Tag Archives: Inspiration

Green goddesses (and some wool)

I’ve been sorting out my stash. I know, I know, I said I had lots of work on and I do – I haven’t yet been reduced to cleaning out the freezers as a displacement activity, but their time will doubtless come. Once the stash is dealt with. I have two, essentially: one of wool for pop-up shops, craft fairs, etc., and one for me. The latter was surprising, when I spread it out. It’s full of green.

There are olive greens, lime greens, greens with blues,

yarn

yellows, even purples; there are the greens of pine trees, greens of ivy, greens of the bright new birch leaves in spring. There are greens in cotton (bit flat, that, it might have to move into the pop-up stash), alpaca, all sorts of wools. There’s green fluff for spinning and there’s even some green acrylic (shh, don’t tell anyone).

All this greenery got me thinking. I know where it comes from: the old thing about red hair and green, so guess what I was always put in as a child, when I couldn’t persuade my mother that black would look good too? Fair play to her, she didn’t do baby pale greens; she did emerald, and I did love my party dress which was bright emerald shot with a darker bottle green, and with long sleeves – most odd, in retrospect, in a sea of small girls in pink powder puffs. When I asked her about this many years later she just shrugged and said pink would have looked ridiculous with my red plait and she hated pastels anyway. I wasn’t brave enough to ask if any of the other mothers ever said anything about it.

I began to think about the symbolism of green, about its ambivalent nature. It’s the ‘fairy colour’ (of the dangerous Sidh and not, originally, of Leprechauns), the colour of Bridget and of course the colour of the Green Knight. But in Islam it’s been called ‘the colour of safety and permission’, representing a verdant paradise, and it’s the colour of environmental movements worldwide (Incidentally, the first recorded green party was a political faction in sixth-century Byzantium who took their name from a chariot team). It’s also the colour of the snake in the Garden of Eden and the associated with the Roman festival of Saturnalia, because lots of greenery was taken into homes. And in the first illustrations to Dickens’ Christmas Carol, Christmas Present wears green robes.

i-am-the-ghost-of-christmas-present

Greens began to leap out at me. I had a lovely time over the Christmas break, binge-watching films and eating chocolate, and there was green everywhere. I’m ignoring here the green of Eowyn’s dress in Fellowship of the Ring, or of Shrek (and of Fiona), or of the Incredible Hulk or of Loki’s costumes in the Thor films (though I might come back to the use of greens in the MCU at some point, as it’s interestingly more complex than you’d think), because I did watch some classics as well, honest I did.

In classic movies, green is often shorthand for self-confidence, and a certain disconcerting boldness. Take Gone with the Wind and Scarlett O’Hara – please take Scarlett O’Hara, I can’t stand the woman – OK, she’s of Irish origin and we all know that means red hair and green eyes and a difficult temperament: yeah right, and all clichés emphasised through the use of green. There’s the dress made out of curtains, which is ‘symbolic of her will to survive’ (Walter Plunkett). Boy, is that green:

curtain dress

and then there’s the dressing gown (like no dressing gown I’ve ever owned, mind) which she wears when she, essentially, tells Rhett to piss off:

dressing gown

It’s not just Scarlett O’Hara, either, green-clad and temperamental. There’s Cyd Charisse in ‘a tasselled green number’ seducing Gene Kelly in a dream sequence in Singing in the Rain; there’s Tippi Hedren wearing a green suit in The Birds (Hitchcock felt the artificial green colour would enhance the viewers’ sense of discomfort); Kim Novak as Judy in Vertigo. The latter is particularly interesting when it comes to symbolism: it’s ostensibly sweet, but it’s also very tight and therefore, er, ’emphasises her earthiness’, especially as Novak was quite clearly not wearing a bra (which she has spoken about).

Vertigo

But it’s not just the classics. Perhaps the most famous green costume in recent years has been Keira Knightly’s dress in Atonement.

It was actually voted the best film costume of all time (gods, I hate these things, they put so much stress on the recent and the blockbuster) in a poll commissioned by Sky Movies. The whole film has a green tone: the countryside, the kitchen and bathroom of the villa, even the flooded tube station. One commentator said ‘Its colour becomes the symbol of the night that affects the lives of all the main characters’.

I love it. In fact, I’m knitting in just this colour at the moment. I may be looking at my stash in a new light…

(and a heads up for the Clothes on Film website – a great resource and fantastic time-waster when you’re supposedly working.)

 

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Book review: Yarnitecture

YarnitectureI’m often sent books to review, and I find myself thinking ‘nooooo’. Many don’t make it onto Woolwinding; they are either inappropriate or just uninspiring, or maybe they are reinventing a wheel which doesn’t need redevelopment – or maybe they are just dire. But sometimes I open a parcel and find myself doing a little dance round the room. This is one of the latter occasions.

Excuse me. Ahem.

What can I say about this gem by Jillian Moreno? it is a spinning book written, hooray, from a knitter’s perspective. It focuses on spinning ‘a yarn that fulfils a purpose’: one that works its best for whatever knitted project you have in mind.

Once upon a recent time, handspinning was almost an end in itself, and it still can be, of course. Once upon a recent time, it was assumed in books about spinning that the spinners were inevitably dealing exclusively with fleece. Raw fleece. Fleece possibly from their own sheep. And, also of course, some people do work exclusively with fleece (I love it myself, except on days like today when the wind suddenly gets up and blows most of my freshly washed Cheviot x BFL fleece away, possibly taking it as far as England). But many of us are not purists: we buy prepared fibre, maybe hand-dyed, delicious fibre; maybe undyed but fully processed and still delicious fibre. And some people – I know several – actively dislike working with anything else. Very many of us spin fibre in order to knit with it, to produce something unique, something we control from (almost) start to finish. This is our book.

It starts with a basic vision; goes through fibre breeds and the impact choice there can have; explores prep, drafting, plying, working with colour, finishing… and, ta dah, knitting with handspun. It’s beautifully illustrated. And it even has some patterns.

Ok, let’s have a look inside. Take this page: it illustrates the different effects you can get by blending colours at plying or blending those colours before spinning:

colour spinning

It is often good to do things intentionally, instead of accidentally. Intentional, and you can get the same effect again, should you want to do so. Accidental? You might be lucky…

Or take finishing a spun yarn. I almost always whack my finished yarn to set the twist (I find it helpful; I can imagine I am whacking the person at the Fibre Fair who said ‘I could do that, but I wouldn’t want to, it’s so boring’). But what about the alternatives? There’s snapping, swirling it around like a cowboy with a lasso, even fulling it. What difference would a different process make, and what impact would it have on a particular yarn?

finishing

Here four different yarns are compared – merino, corriedale, BFL and silk – after having undergone eight different approaches (menaced, incidentally, doesn’t mean you sitting in front of the yarn like Michael Corleone confronting the men who tried to kill his father; it means felting it deliberately).

And how about ply affecting what you want to knit?

plying

That’s covered at length; above focuses on singles, but there are equally detailed examinations of two- and three-ply yarns. It’s excellent, and the ‘knitting with your handspun’ section is invaluable, covering things like ensuring you will have enough yarn (been there), and simply planning a project from a pattern which specifies a commercial yarn.

Finally, there are twelve patterns. There are two cardigans, a moebius cowl / shawl, four more varied but normally constructed shawls (of which this, by Romi, is one),

pattern

socks, two sweaters, a necklace and a pair of mitts.

I have been waiting for a book like this – thank you, Jill Moreno!

 

Spin it!

There’s this thing, you see. It’s this big cycling race thing. This insane thing called the Tour de France, to which I am slightly addicted. And then there’s this other insane thing: the Tour de Fleece. Really.

It’s a Ravelry thing, and I joined it last year but got swept up by the spinny equivalent of the voiture balai, the broom wagon, and had to give up as my hands didn’t let me carry on. Not this year. This year I may not be wearing a spotty jersey, a green jersey or a yellow one (I am, in fact, wearing a black polo-neck as the weather is pretending it’s October), but I am spinning or plying every day:

on the bobbin

I’m doing at least 30 minutes every morning, before work, while my porridge is cooking and cooling (yup, it’s porridge weather; should be croissants or a tartine but I need something warming).

Right, so what is the Tour de Fleece?

Apologies if you already know, or indeed if you are already participating… essentially it’s a challenge for spinners. You spin every day the Tour riders ride; you can have rest days as the Tour does – there are two – and you can also do something especially demanding on the challenge days, if you wish. You can join one of the main Rav teams, or you can join what’s known as a ‘wildcard’ team, and some of them are pretty wild. You share what you’ve done, either just with your team or on the various stage posts in the Tour de Fleece group. It can be really inspiring, and really motivating, and if you’re stuck with your spinning, it’s a great way to get going again.

I needed, for instance, to press on with the lovely Haunui I’ve got. Judging by the current weather – my heating has clicked on; this is JULY, for heaven’s sake – my need for the big sweater replacement will hit sooner rather than later, so I need to stop being distracted by colour. I’ve got about 900g which needs spinning up now, and though I know it won’t all get done before the Tour ends, I will be able to make a serious dent in it. First two bobbins of my Tour:

bobbins and mag

which, after taking things carefully for once (I swear I can feel the voiture balai behind me after last year), turned into these:

skeins

Spinning a consistent yarn for a garment is interesting – I think I’m getting there; I’ve got my little sample tied to the wheel, and keep stopping to pull the thread back on itself to see what it will look like when plied. Of course, if I’d taken better notes in a Guild workshop on ‘spinning to the crimp’ I’d probably have a better, more methodical way of doing it – but then again, maybe I wouldn’t: the workshop presumed you’d know the fleece in its unwashed state. Anyway, it is a thickish DK or a fine Aran, in most places – sport weight, in fact. Yup, I’m sharing the passion, as the poster says. Only not the unpleasant habits (really – my last year TdF, with details, ergh).

TdF route

And the Tour rides on. In glorious weather. Hrrumpf. Wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of that.

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?

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.)

Phew, double phew and cables

December. December, December – I’m just trying to remind myself that, in defiance of the weather which is more reminiscent of a rather gloomy September, Christmas is very close. I can’t quite believe it, because I’ve been knitting for various craft fairs / pop-up shops for ever, and now I’m knitting for me*. How appallingly selfish.

Oooooo:

cables 1

I decided it was about time that I knitted something that wasn’t either a) another ****** chunky ****** cowl (I don’t mind knitting them, but I’ve had people trying to buy them off the needles since late July, for feck’s sake, I mean, I know it’s been an uninspiring summer and all that, but chunky, woolly, thick cowls? In August? I mean, really?) AHEM, and b) plain vanilla, stocking stitch with nothing unusual happening type of knitting.

So I went through the stash, now divided into stuff for me and stuff for cowls / craft fairs / pop-up shops, and pulled out some which was remarkably recent – bought in Shetland this summer (when, in defiance of fashion, I was NOT wearing a chunky woolly cowl).

cables 2

It’s a fine Aran weight, tweedy, and possibly not in a base colour I’d normally pick but which I was assured would suit me. It’s possibly the very last – well, not the very last, because I bought two cones – that I’ll ever get from Hunters of Brora. (I wrote a lament for Hunters almost two years ago – it’s here – and never thought I’d see any more of their wool, and then there was this huge box full of big fat cones in Lawrence Odie of Hoswick, marked down.)

It’s been an age since I could make my hands do cables, but they are a lot better so I thought I’d give it a go. I do NOT like using charts with cables, no idea why, quite happy using charts for anything else, so I had to write out the pattern since there are three different cable patterns involved, plus increases and decreases for waist shaping. And I’m loving it!

cable 3

There is one problem, though. It’s a bit like knitting with Noro, where I can’t bring myself to stop because I want to see what the next colour is going to do. I can’t stop knitting this because I want to see what the next pattern repeat does to the whole, but I have to, because my hands won’t take too much. I was remarkably circumspect – for me, not for anyone else, anyone else would be sensible most of the time with silly hand injuries and a niggling rotator cuff problem – and picked a pattern which has plenty of plain knitting as well. From a design point of view, I’d love it if the sleeves had cables but they don’t, which is probably just as well from the not-injuring-myself-again point of view.

What is it? Wait and see… but it’s NOT a cowl. Of course it isn’t. Cowls don’t have sleeves. Yet.

(PS: I’m betting, as usual, that it doesn’t fit. Yes, I did a tension square; yes, I fiddled with the needle size and the garment size and everything else in order to make it work in a yarn for which it was not designed, and I did the maths properly for once. But I still think it won’t fit. It doesn’t look big enough. I never think things look big enough, mind, and then I end up in something which would go twice round the gasworks.)

*I haven’t just been knitting. I’ve written a book too. And delivered it on length, and on deadline.  Yo!

Book reviews: three to think about

I’ve been so busy that a small pile-ette of books to review has built up. Oh, OK, there are three. And I have to say that they are all quite distinct. One is wonderful, one is inspiring, and one is – well, for me, a bit meh. So let’s start with the first one…

IMG_3726The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques, by Margaret Radcliffe.

I love Margaret Radcliffe’s books on technique, and have reviewed several of them. When I heard this one was on the cards, I was actually quite excited (I know, times have changed, once it was men, now it’s books about stranded knitting, but I know which has the more lasting impact). And it does not disappoint.

There’s all sorts of general information about colour – differentiating tone and hue, for instance, balancing – or not – colours, and about colour selection.

DPS colour

I find this very useful indeed – as I’ve been messing about with colour selection for a Fair Isle knit this winter, I’ve been debating many of the issues here (with myself, admittedly). It’s good to find them in one place instead of in a variety of sources, and to find them well illustrated.

There’s the usual mix of specific advice and step-by-step help; the very practical section at the back is clear, and there is a wealth of stitch patterns included, thematically arranged (I’m already finding the ‘stripes’ section useful in my preparations for next season’s craft fairs). But for me the stand-out section discusses something I’d not seen covered in such depth before: working with variegated yarns. Fascinating. And there are many colour techniques described too, from the familiar – stranded knitting and intarsia, for example – to the less well known, such as twining and helix knitting. And how about using maths and colour – knitting a fibonacci sequence, for example, or knitting in a colour code…?

IMG_3730

Fortunately Color Knitting Techniques is very well bound. It’s going to need to be.

The inspirational book – not that the Radcliffe isn’t; I just suspect that this next one will be looked at more than actually used – is Knitting Fabric Rugs by Karen Tiede.

fabric rugsThese are not, in the classic sense, rag rugs. They are made from strips of fabric (and there are some very clever ways of cutting this to get the maximum lengths, clearly described), and are knitted in garter stitch, not prodded through a backing cloth.

Why garter stitch? Well, the strips are difficult to purl on the large needles (I can vouch for that – tried it, though I’ve to gone so far as to knit more than a couple of rows and cannot vouch for the patterns working or the hands holding out*), but garter stitch also gives a flat fabric. It also, apparently, makes for ‘springier’ rugs – ones that are much more comfortable to walk on.

Again, there’s an emphasis on colour, and on collecting colour (I went to a rag rug workshop where the tutor described herself as ‘being on a mission to save colours’, and I get the impression that this is very much the same). There’s also a strong ethical dimension, which I really like – it’s classic recycling, making do and mending. This makes it sound like a rather brown and gritty, knit your own yoghurt, child of the seventies thing. It’s not.

It’s stylish.

fabric rugs

I’ve already found myself thinking about making one of these for the bathroom – smart stripes of peacock and jade, with perhaps some darker colours to… wonder what else is in my rag bag…

(*Incidentally, Karen Tiede does put an emphasis on comfort – and physical safety – while assembling the materials and knitting these rugs. Among other things, she states that if your hands are beginning to hurt, it’s an indication that the needle size is wrong. And you knit strips and piece them together; you don’t have half a ton of fabric on the needles. Almost, but not quite.)

‘Stylish’ can be said about some of the patterns in the third book. Some.

babyNo, I’m being unfair – we all have different taste, and there’s something in One-Skein Wonders for Babies (edited, as usual in the One Skein series, by Judith Durant) for everybody.

Some of the patterns are highly traditional (I have photographs of myself as a baby wearing things which are more modern), and some are – er, idiosyncratic. Knitted bibs? Masticated rusk and garter stitch?

However, there are also some which are really rather funky, and I have fallen completely in love with a hat (the hat section is good):

hat I want

It’s ‘yarn dependent’ – but I love it. I want it. If that baby had a bigger head, and happened to be in Snowdonia, I’d have that hat off its curly little head.

(I must mention here that whatever I may think of some of the patterns, the photography is excellent.) IMG_3722I also rather liked these ‘sleeveless baby vests’ – the vests are sleeveless, mind, not the babies – though I would never have been able to pull one over the head of most babies I’ve known.

Even more impractical – IMO – is the ruffled ‘bumper’, over-nappy knickers, basically. One of those sudden upwards-and-downwards exploding nappies and this would be dust. Or something. And on another, anyone who knits in Noro for a baby has probably won the lottery, because there’s no way Noro’s going anywhere near a washing machine. Mashed banana a) gets everywhere, even before it’s been through the baby, and b) sticks worse than Agent Orange, and a gentle soak in Euclan will not do the business. I know this. But out of 101 patterns there are bound to be some you don’t like and some you do.

Time to up-size that hat. Now that would work in Noro.
For me.