Category Archives: Knitting

Knitting Shetland

In, ahem, 2015 I was in Shetland – not for Shetland Wool Week, but for a holiday. While there I went a bit mad in Jamiesons revamped Lerwick shop, with the intention of knitting myself a Fair Isle in colours which I thought would remind me of Shetland, and I wrote about the colour choice I had tried to make at the time.

That was then, and this is now:

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It’s coming along – I’ve reached the stage where I have to decrease for the armholes at the back (I’m knitting it in pieces rather than in the round; I like the stability of seams… sorry about that). The pattern is Marie Wallin’s Orkney, from Rowan 52; the charts are some of the most confusing I have ever come across and I’ve knitted a lot of Fair Isle, but then there are thirteen colours involved. Thirteen…

And, and, one section has three colours in a row. In traditional FI, that is frowned upon, but this isn’t a traditional Fair Isle. It is, however, not being knitted in the wool for which it was designed – naturally, why make life easy for yourself – but in Jamieson’s DK, from their fab shop (sigh), which has to be a contender for most tempting yarn shop in the known universe.

Jamiesons

This is slightly thicker than the Rowan Felted Tweed used in the original. So not only have I had to allow for the difference in the size I’m knitting (gauge was carefully measured), it also means that a three-colour section is just too bulky. Plus – of course – this row will fall right over the boobs. Hm. So that’s been redrawn.

Still, I am loving the texture and colour of the wool:

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and its natural stick-with-it-ness means I am getting away with a float across five stitches, as it will felt in enough. Excellent!

I’ve been diving into some of my photographs from Shetland, seeing if my colour choices have indeed worked, and I think they have. Sort of.

Eshaness

The bright green of the seaweed below (and to some extent the grass above, at Eshaness lighthouse) – Jamiesons colour ‘Leprechaun’ – hasn’t been used yet, but it will be. Just a flash.

Mousa ferry

The previous time I was in Shetland it was all about sunsets. On balance, I am happy I went with the more subdued colours from the latest trip. Eighteen months ago. Must be time for another expedition!

Cracking on… (for Christmas. Shhh.)

It’s less than two weeks. No, not to Christmas, come down from the ceiling, it’s not that scary though it is nearly as bad. Nope, it’s less than two weeks until the big Harlech Craft Fair and I am picnicking.

PANICKING, thank you, WordPress autocorrect.

Wish I was picnicking, but there you go. In fact, here is Picnic Central, otherwise known as the kitchen table, complete with iPad, knitting and one of the 85,345,278 cups of tea I drink in the course of a day.

table

Ahem.

It’s a great Fair, the Harlech one – really more of a makers’ market, as the craftspeople are professionals who all earn at least part of their income doing what they do. But everyone is used to it being called Harlech Christmas Craft Fair, and so it stays as that. I’m one of the stallholders and this year, due to having had a crazy summer where I almost sold out of everything, I’m diversifying.

No, not into ‘innovative jam’ (copyright Teresa May) or pottery or pyrographing my name on my forehead or doing anything surprising in metal. Into a few simple woolly kits. It struck me, during the summer of eeeeeekkkkkk!!!!!!!, that I was missing some potential customers. Knitters came to chat about knitting, great, enjoyed it, loved it – can happily talk about knitting until the cows have come home, changed and gone out on the town partying – but they didn’t buy. Well, the chances are that I wouldn’t buy knitting either on a woolly stall, though I would always make a beeline for any such stalls at similar events.

This got me thinking, as did some of the things these knitters said, such as ‘what’s a three-needle bind off?’ and ‘Russian splicing? What’s that?’ When you knit and know things, you tend to assume that other knitters also know those things, and yet sometimes they don’t. Take me, f’r instance. I can’t do kitchener stitch (I know) or work on double-pointed needles without tying myself in knots: we all have things which aren’t our thing, if you get my drift.

So: basic kits for my own straightforward but effective patterns, each incorporating a technique or alternative approach – that is the idea. I’ve sourced some wool which is good quality but reasonable so it allows me to sell it on at an equally reasonable price, though not in huge quantities – this is just a test, after all. I’ve worked up some patterns, tested them, made silly mistakes, corrected them, retested them and now all I need to do is type them out. The most complicated one is my Woolwinding Shawl, and that’s not really complicated; the simplest one is an offset rib double cowl. But the one I am most absurdly pleased with is almost as easy, a pair of simple fingerless mitts / wrist warmers.

mitt

I spent ages fiddling around with the cables, after one silly mistake with the pattern I thought I was going to use made them look like varicose veins (definitely best discarded, mistake or no mistake, largely because I couldn’t stop laughing). They’re a variation on the classic claw Aran pattern, but without the long thread across the traditional 1/3 cable which can catch on things. There’s a right and a left mitt; the palms are plain because that’s more practical (and it helps the wool go further so you can get two mitts out of a single ball of loveliness; these test mitts are in Rowan Pure Wool DK, but I’ve got a few balls of delicious DK alpaca for the kits themselves). I’ve also got a fingerless glove pattern in 4 ply which is more complicated, but I’ll see how these go first.

This made me think about fingerless mitts. I’ve always used them – before I even knitted -because I was a photographer and needed my fingertips free. They were really difficult to find, once, too. Not so now; I’ve noticed them in the outdoor and mountaineering shops round here, often with a mitt bit (must trademark that) which fastens back, but I’ve also seen them in general shops, and whenever I have them for sale they always fly out. Maybe it’s something to do with all the tech we use nowadays, rather than the fact that we’re all rock climbing?

Anyway, let’s see how the kits go. If nothing else, it will take some of the pressure off me for finished objects (took some off by not doing commissions any more, and that helps), and they can go on etsy too, when I get my act together. And now I’m back in love with cables, too.

mitt2

And with warm radiators, even though they make a disconcerting background for photos. Doing a selfie of your hand is not as easy as you’d think (thank goodness for protective cases for tech). Hey ho!

Ooops!

KnittingI honestly hadn’t realised how long it had been since my last post – the longest gap ever, I think. But there’s been knitting, evidently.

I am all right, except for excessive ammounts of swearing – because I’ve been having one or two run-ins with WordPress. Write a lovely post, add a gallery, edit the gallery, try to write another line – and ZAP! The entire post vanishes. So I decided to give it a couple of weeks to see if the glitch got sorted, and before I knew it over a month has passed. And I’ve been to London, managed to visit a couple of yarn shops. More later.

But not much later, honest!

And in the meanwhile, here’s another look at that knitting, a sweater in Sublime’s lovely Luxurious Aran Tweed (now discontinued, hrrumph) and a neckwarmer on the needles in Malabrigo Merino Worsted. Love the colours… The bag? That’s what the striped thing is. Some handspun, dyed and felted in the washing machine a million years ago. Well, about six years ago.

Knitting

Three for the bookshelf?

Right, that’s it. No more long projects until at least September. I know I suffer from Freelance Disorder – a tendency to accept any job you are offered, on the grounds that it might be the last job you are offered – but I’ve got a summer full of craft pop-ups and fairs and I do not want to be nailed down in front of the laptop. And while I’ve been bogged down in editing books, I’ve also been sent some to review. But these are on woolly matters.

Cable bookThe first, Cable Left, Cable Right by Judith Durant, is a real winner. As it happened, it landed on my doorstep as I was doing some cabling (fingerless mitts, for sale), so the timing couldn’t have been more appropriate.

I do have stitch pattern books which include cables along with other things, generally. But I don’t have anything which purely concentrates on cables apart from one book which also has patterns for garments. In that book the cable patterns are often very elaborate and on a large scale; here there are everything from the simplest rope cables to elaborate banded cables in two colours. Like the other books in this series (which I also rate), this does not include any patterns for finished things – and that, to my mind, is an asset. First, I often don’t like the patterns for the garments / cushions / strange unidentifiable things which come with the selection of stitch patterns; second, just concentrating on the the stitch patterns gives much more depth.

It allows you to look at the basics clearly and in more detail,

pages 1

and to then understand things properly when you get to more complicated issues:

pages 2

And that highlights another point. This book uses charts, not written instructions. Writing these instructions out would have taken pages; the chart is clear and quick. And in case anyone isn’t used to charts for cables (I am one who generally prefers written instructions), there are full and clear directions, and plenty of help. I think I’m converted.

(Someone said to me that she had problems working out which row she was on with charts. I looked at her pattern – written out, complex cables – and she was using a clip-on ruler thingy as a marker. I use something like that for lace charts, which I’m perfectly comfortable with, so why not these? I am a convert.) Yup. A definite recommendation, as is the next one.

IMG_5184Just a quickie; a little book on spinning, How to Spin, by Beth Smith.

It’s basic, it’s clear, it’s not photographic but there are line drawings to clarify things from basic drafting and attaching fibre to the leader to other issues like making a woollen-style join. Beth Smith is the author of The Spinners’ Book of Fleece, and both knows her stuff and has the ability to explain what she’s talking about. I recently sold a wheel to someone who was completely new to spinning, and I wish I’d had a copy of this at the time (it’s OK, she’s near a mutual friend who’s a very good spinner, so she’ll get help there). But this would be very useful for anyone in that position – and I’ve found it useful myself!

page 3Ah yes, the third book. I nearly didn’t review this, but patterns are a matter of personal taste. Also, I do not crochet. But had I ever felt like crocheting – and I might, given that there are some amazing crochet patterns and projects out there to inspire me – then the Crochet One-Skein Wonders for Babies book would put me right off. Incidentally, it had the same effect on some of the expert crocheters who saw it, too.

This elephant is cute, I’ll give it that. And there are a couple of hats and some bootees that I like. And, of course it comes down to the question I raised right at the start, of personal taste in patterns. But a diaper cover with a flower decoration on the bum? A vest which is quite rightly described as ‘unforgettable’? The Zucchini sleep sack and cap? Yup, it’s a bag shaped like a courgette in which you stick your baby.

Ok, there are some nice blankets; if you’re into crochet baby blankets, then it might be worth having a serious look at this. But the majority of the patterns look so old-fashioned beside some of the things people are crocheting now, and many of them are deeply impractical (and frightening, in the case of the more surreal toys). This book tries hard to be cute (‘little bottoms’), but maybe it just isn’t one for the somewhat cynical British market. Or the somewhat cynical me.

Back to Wonderwool – wonderful – Wales, 2016

I have had a mixed relationship with Wonderwool Wales. It’s varied from wild excitement (the very first time I went) to slight irritation (the next time, when there seemed to be nothing but one indie dyer after another, which must have been annoying for them too) and to suffering from near frostbite (the Very Cold Year, when stallholders wore their stock and I thought my feet were going to fall off despite wearing walking boots with thick socks). Last year I decided I couldn’t be bothered and, apart from a slight pang, I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the huge crowds, the not being able to get on a stand, the half-hour queue for coffee and the lack of a seat once you’d got it, the inability to get anywhere near a food outlet for lunch…

This year I went. And I went on the Sunday, though I feel I should be keeping quiet about this as too much attention may kill the thing, rather as tourists destroy what they come to see if they come in enough numbers (my old Paris, I’m talking to you).

It was fab.

Heeeeeeeeee heeeeee:

Wonderwool haul 2016

We have: undyed DK for natural dyeing and some dye material (old man’s beard lichen for pink, barberry bark for green, dyers’ broom for a yellow – I’ll probably get khaki for all three), some Rowan cocoon at a stonking price which I couldn’t ignore, a single skein which I said I wasn’t going to buy but somehow did (‘that would be the fairies’), and some fluff. It’s all fab. So are/were the scotch eggs. And the meringues.

We started the sensible way, which is possible on the Sunday: with coffee and cakes and the show schedule:

planning

and worked out where we wanted to go, where we had to go and where we’d better avoid (temptation cannot be easily resisted before lunch), and then we set off. We bumped into friends, visited a particular stallholder, separated, bumped into more friends, took the scotch eggs back to the car, bumped into each other, bumped into someone else, bumped into a stall or two, bumped into a sheep or two,

sheepy

(this splendidly Roman-nosed job from Home Farm Wensleydales is wearing a rather pretty collar, which could easily have been missed – well, it’s the old daisy/sheep connection, Father Ted), bumped into another friend, separated again, did a quick whip-round all the halls, including Hall 3 with its amazing exhibit/artwork,

lovely!

bumped into more friends, managed to miss out completely on greeting some others because their stall was wonderfully far too busy, looked up and saw the decorations,

bunting

bumped into more friends but managed to miss the part of the sleepwalk in which someone else we knew was modelling (a human, purrrlease, not a sheep), bought stuff, went back to the car to change out of a heavy sweater into something less hot, bumped into more people…

What a fabulous day. I am so glad I went back. And now I need to track down that skein of yarn which I didn’t buy (because I wasn’t buying single skeins, ok, and, yes, I am aware of the fact that I did actually buy one) but which was the most glorious, incandescent, emerald green. If I could sum up the day in one word it would be ‘colour’. Yes, that’s about right. Colour, scotch eggs and meringues. And friends. Colour, scotch eggs, meringues and friends – in no particular order. And yarn: colour, scotch eggs, meringues, friends and yarn. Lots of yarn. One word? How could that be possible?

Here’s a gallery of delights; just click on an image for a slideshow, with captions. How on earth did I manage to choose?

And, amazingly, I stayed in budget, even allowing for the scotch eggs, meringues and delicious pirog I grabbed for lunch. In fact, I was under budget by £20. Wonder if I can track down the sellers of the emerald green skein?

Oh Rowan, Rowan, wherefore art thou Rowan?

I help in a wool shop on Saturday afternoons, and when I turned up a couple of weeks ago I found my friend, the owner, in a state of shock. She’d just had an email from her Rowan rep with some devastating news: about 70% of the range was going. Either entire yarn ranges were being discontinued, or great swathes of colours were disappearing in many of those that were staying.

Rowan mill offices

This is not, perhaps, unexpected when you know that they’ve recently been taken over and perhaps it’s also not unexpected because there’s a certain feeling that they’ve taken their foot off the pedal a bit in recent years (perhaps rather like Colinette). But I’ve got one thing in Rowan yarn on the needles at the mo, and it made me think.

I’ve a bit of a love-hate relationship with Rowan. I’ve been to workshops Rowan have organised both at retailers and at the mill (above), and they’ve varied between extremely good and somewhat disappointing. Mind you, they were always interesting, if not always for the tutor, then for the other participants among whom I recognised some people who could only be described as Rowan groupies (I once heretically mentioned Noro, hsssssss…).

The same applies to the yarns, in my opinion. When they’re good, they’re very very good,

Cotton glace

like Cotton Glace (staying, but with colours reduced as far as I can recall), but when they are a bit gimmicky they can be horrid (and I’m not naming names, because this is just my opinion and just because X sheds or Y knits up like shite for me doesn’t mean they’ll misbehave for everyone). And they’re not cheap, either, though – generally – you do get good yardage for your money. But some are just exquisite: Lima, for instance, that delicious blend of baby alpaca and merino with a bit of nylon for strength. That’s going. So I bought three balls and am currently knitting it up into a shawl.

I think I know what’s happening. Of course I may be completely wrong or partly right, but with my business-management-before-being-a-full-time-freelance-hack head on – and I still write in the business area now – I think it’s a case of newbroomitis. New owner, complete overhaul.

Rowan mags

(The Rowan mag is changing, too. From this summer’s issue – the one already out – it’s going down to two stories, not three. Just as well I’ve got a stash of old ones, and am quite happy substituting yarns.)

As I said, Rowan had, I feel, lost its way a bit, with loads of novelty or seasonal yarns, however lovely – Panama, Cotton Lustre, both going. I had a slight feeling that they’d taken their corporate eyes off the ball somewhat. Oh, sorry about the creeping metaphors. I did say I’ve been working on business books, didn’t I?

Ahem. Back to Rowan, though I could run a few ideas up the pole and see who salutes them. Or, to borrow from the winner of Fast Company‘s most objectionable use of jargon in 2015 competition, ‘open the kimono’. Stop it. Now.

Anyway, I suspect that this meant heavy stockholding, and that where economic – i.e. wherever the stock was high but not so high that it absolutely must be kept on and pushed – there just had to be some culling. And I also think that some yarns, while worth keeping, had probably reached such a low stockholding that the expensive option of spinning more meant that, economically, they weren’t worth keeping on the list (possibly British Sheep Breeds – which seems counter-intuitive, given the rise in yarns with distinct provenance). And I also suspect that a lot of this has more to do with the American market than anything else.

But I’ll mourn some which will be no more (the Felted range, Pure Linen), and be relieved that others (Felted Tweed, Kid Classic – below) are staying. Above all, though, I’ll mourn the colour changes. It looks – and I’ve been through the catalogues, looking at the colours which are vanishing – as though the choices are becoming somewhat predictable. Not what Rowan is known for, at all.

Kid classic

And my friend with the wool shop? Well, she’s already expanding her range of British yarns. She’s seeing this as a splendid opportunity to get some lovely new things in (hello, West Yorkshire Spinners, Baa Ram Ewe, Jamiesons)…

 

Ravelry hits six (million)

Rav headerIt’s extraordinary – Ravelry, the social media site for the wool obsessed, is just about to hit six million members. Six million people are committed-enough knitters, spinners, crocheters, to sign up.

It’s a big number (and they can’t all be grannies or the Duchess of Cambridge, so much for the media stereotypes). One of them is me and, in a testament to the depth of my obsession, I am member number 182545. Oh dear lord.

In UK standard measurement units, the Wales and the London bus, six million is almost twice the number of people living in the first (some 3,092,036 as of 30 June 2014) and the same number of people as would fit on 71,428.57 double-decker buses, assuming 18 people standing as well as the 66 sitting down, probably next to someone who smells and wants to talk to them about the ostrich they have in their pocket. (The .57 of the bus broke down on Lambeth Bridge, causing gridlock and exciting knitting / discussing avian pocket-transport opportunities. No, I do not miss London one iota, thanks.)

Many people join up for the amazing pattern database, but it’s worth doing more. For myself, one of the most useful things was the time I spent – not that much, honest – putting my library on.

Library shot

This saves me so much time that it’s not true. Instead of searching through the 4,582 (I know, cough, cough, cough) patterns in my various books, mags, downloads in search of that elusive shawl, I can just search my library patterns, selecting by yarn weight, quantity available, etc, etc.

Then there’s the yarn database too. I often substitute yarns, so knowing the yardage – or meterage, in my case, of whatever I am trying to sub is really useful. Tap in the yarn name, and up it comes, with all the info you could ever want.

yarn database

This is what I’m using at the mo and it’s scrummmmmmmmy. But I knit slightly differently to the pattern, and that’s where project notes come in handy. I can note my variations, progress, interesting swear words used, etc., all for future reference.

(Now I look, ‘Grrrr’ seems to crop up remarkably often.)

And I can look at other people’s project notes for that pattern too, which is incredibly useful. Did other knitters find the collar instructions incomprehensible? (On the page for the pattern itself, you’ll find links to any published errata, by the way.) Were the same invectives applied? At what point did they too discover that the measurements were largely fictional?

Then there are the forums. These can be very useful indeed, but they can also be a huge distraction and sometimes come to be dominated by a clique, so much so that you feel you are butting into a private conversation. It’s worth butting in, because they are a great place to acquire knowledge (the one for vintage spinning wheels was brilliant for a friend with a mystery wheel), exchange gossip and chunter (British Knitters are currently getting exercised about women and pension reform) or just find out the disadvantages to the latest iOS upgrade (iLove my iPad). There are groups for fans of Dr Who, weavers who use small looms, customers of particular yarn shops, anyone fancying a KAL (knitalong) of a specific pattern or for crocheters in Tokyo. See what I mean about time wasting? Great displacement activity when you have a day between work projects and the alternative is cleaning the house.

But my favourite thread in one of my favourite groups is ‘Your Ugliest FO’ in the For the Love of Ravelry group. I’ve talked about this before, but here you can find the Pink Glove (deserving of its caps, it had one finger growing out of the palm and, as one commentator said, it resembled an udder) as well as the Crocheted Turd (an amigurumi that went wrong) and my very own Bell Tent of Doom, otherwise known as the Colinette sweater that grew. And Grew.

Nice. Not.

I know it doesn’t look that bad, but the sleeves – for instance – are now at least a foot longer than my arms. Plus it is gradually unravelling. Nice.

So if you’re not on Rav, do think about joining. And if you are on Rav, do make sure you get your patterns up in your Library. Incredibly useful. Now, what can I do with this large ball of Debbie Bliss’s Riva? A hat, I think. Wonder if there’s a pattern that would work…

(At the time of writing this post, Ravelry had 5,992,854 registered members, growing at about 5000 a day, and 1,045,303 of these had been active in the last 30 days.)