cold water overnight, and on Saturday, we made our way to the Village Hall where Caerthan Wrack (isn't that a fabulous name), of Triskelion Yarns and our resident dye-master, showed us how to set everything up. 

It doesn't look the most appetising, but just you wait. . .

The lovely thing about dyeing with indigo is watching the object emerge from the dye bath as a shade of yellow and then as the oxygen hits it, it starts to turn various shades of blue.  I could watch this alchemy all day long.

Honestly, how much fun is this? The photo in the bottom right shows how my different yarn fibres took the dye and the different intensity of colour I could get depending on the number of dips and how strong the dye bath was. 

Here is a shot of my dyed objects drying.  I particularly like how the tote bag turned out - I just dipped the bottom third in.

I went a little crazy snapping shots of everyone else's dyeing too - you can really see all the different shades that can be achieved, especially with the yarn.  You could go from the palest, almost seafoam green, to the deep midnight blue of the darkest denim.

And all of our shirts were hung outside in the sunshine to dry.  People passing by must have wondered what the heck was going on.

I hung my yarn up to dry in my hotel room overnight.  After soaking and rinsing several times to get the residual dye off, the colours do fade a little, but I was still so pleased with the end results.  The skein on the far right was an extra one of a Masham/BFL mixture that was naturally a rustic grey and turned into a lovely blue-silver after soaking it in the darkest dye bath.

Whew - and that was only the first two days.  I'll show you some of the further outcomes and works in progress in my next post.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Chuffed With My Baffies. . .

Kate Davies is a genius.  I've long admired her talent for designing beautiful and unique garments, taking stunning photographs and writing a wonderful blog, full of honesty and humour, in which she shares a real sense of the places and the history behind the things that inspire her.  When I read that she'd branched out into creating her own yarn, Buachaille - the Scottish name for shepherd -  and all the wool would be sourced in Scotland, and spun in Yorkshire, I was very, very excited. 

Turns out (no surprise there), that she's also a brilliant and shrewd business woman too.  She created the Seven Skeins Club, allowing members to get one 50g DK skein of each of the seven colours in her palette, and which probably allowed her to get a good sense of the initial demand for the yarn. She'll be offering it for general sale next year. You also get a tote bag and a book to come later, with not only patterns and more glorious photography, but recipes and essays on the landscape that inspired the yarn's colours, including one on climbing a Scottish mountain.  Sign me up! There was a flurry of excitement on ravelry once these details were announced and these memberships sold out in a few days.  

While waiting for the release date, Kate wrote some very interesting blog posts about all the processes involved; the scouring, the manufacturing, choosing and naming the colours. Then came the excitement of waiting for the yarn and it literally was shipped around the world!  As you can see, the colours are rich and gorgeous.

Then came the anticipation around the first pattern release. There will be seven in all, released over seven weeks, with variations on some for different skill levels.  Not only that (and this really does blow my mind), she's designed them to use up every bit of the seven skeins!  We've been instructed to weigh our skeins very carefully, and she's even sent out an excel file that calculates what should be left depending on the colours we choose for each project.  This whole venture has been so incredibly well thought out and not only that, but it's enormous FUN!  I've never seen a Kate Davies pattern that I didn't want to knit, so I'm jumping right into the spirit of it all, and embracing the mystery and challenge as it comes without waiting for the lot and then choosing my colours.

So the first pattern was released last Friday and I was not disappointed.  It was for a pair of baffies - the Scottish term for house slippers.  There was the choice to do either a striped pattern or one that also includes some stranded knitting.  I chose the former and debated for ages about what colour to knit them in, but in the end went for Islay, a lovely teal, but actually my least favourite of the colours (I want to save that deep orange for a hat or mittens, something I can show off!).  But as it turns out, I absolutely love how the teal goes with the dark grey (Squall - what a fabulous name for a colourway). The fit is perfect and they really are quite cute.

Kate writes very clear patterns and I always learn something new.  In this case, it was the Turkish cast-on which is brilliant for toe-up socks and creates a very neat edge.

This was the perfect weekend project and my baffies are really warm and cozy.  I anticipate wearing them more as bedsocks now that the nights have gotten very chilly.  I love the i-cord trim which finishes them off, but I did need to go up two needle sizes to ensure they weren't too tight.

Then it was off to weigh my remaining yarn and fill out my excel sheet. Can't wait to see what's next.

She's a genius, I tell you.  

Monday, 19 October 2015

Two Walks From Edale, Part Two: On the Day, I Go in a Different Direction, Up to the Southern Edge of Kinder Scout and See a Lot of Weird Rock Formations. . .

In my last post I wrote about doing the recce of a ridge walk from Edale to Jacob's Ladder, and up towards Mam and Back Tor via Brown Knoll.   I was geared up to repeat the walk again the following weekend with our rambling group, especially since the weather promised to be dry and clear. 

That walk was a "B" or medium walk, about 10.5 miles.  But on the day, when I read that the route for the "A" or harder walk, included that last pretty stretch, but started much further out and included new (to me) territory, I abandoned the Liverpud (with his blessing) and the B party, and decided on the A walk instead. 

This walk heads off in a completely different direction, up onto the southern edge of Kinder Scout, the huge plateau that dominates this part of the Peak District.  As you can see, visibility was much clearer.

This is about half way up the path - we're heading for that long ridge at the top.

Once up, you get great views of the valley, including the ridge on the other side that we'll end our walk on.

And you start to see the first of many really interesting stone formations that have been weathered by rain and wind into all sorts of fluid, amoeba-like shapes that are oddly compelling to look at.

You also cross many small streams that cascade down into the valley.  Fortunately they were easy to ford on the day as the water wasn't at full force.

You can see how the path just seems to go on forever.  It's an absolutely lovely ridge walk.

With a riot of fall colours all around you.

You then approach an area called the Wool Packs and these clusters of rocks become much bigger and are grouped closer to each other, almost hugging the path.

It's like being let loose in a giant outdoor sculpture museum; I haven't felt this playful on a walk for a long time.  As you can see, I couldn't stop taking photos as the path continued to turn and twist among them.

A great place to stop and have lunch.  No shortage of seats. 

But the A walk doesn't have time to stop for long and the leader puts on quite a bit of a pace.  So after lunch, it was a brisk march down off the ridge following the bridleway which you can see in the middle of the photo below, and then up the other side - a very steep climb up to the summit of Mount Famine. 

Still climbing towards the top and loving the clouds.

At the top of Mount Famine, we had a feast; one of our group had baked a really delicious lemon drizzle cake!

From this ridge we made our way onto Brown Knoll, looking quite vibrant in the late afternoon sunshine, but rather more boggy than on the recce. At one point I placed one foot wrong and sank down in the mud, nearly to my knee -  ugh.

It was around 4pm when I took this last photo and I was starting to flag and despairing at how far we still had to go.  It was also starting to get quite cold, so I couldn't really enjoy that last stretch along the ridge towards Mam Tor (and had no energy to take photos).  Somehow I made it back and took comfort in the fact that quite a few of us were feeling sore and very tired.  I'm still glad I did it though.  I think if one were to take the first part of this walk - the wonderful Kinder Scout edge - and then cut out Mount Famine and go directly to Brown Knoll and on to Mam Tor, you'd have the makings of one almost perfect walk.  It's certainly what I'd do the next time.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Two Walks From Edale Part One: The Recce of a Great Ridge Walk, Taking in Jacobs Ladder, Brown Knoll, Rushup Edge, Mam Tor and Back Tor. . .

I don't know the Peak District that well, but when our group did a walk on Kinder Scout last year, I was flabbergasted at how beautiful and unusual the scenery was.  So when the Liverpud signed on to lead a walk at nearby Edale, I was happy to come along on the recce. 

Edale is a lovely little village set in the most stunning valley although it was so misty when we drove down into it, that we couldn't see much beyond the road ahead of us. It's also where the Pennine Way begins; I've done various stretches of this long distance path as you often encounter it on other walks, but after reading this, I've never really been tempted to tackle the whole thing.  It's nice to finally do the very first bit though.

At least for the first two miles or so, which is all that we followed it for, you can't go astray.  The path is pretty straightforward.

Even in the mist.  And the sheep will cheer you on.

Or at least look on in bemusement.

Fairly soon you come to Jacobs Ladder, which is essentially a long, stone staircase.

It leads up to the hills surrounding the valley, but as you can see, the visibility wasn't great.

The autumn colours of the moorland were still gorgeous though.

We veered off the Pennine Way shortly after Jacobs Ladder and headed for Brown Knoll, which is one long moor, fortunately not too boggy when we got there.  The mist was slowly starting to clear and we got a glimpse of the ridge we were heading for which made me squeal because I love ridge walking!

We turned left onto Rushup Edge where I saw this sheep actually walking on the stone wall.  When I got closer, the sheep and her friends obliged for a lovely group shot.

We walked along the ridge path towards Mam Tor.  It's a wonderful path with views of the valleys on both sides.

This is looking back at the ridge and Brown Knoll.

After climbing Mam Tor we continued to Back Tor.  We climbed up to the top of the hill's edge and sat down to look down on the valley, thrilled with the day, knowing that this was the exactly the type of walk that our walking group would enjoy.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Addicted to Sheep Documentary. . .

I saw Addicted to Sheep over the weekend and keep thinking about it.  The documentary follows a year in the life of the Hutchinsons, a family of farmers and sheep breeders in the North Pennines.  It's a hard life with little pay or security, especially if you are a tenant farmer, and the work is unrelenting.  I'm always walking by fields of sheep and thinking they look so relaxed, carefree and self-sufficient, munching away on the grass, but this film really shows how much human intervention is needed; they are always being rounded up and checked for illness or pregnancy, or to be tagged and sheared, or to be fed during the winter months. The Hutchinsons deal with everything in their stride (including difficulties during lambing season), and with a good deal of humour.  Their children are really grounded and there are some very funny scenes shot at their school where all their classmates also live on a farm.

It was eyeopening, especially in conjunction with blogposts that I've recently read such as this, that point out the plight of British sheep farmers and how little they receive for their wool.  It makes me think about the yarn that I use and has really motivated me to explore as many different British breeds as I can.  I'm participating in KnitBritish's breedswatchalong and will post my progress as I go along. I love British sheep and I know I'm going to love branching out and seeing the different woolly characteristics produced by different breeds.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

My New School Project. . .

Back-to-school time - I still get nostalgic for it.  Every autumn I itch to buy some new books, pens and lined notepaper.  My reading this year has been fairly dismal - I put it down to denial about yet another sign of becoming middle-aged.  Yes, I've known for a while now that I would need vari-focals and now that I've gone and gotten my eye test and bought a new pair of glasses - lo and behold - my reading mojo has returned. 

Since I work in a university library, I annually get caught up in the student frenzy of their new reading lists and it makes me yearn to get stuck into a new reading project.  When I saw that Michael Billington had written this book, I knew I'd found my challenge.

Even before moving to the U.K, I'd been reading Billington's theatre reviews in The Guardian for years and I was looking forward to his choices and the reasons behind them. As a regular theatre goer for most of my life, and having spent a year cramming for a drama comps for my now abandoned PhD, I thought I was fairly familiar with the canon. So imagine my initial shock when scanning the table of contents, I realized I'd only read/seen just a teeny bit over 50% of the plays on this list.  Clearly I'm missing out on some great drama; I've never even heard of Ena Lamont Stewart or Eugene Labiche, and haven't read any plays at all by Carlo Goldoni, Lope de Vega or Heinrich von Kleist (the latter three each showing up twice on Billington's list).

Scanning his choices which are arranged chronologically, I can also see myself having a good debate with him.  Love's Labour Lost over Much Ado About Nothing? Really?  Design for Living - how could that triumph over Private Lives?  Beckett's All That Fall is there but no Waiting for Godot or Endgame? Only one play by Tom Stoppard, even though it's my favourite of his - The Real Thing? No Frank McGuiness or Sarah Kane?  Hmmm.  I'm intrigued.

In his introduction, Billington writes, "as I drew up my initial list of plays, I had one basic idea in my mind: that the very best plays are rooted in their historical moment and yet have a sustainable afterlife. . . a great play is both an expression of its time and open to multiple reinterpretations."  I'd agree with this sentiment and only add that for me, a great play also has to read well on the page, even though I recognize that it can become something completely different and magical when seen on the stage or even while listening to a dramatic recording.  I still want to engage my imagination though through the written words.

It will be fun to revisit some old familiars and read something completely new and I'm sure that I'll enjoy Billington's essays on each of the plays on his list, which starts with The Persians by Aeschylus and ends with Mike Bartlett's King Charles III (both new to me). So, now I'm off to round up the Greeks. . .

Monday, 5 October 2015

Delayed but Done. . .

Hooray - got the mittens for my Mum finally done and sent off, and they only arrived one day late for her birthday. This project had languished for more than a year so it was great to finally finish them.  The alpaca supreme yarn from John Arbon makes these super soft and cozy, but oh, how I hate doing thumbs in colourwork.  So fiddly. 

With the cooler weather upon us, I was digging out my warm shawls to take one to Yarndale and came across my Byatt.  Which seemed the perfect shawl to take as I was hoping to meet Karie Westermann, the designer (I did - she's lovely).

Only problem - as I took it out and examined it again, it just didn't feel right. Honestly,  I've never struggled so much with getting the colours/tone right for any pattern, which has nothing to do with the pattern and everything to do with me wanting to do justice to such a lovely design.  I've started and frogged this shawl so many times, just never satisfied with the final result.  Here are just a few of the starts and stops.

Version #1: not enough contrast

Version #2:  Contrast fine, but felt the white was too stark.

Version #3:  I really thought this bright yellow would work, but it turned a rather sickly green against the blue.  Not flattering. 

Version #4:  And then there was this "finished" version.  I had even added beads and thoroughly blocked it.  But on closer examination (just two weeks ago),  the brown just seemed all wrong to me; a big block of rustic alpaca (with a bit of halo) among the glamour of intense, deep colour.  I knew I'd never wear it and what's the point of that?  

So I frogged it back, yet again, to the first part - that garter triangle of Rowan Fine Art variegated 4ply - and bought another skein of the same yarn in a purple colourway.  And this is the result:

Now here's the funny part.  All those colour experiments were a result of worrying about running out of the green yarn.  Karie had warned that it would use up almost every bit of the 400m skein.  I didn't want to risk it, and have to start again, so I thought the best way was to insert a third colour.  But I didn't even try knitting with the whole skein and as a result have knitted way more on this shawl than I ever would have if I'd not second guessed the skein. These are the days when you do think that knitting makes you a little nuts.  Especially since I then worked non-stop to finish the shawl in time for Yarndale.  I was binding off at 2am on the Friday night in my hotel room.  Yes, knitting can make you a little nuts.

I love it now though, and especially how all the colours in both skeins really complement each other in richness and tone.

I will get a lot of wear out of this shawl this autumn and I swear, I'm not tinkering with it anymore!