Friday, 28 April 2017

A Weekend on the Borders with Wool and a Walk. . .

Last weekend the Liverpud and I kept dipping back and forth between Wales and England.  On Saturday, I convinced him to drop me off at the Royal Welsh Showgrounds in Bulith Wells for Wonderwool while he went for a walk (I had previously bought him an ordinance map for the area).  He donned his boots and went off on the Shropshire Way and I headed into three halls of yarny goodness.

This was my first time attending this annual festival, mainly because it's quite hard to get to unless you drive. I would compare it with Woolfest in Cumbria in terms of the type of venue - big, airy rooms with concrete floors and simple booth set-ups.  Luckily it was a gorgeous day, the big doors were all open and lots of fresh air was flowing so after the crowds at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, it was lovely just to be able to breathe. The aisles are quite wide too, so even though there are a lot of attendees, they are spread among the three large halls and I didn't have to worry about my bags or elbows accidentally knocking into another yarn enthusiast. This show also has the best food offerings of any wool show I've previously been to.  I had been told not to miss the local ice cream in the van outside and it definitely didn't disappoint.  I bought a scrumptious bag of smokey, organic pumpkin and sunflower seeds that were perfect for snacking.  I also looked longingly at all the gorgeous tarts from the patisserie on site but managed to resist temptation.

Not so much with the yarn though. While many of the regular vendors you see at all the big shows were present, there were also smaller and new-to-me Welsh vendors to visit as well and I really enjoyed exploring new yarns and admiring creative skills.   I . . . ahem. . . did splurge a little on yarn, but it was all bought with a plan in mind.  Pressed for time at EYF, I wasn't previously able to fully explore the Cambrian Wool company, but had a lovely time squishing their wool here.  I bought a few skeins of the gorgeous rusty red 4ply you can see in the bottom left hand corner and was also delighted that they sold a mini-skein pack of all their colours. This is destined for a multi-coloured shawl/scarf - this wool is SO soft. It's spun from Welsh Mule which is a blend of Blue-faced Leicester - hence the softness -  with local Welsh breeds.

I did stick to all British yarns at the show. Above you can see some organic Shetland lace from Garthenor which was on sale (yay!) and will eventually make its way into a hap of some sort. The Jamieson's Shetland Marl chunky was also on sale and while they only had 4 balls which I quickly scooped up for £3 each, I can combine it with some neutrals in my stash for a future striped sweater project.

I also picked up some lovely buttons from Textile Garden and Brimstone. The latter only does shows and doesn't have an online presence but they specialize in vintage buttons, so I was very pleased to visit their booth.

We spent the night at a lovely pub B &  B in Knighton, which is right on the border of Wales and England.  The Offa's Dyke long distance walk which follows this border goes right through the town.  I can highly recommend The Red Lion if you are in the area.  Super friendly host and they source all their food from local suppliers; I had the most delicious Welsh lamb for dinner.

On Sunday we were off to Church Stretton to recce an upcoming walk.  The Shropshire Hills are such a lovely place for walking. We headed out of the town towards Ragleth Hill, our first climb of the day. The steepest part is walking up the road through the houses, but you quickly reach the wood and the main path (again part of the Shropshire Way, but it will diverge off into another direction shortly.)

Once up, you get lovely views looking towards the Long Mynd on the other side of the valley.  We'll be walking along that ridge in a few hours.

Looking east, you can see some of vibrant fields of rapeseed in full bloom.

And here we are looking back from the top of Ragleth.

There's a steep descent, a walk through some fields, a major road to cross, and then it's up on the other side. This is Minton Hill which we will climb to make our way to the Long Mynd.

Even though it's spring, there are still lots of rich autumnal colours in the bracken.

Here is the main path of the Long Mynd - it stretches quite a long way and is popular with walkers and cyclists.

Also wild ponies.  This gorgeous creature just came ambling along the path without a care in the world and seemingly oblivious to our presence.

We took the popular Town Bottom valley route back towards Church Stretton.

After the view above, the path leads to a wonderful valley descent.

And through the remains of an old estate that used to have a gothic folly overlooking this water feature. The designer was influenced by his friend Capability Brown, the famous British landscaper.

And then it was back to the car and back to Liverpool after a very productive and enjoyable weekend break.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Off the Needles and On the Needles. . .

Whew, my knitting seems non-stop these days. It feels wonderful to be finishing projects, but I know I need to slow down a little as my wrist and fingers have been feeling a little sore of late.  The beautiful spring weather we have been having lately is helping - we've been out walking and working in the garden.

I never posted a finished photo of my First Fair Isle jumper, but here it is and it's the perfect thing to wear for spring weather. It's a wee bit tight around the hips as the colourwork pulled the knitting inwards. I did go up two needle sizes for the sleeves though and am very happy with the looser fit.  I loved knitting with the Rowan Tweed which makes a lovely, smooth fabric that is warm but not stifling. I would really recommend this pattern for those wanting to knit a fair isle garment but aren't comfortable steeking. The pattern is very well written and as it's top down, you can try it on as you go.

I also finished my Marled Magic Mystery shawl as part of Stephen West's KAL.  Gosh, this was fun to knit and I'm really happy with the final look and how all the colours play with each other.  I can definitely see more marling in my future. The shawl IS quite warm though, with all the mohair in it, so I've packed it away until next autumn. So cozy.

I'm really in need of a summer cardigan so have cast on Hitofude by Hiroko Fukatsu. I have had this pattern in my queue for years and though the first part is quite repetitive, it will be a lovely garment to throw over a t-shirt and jeans. I'm using some gorgeous 4ply from Northbound Knitting, in a colourway called Sencha which seems appropriate for a Japanese design. It's full of silver and rust colours and should drape nicely.

I'm still working my way through all the projects in The Book of Haps.  April's project in  A Year of Techniques was the gorgeous Brambling  intarsia shawl by Bristol Ivy.  It's lovely and I definitely will knit it someday, but instead, it seemed the perfect time to cast on her Harewood Hap I'm adding three more colours to mine and going for a Mondrian inspired shawl.  It has proved a bit tricky, keeping all those balls of yarn from getting hopelessly tangled up, but it's such a clever pattern and the majority of it is simple stockinette, so I'm about half way through.  I'm using Northern Yarn's Poll Dorset which is a lovely, crisp white, while the other colours are all shades of Baa Ram Ewe's Titus 4ply - Coal, Wesley Bob, Brass Band and I will be adding Eccup. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

A Yarn Inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites. . .

Running until May 7th, over at Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery, there is an exhibition called Victorian Treasures.   Among the many 19th century paintings are several by the Pre-Raphaelites, as wealthy Liverpool merchants were very fond of acquiring them and the gallery has quite a good collection.  This is my favourite: I have always loved the petulant expression on Frederick Sandys' Helen of Troy, painted in 1866. All subsequent photos of paintings in this post are taken from this exhibition.

The exhibition is free and well worth a visit. I popped in just before the Edinburgh Yarn Festival to re-acquaint myself with the rich colours of the paintings, and to get in the proper mood for Blacker's new yarn that was being launched at EYF.

Samite is a silk/wool blend that was directly inspired by an irresistible combination of the Arts and Crafts movement, Pre-Raphaelite artists and Victorian poetry.

It is a 3ply mixture of 40% Shetland, 30% Blue-faced Leicester, 10% Gotland and 20% Ahmisa silk which is cruelty-free silk, allowing the moths to emerge from their cocoons before the silk is extracted.  As such, it has a rustic texture, but with a lovely drape.  Sonia from Blacker Yarns kindly gave me a shade card and a mini-skein to try out.  The alluring colourways are all deliciously pulled from Victorian poetry - Bursting Figs, Drowsy Flowers, Peacock's Neck, Aspen's Shiver.  Just fabulous. Makes me want to dig out my copy of A.S.Byatt's novel Possession and arrange myself languidly on a chaise-lounge.

I swatched with 'Tide of Dreams' that perfectly echos one of the colours found in this John Everett Millais' painting, The Good Resolve.  As you can see, the yarn has great stitch definition (there are tiny cables in the swatch ) and would also work really well for lace patterns. It's got a great handle, flows very nicely through the fingers and while firm, it's not at all rough. I have only washed and blocked the swatch once, but I feel it will get softer with each wash and will be lovely to wear against the skin.  The yarn isn't cheap, (£24.60 a skein) but you get 460 metres/ 503 yards per skein, and for a special project, I feel you'll get years and years of wear out of it. The price reflects the extra cost of using Ahmisa silk but it's also nice knowing that Blacker has gone out of its way to source an ethical material.


I bought two skeins of 'Burnished Night' which matches the gorgeous robe worn here in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting, Sibylla Palmifera

And I have decided to knit Lucy Hague's gorgeous Uncia from The Book of Haps.

You might remember that I cast on this hap a few months ago with some Texel wool which just wasn't right for this project.  It gave me texture, but not the drape that I think Uncia really deserves.  So far, I think the Samite will give me both and I can already feel the difference, just in the small portion that I've knitted so far. It's hard to depict in a photo, but the Samite is much lighter and looser while still maintaining the stitch definition.  I am really happy about the switch.

Kudos to Blacker Yarns for yet another innovative and interesting yarn with a great story and ethos behind it.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Spring Colour and a Spring Cowl. . .

A completely frivolous post for a Monday, but with lots of colour.  I was in York over the weekend at a knit and natter and was completely captivated by these daffodils cascading down the hill from the city walls.

York is a wonderful walkable city and I popped into their relatively new Seasalt store as we don't have one in Liverpool.  I love their clothing - it's comfortable, well made and designed with interesting prints.  But today it was their bags I was on the hunt for and I have now bought my perfect summer bag.  It's so large and roomy - a sweater project can easily fit, along with all the other essentials that need to travel with me, and I love the bright orangey-coral colour. This will be the perfect carry-on bag for flights and also a good wool festival bag - I can squish an awful lot of yarn into it.

As a bonus, I picked up one of their new canvas shopping bags too - one can never have enough project bags!  It's so pretty and was only £4. The print is meant to evoke the nautical, but all I see are Crazy Zauberballs!

This might be because I spent several hours on the train and also at the meet-up, knitting away on my helical striped cowl.  I finished somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool and grafted the ends together this morning.

It does have a spring look and feel to it, although it was far too warm to wear it today.

Despite my intentions to knit to the end of both Zauberballs, I quit with possibly 15- 20% of each ball still remaining.  The cowl was certainly long enough and I think I was starting to see stripes in my sleep! I'm pleased with the outcome and it'll be a cozy and cheery cowl to pull out on really grey and cold winter days.