Wednesday, 30 March 2016

A Walking Tour of Edinburgh Part One: Stockbridge, Broughton St. and Three Local Yarn Shops. . .

It's been over a week, but I'm still buzzing over the Edinburgh Yarn Festival.  What I so loved about my trip this year was having the time to also explore parts of the city that I'd never been to previously.  With my trusty Wool Tribe magazine in tow, I followed parts of all four of the neighbourhood walking tours that were included, visiting several of the suggested yarn and crafty stores along the way.

One of the things that I noticed right away and love about Edinburgh is the proliferation of indie stores and restaurants/cafes.  It's so nice to be able to walk miles and not see a high street full of chain stores that looks like every other high street around the country.  So if you didn't make it to EYF or get a chance to get a copy of Wool Tribe, come along with me as I take you on a wee tour of a couple of neighbourhoods.  Just a note that I made a few modifications to the routes in the book.  In this first part, I merged two of the walks together.

Starting from the National Portrait Gallery on York Street in the New Town, turn left and walk a block to Hanover Street (which then turns into Queen St.)  Here you will get a lovely view looking down on the Firth of Forth.

Queen Street then turns into Dundas Street and on the left hand side you'll find GreyFriars Art Shop. It's a cozy little shop with very friendly staff and well stocked with art supplies.  I'm no artist, but I really love those pencil crayons that turn into watercolour paints so I bought a Derwent set in muted colours of greys and purples.  They also sold graph paper which I'd forgotten to bring with me for one of my courses. 

Turn left onto Northumberland St.  and when you get to Howe Street, turn left again.  Here you'll find the McAree Brothers.

This is quite a large and airy yarn shop specializing mostly in commercial brands.  You'll find a really good selection of Rowan yarns and pattern books for example.  They also stock every conceivable needle size and notion you would ever need.

Turning right out of the shop and walking further down the hill, you'll see St. Vincent's Church at the bottom.  I headed towards it and then turned left along St. Stephen Street where you will find at number 68, Golden Hare Books.   This is an absolutely beautiful bookstore with most of the books shelved face out and clearly curated and chosen by staff with a wide range of reading tastes, an appreciation for poetry and a love of indie presses, literature in translation and the classics.  Any shop openly displaying New York Review of Books Classics brings a smile to my face.  They also had the latest edition of Slightly Foxed which I was happy to purchase.  Do check out their website - lots of great and quirky book recommendations.

It's not all retail therapy though; there's lots of colourful and stunning architecture on the streets along with tempting cafes.  At the end of St. Stephen Street, if you turn left and go up the hill two blocks, you can see the curving houses of the Royal Circle.

But head back down and cross the river and stop for some refreshment. I highly recommend the cardamon buns at Peter's Yard.

This is an area known as Stockbridge and there are lots of lovely shops to browse, but I had another mission. Fortified with a coffee and some pastry, I then crossed back over the bridge and followed the Water of Leith Walkway a little over a mile to the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.
It's a lovely, peaceful  walk with the sound of rushing water accompanying you all the way, completely blocking any city noises. There are also some beautiful buildings.

The gallery is on the top of a hill and I could have spent all day there.

However I had made the trip specifically to see the Modern Scottish Women exhibition which was fabulous.  It's still on until June 26th so do try and get there if you can. I just had to buy the catalogue; I definitely want to read more about some of the amazing artists whose paintings and sculptures were on display.

This was my favourite painting, Composition in Pink and Green by Cathleen Mann.   It just glowed on the wall.  She worked in the ambulance service in the First World and as a war artist in the Second, designed costumes for films in the 1930s and also posters for the Underground.  I love the colours of the outfit in this painting too -  that coral-red belt just sets off the green and grey plaid perfectly.

I might have to steal that colour scheme for this pattern - Briolette, designed by Anna Wilkinson -  from Pom Pom Magazine, Issue 6.  I would use the coral as the contrast colour on the hem and cuffs and as the bold stripe on the plaid.

There was no photography allowed in the exhibition but I couldn't resist snapping a shot in the loos. I love the ironwork on the windows.

I then returned to the Stockbridge area, again by the Water of Leith walkway, and if you head along Hamilton Place which then turns into Henderson Row and then into Eyre Place (just continue in one straight line),  you'll hit Rodney Street which turns into Bellevue.  Turn right at Rodney. I am now merging into the Broughton St. walk that is in Wool Tribe. On the lefthand side walking up Bellevue is East Claremont Street and if you turn left on that and walk about ten minutes, you come to Fabric Focus.

They had a lovely selection of quilting fabric and also some gorgeous wool tweeds that were unfortunately a bit out of my price range.  I did buy some charcoal grey check fabric that will work nicely as a contrast colour in a future quilt.

Returning back the way you've come, Bellevue St turns into Broughton and here you will find my favourite yarn shop in Edinburgh - Kathy's Knits.

They have an excellent stock of British yarns including Blacker, Jamieson & Smith, New Lanark, JC Rennie, Eden Cottage Yarns and Baa Ram Ewe's Titus.  Lots of patterns and books by British designers as well and I love the colourful stitch markers made out of wellies that they sell. Kathy herself is such fun and wonderful to chat with and there is a cozy couch to relax some weary feet.  She was selling the last of Orkney Wool's Texel 4ply stock and I snapped up 5 balls right away.

Broughton Street itself is lovely - again another street with great shops, restaurants and cafes.  I can definitely recommend Artisan Roast where I had the most sublime hot chocolate of my life - it was a white chocolate with vanilla, lavender and lemongrass.  I went into raptures over it and the barista told me I could get the chocolate at the store just a few doors down.

But I couldn't linger too long - I just had time for one more yarn shop visit.  At the top of Broughton Street you'll hit York Place.  Cross over diagonally to the other side and turn onto London Road.  Again, it's another ten minute jaunt, but just after you pass Easter Road you'll find Ginger Twist Studio.   This may be the smallest yarn shop I've ever been in (and it was full of excited Norwegians here for EYF) but it packs quite a colourful punch.  There are gorgeous, vibrant hand-dyed skeins in every weight hanging down from pegs on one wall, and then cubbyholes of yarn on the other.  They stock West Yorkshire Spinners which is a favourite yarn of mine and I bought two balls. 

In all, my merging of the two walks including time spent at the gallery and stops for food and shopping, took about five hours at an easy pace, so it's a great option if you have an afternoon free in the city.  And I made a point of buying something (not hard!) at each of the three yarn shops, even though I knew I'd be shopping quite a bit at the marketplace.  As fantastic as EYF is,  I feel it is really important to also acknowledge and support the indie yarn shops that foster and continue to inspire the local creative community that allows EYF to flourish and be as successful as it is.  So kudos to them too!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Edinburgh Yarn Festival Recap Part 2: Skeins With A Story. . .

One of the great things about going to a yarn festival like Edinburgh is being able to talk to so many indie vendors about the yarn they spin or dye or knit or crochet or weave with.  There are just some incredible British yarns out there produced by people who are passionate about promoting the British wool industry.  I definitely went a little over budget with my purchases but I love a skein with a story, not to mention how gorgeous and top quality these yarns are.  I'm going to need to find some very special projects for these beauties.  All these are available online (or will be soon) so if you weren't able to attend EYF but want to knit with British wool, here are some suggestions:

Daughter of A Shepherd:

I've been following the story of this yarn ever since Rachel Atkinson wrote this blog post that touched a lot of people when it went viral.  Her father had sent 300 Hebridean fleeces to the British Wool Board and received a cheque for only 94p in return.  Rachel decided that she could do much better and decided to research the process of turning those 300 fleeces into skeins of yarn.  The result was launched in Edinburgh and it was the first booth I headed to when the marketplace opened.

My photo doesn't do the colour justice - it's a rich, dark chocolatey brown with black, grey and even reddish brown fibres sticking out of it.  It's really soft and has the most glorious and intense sheepy smell.  I can't wait to see how it knits up.  We were allowed to buy only two skeins each, but they will be available online soon.  Click on this link to see better photos and sign up for her newsletter that will let you know when the yarn is available. 

The Knitting Goddess:  Wensleydale/Shetland Blend:

How absolutely gorgeous is this yarn?  The Knitting Goddess is well known for her sock yarn, but I'm thrilled that she's dyed a non-superwash, pure British wool, which also had its debut at EYF.  This is 85% Wensleydale and 15% Shetland and is a 4ply weight.  The colours just glow, thanks to the lustre of the Wensleydale.  It's not as soft as Blacker's new yarn, Tamar, but the crispness will be wonderful for stitch definition.  Brityarn also stocks it. 

Speaking of Tamar:

I've blogged previously about this beautiful yarn here, but it was so nice to look at the full palette of colours in the Blacker booth and to see lots of Tamar skeins going home with knitters. 

Ysolda Teague also came with a new yarn - Blend No. 1.   I had read about it on her blog (she had wanted to create a soft "cool undyed grey" ) but I didn't know she also had some skeins dyed in greens and blues. That green really pops so it had to come home with the grey.  It's a mixture of Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles.

I never go to a yarn show without stopping at the John Arbon booth (and thankfully they seem to be at every show!)  In some ways they are the heroes of British wool.  They spun both Daughter of a Shepherd and Ysolda's Blend No. 1,  in addition to providing lots of yummy skeins of their own.  I seem to be drawn quite heavily to grey these days and they had a limited edition Devon Grey Wensleydale 4ply that was so luscious I had to buy three skeins.  I also bought some Exmoor Zwartbles DK weight.  Mmmm, dark grey with light grey and green.  That's a good combo.

Speaking of grey, The Little Grey Sheep was also at EYF.  This yarn comes from their own flock of sheep in Hampshire, is scoured in Yorkshire, spun in Devon and then dyed back at the farm.  I'm in love with their Gotland lace and was so excited to see mini-skeins in that weight too.  I'm already thinking a striped Featherweight cardigan needs to be cast on with this.

I have to admit I was a bit starstruck meeting Kate Davies at EYF.  She is my number one knitting heroine, not only for her wonderful designs and blog, but for creating her own beautiful Scottish yarn Buachaille.  Her launch of it last year with the Seven Skeins club was quite possibly the most fun I've ever had with knitting.  And as with all of her patterns, there was so much thought put into the development of the yarn which she wrote about here and here and here.   The hard work and the skills involved by so many people to produce the yarn that is flowing through my fingers as I knit makes me feel very proud on their behalf and makes me cherish the yarn even more.  I love the new golden Furze colourway and can't wait to see all the upcoming designs that will use this yarn.

Finally, I bought some very special wool that is the last of its kind.  Jane from Orkney Wool has decided to retire and stop dyeing the Texel wool she gets from a local farmer.  The remainder of her stock is being sold by Kathy's Knits in Edinburgh where I got these balls; she still had quite a few left as of Sunday but I don't think they'll last long.   I love this mustard colour as it will be the perfect matched for some of the many grey skeins I've bought in a striped or colourwork jumper.  I just need to find the perfect pattern.

I'd say that if the Edinburgh Yarn Festival accomplished anything (and it accomplished TONS!), it definitely showcased the very best of British wool and the amazing people behind it all.  And this is just a tiny portion of what was available in the marketplace.  I feel so incredibly spoiled for choice living in the UK; truly, these are some of the best yarns in the world!

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Edinburgh Yarn Festival Recap: Just the Beginning . . .

Can there be a more beautiful and vibrant city to hold a yarn festival in than Edinburgh?

They even have knitters and spinners on the back of their banknotes (I knew that Scotland had different notes to England but didn't realize that there are three banks who can print their money, so while the colours stay the same, the images vary.  This note is part of the Clydesdale Bank's World Heritage series showing the women of St. Kilda.  Very cool.)

Whew - I am just getting my breath back after a whirlwind five days involving lots of walking, eating, dancing, knitting, crocheting, talking about knitting and crochet, getting inspired through courses and of course squishing and shopping for yarn and fibre. It's going to take a few posts to recap everything but the first thing to say is that if you only go to one wool festival a year, this is definitely the one to attend.  Huge kudos to Jo and Mica, the amazing women behind EYF; I can only imagine the hours and hours of hard work needed to make such a large event go so smoothly.  There weren't even any queues for the loos - how on earth did they manage that?

The marketplace was fantastic as always.  I love talking to the vendors whose passion and knowledge are infectious, and I may have come away with just a wee skein or two (more on that in another post).  It was also fun to hang out at the podcast lounge, fondle some British wool breeds and see this amazing blanket knitted by Cathy Scott and held up by Sonia Bargielowska of Blacker Yarns and the unstoppable Louise Scollay of Knit British

I probably overloaded myself with courses but really wanted to absorb as much knowledge as possible.  This is what I love about knitting - the learning never stops.  And EYF attracts some top-notch teachers from around the globe.  My mind is still swirling trying to process all that I learnt, but some of it was absolutely invaluable.  I took two workshops that will hopefully help me with my City and Guilds course - "Intro to Garment Design" with Ysolda Teague, and "Knitting Outside the Box" with Bristol Ivy.  I've admired these two designers for years and they both helped explain some of the math behind designing and also reassured us that you don't need to be able to draw to get your ideas across.  In particular I really loved Bristol's course; she's a very engaging teacher and had us doing lots of fun exercises to get the creative juices going. I'd definitely recommend taking any course with her; in fact I'm going to purchase her Craftsy class on Knitting on the Bias.  I just really like the way her mind works. 

Then I tried my hand at drop spindling. Here's my very first spun ball of yarn and it's probably a good thing that it's out of focus. However, I've been assured by my instructor Janet Renouf-Miller that if I practice for ten minutes every day, I should get the hang of it in two weeks. 

My other two courses were pure play.  I knew the moment I entered the room and saw a table full of coloured yarn that I was going to have fun in "Freeform Crochet" with Carol Meldrum

I'd forgotten how relaxing it can be to crochet, especially when there aren't too many rules or stitches to count. We learned several interesting techniques and how to crochet "organic scrumbles". Such fun.

And then on the last day there was a workshop with knitting's superstar of colour,  Stephen West.  I've enjoyed participating in four of his mystery shawl KALs including "The Doodler" shown here. 

I'd not really call this a course - it was more of a knit and natter session but with a lot of laughs and a lovely group of knitters. We'd all brought various bits of textured yarn and metal chains and we just spent three hours playing.  I ended up with a large woolly necklace that I have no idea what to do with, but I'd never tried knitting/crocheting jewellery before and it could be fun to try it on a smaller scale. 

And really, that was what last week was all about - trying new things, developing my skills, getting creative and reminding myself that there's a whole lot of craft outside of knitting.  In the marketplace, I picked up some of these garter stitch fat quarters from the Knitting Goddess.  I really want to start quilting again soon.  Oh, and dig out the loom again. After I get good at spinning. 

In this year of trying to balance all my various interests, I decided on the train home to take a whole week off from knitting.  I am allowed to crochet, spin, weave, or sew but no knitting.  So far it's been great and I've made progress on a few other projects that have been lying around in neglect.  Of course, all this yarn came home with me too so I'm sure it won't be long before I pick up the needles again.  There was some incredible yarn for sale at EYF - more on that in the next post. 

Monday, 14 March 2016

Wool Tribe and Edinburgh Bound. . .

The excitement is building for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival - only two more sleeps!  On Friday I received Wool Tribe, the companion booklet produced by the organizers.  You can still order a copy here.  It's a lovely publication with six patterns, four lovely walking tours of neighbourhoods in the city centered around craft, coffee and cake, a sheep spotter guide and a list of woolly places to visit in other parts of Scotland. I absolutely fell in love with the Inglis Mitts on the front cover, designed by Ysolda Teague.

They are the perfect train knitting project, but I couldn't wait and cast on immediately.  I've now finished the left mitt.  I've used the new Tamar DK yarn from Blacker in this gorgeous purpley-grey colour called Valancy.  It's so, so soft and I love those cables. 

I also really like the Burnet Hat designed by Karie Westermann and based on Victorian tiles in Glasgow. 

And Lucy Hague contributes another of her gorgeous cabled shawls.  This one is called Dunedin.

Last year, after EYF, I knit Hague's Nine Maidens shawl but stupidly used the wrong needle size and it came out far too small.  But I think I'll take these two yarns which go together so well, and re-use them for a Dunedin. 

Tonight I'm going to start packing and getting all the supplies I need for my workshops.  One of the ones I'm looking forward to is freeform crochet with Carol Meldrum.  It's been a while since I've done any crochet, so I pulled out a hook and some Rowan Summerspun wool/cotton yarn I'd had in stash and just started doing trebles to get my hands in the rhythm again.  I don't really know what this will become - maybe a basket, maybe a project bag - but it'll be something easy to work on at Knit Night and on the train.

I'm especially feeling light-hearted and happy because I've finally finished the first module of my course and I sent it off this morning to be assessed.  Whew, it was a lot of work,  but I've learned tons and am eager to see what comes next.  The first module involved a lot of swatching - for various different cast-ons and offs, selvedges, hems, edgings and tension squares. It is certainly helping me to justify my stash!

But with that off my shoulders, I can head off to Edinburgh with my conscience clear and no impending deadlines on the horizon.  Bring on the fun.  And the wool!

Saturday, 12 March 2016

A Slow Saturday. . .

It's a grey day outside, but I woke up and had that moment of recognition where I realized the worst of my cold was gone.  I still have the odd cough, but my energy level and appetite are back and it feels great. I wasn't yet up to doing the 14 mile recce that the Liverpud had to do today, but he went off with a mate and I got to have a lazy day pottering around the house.  Bliss.

I went out to the garden to have a proper look at my beautiful daffodils.

And found some crocuses were blooming out of a rather neglected patch of earth where we'd cleared a bush last summer.  I don't know how they got there as we didn't plant them, but I'm very happy to see them.

I finished my Banyan shawl and it's now blocking.  It's so long, it takes up the entire landing.

And I decided to tinker a bit with an old finished project.  Last year, I knitted the Humbug top designed by Carol Meldrum out of some Rowan Summer Tweed.  At the time, I thought it was quite unique in style and it would be fun to mix it up by wearing different colours beneath.

However, while I loved the fit of the top, after wearing it a few times, those gaping holes started to annoy me. They were just too ragged and looked untidy.  I made a mental note to try and fix the problem one day and I've finally tackled it.  After trying a few different options - crocheting the holes shut in a contrast colour, trying to seam them shut from the inside - I opted for threading a needle with the same yarn and just winding it around each hole three times, then weaving it up the inside of the top until they were all done.  It's created a row of bow-shaped eyelets and I'm so pleased with the result.

Now it's off to read The Guardian, prepare a lasagne for my hungry walker and tonight I'll get a little more knitting done while listening to Radio 4.  I love slow weekends.