Tag Archives: Inspiration

The Knit Nurse returns (with sketchbooks)

I’m at a – well, I suppose it’s a sort-of craft fair – at the weekend. It’s the Fibre and Fabric Fair in Harlech (harlechcraftfair.com), where nine local ‘designer-makers’ (sorry about that) will be demonstrating and selling and letting people have a go at whatever it is they do. There are three very different weavers, a spinner and dyer, a printmaker, an embroiderer, a ‘sewist’ (sorry about that too) who recycles beautiful old fabric, a felter – and us. A friend and I are running a knitting hospital. I keep saying ‘the knitting doctor is in’; she keeps referring to herself as the knit nurse…

The last Fair, I took along my sketchbooks and people seemed to find them very interesting. Er, interesting, anyway. So I’ve been digging them out, tidying them up (i.e. picking up about 85,623,890 ancient ball bands which fell out, then sticking them in place)

and making them look vaguely respectable. I then put a pic of one on Instagram, saying that I wasn’t sure whether or not to take it, as I didn’t feel it was very exciting:

and I got one comment saying that I should, definitely, to demonstrate that there’s more to the maths in knitting than counting rows and stitches. Hm. Personally, I think that might be more more likely to put people off, but I’ll probably take it.

I’m certainly taking the big sketchbook which relates to my latest Fair Isle WiP:

and probably the notes which relate to it, as well as a finished (must block it) piece.

But the whole thing got me thinking, after a chat with the embroiderer. How many of us who work with textiles keep sketchbooks, I wonder? Or notebooks, or whatever we like to call them? As the embroiderer said, a sketchbook doesn’t have to involve paints or pencils or pens… Oh, well, enough speculation – must go and block the hell out of that Fair Isle. Wish me and the Knit Nurse luck!

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What makes a good wool shop?

I’ve been considering this – and I’d better fess up, because I work in one, half a day a week, to get me a) out of the house, b) working with all sorts of yarn fabulousness, and c) to give me an excuse to make the most enormous fuss of the individual who really runs Knit one… in Dolgellau, the lovely and somewhat bossy imperious Bramble:

I’m abandoning North Wales briefly next week, as I have a meeting in London. Conveniently close to Loop. I mean, it would be silly not to investigate, wouldn’t it? Even though I have been before?

So, what does constitute a good wool – for wool, read yarn – shop?

First, I suppose, that it exists. There are not as many wool shops as there once were, but I do think the ones which have made it through are an enormous improvement in terms of quality. The first wool shop I remember was a dark cavern of a place in York, where my mother took me in despair when she saw the ‘easy’ object I had picked as my first garment to knit. It was beige. It was a tank top. It was super chunky. I have no idea why, and neither did she. After one horrified look, she stuffed me in the car and drove to a then-notorious area where, in a brutalist block of shops, stood a wool shop. It was stuffed. Stuffed. You couldn’t see in (or out). Ma showed the woman behind the counter what I had been knitting and they both became slightly hysterical. I was allowed to leave, eventually, with a cardigan pattern and some mohair in peacock and jade and purple. I loved that cardigan.

That leads on to the second point: inspiration. Inspiration and colour. Here is Jamieson’s in Lerwick:

and I defy anyone not to be inspired by this. I certainly could not resist, which led to the most complex of my (many, ahem) WiPs, a Fair Isle cardigan, colours chosen to reflect the landscape of Shetland. I am amazed that I managed to restrict myself to enough wool for just one, really.

Texture is part of this as well: you need to be able to fondle those balls (ooo, matron). Even if it is just to stroke them, as on the Oliver Twist stand at Wonderwool Wales:

Which reminds me, it’s Wonderwool next weekend. I will be there, or be square and deprived of yarn, on the Sunday. I have to go, no really I do, because Jamieson’s will be there and I have to collect some more of the yarn for the cardigan. Forced to go, basically. Life is hard.

Next, and maybe it should be right at the top, comes customer service.

I remember a wool shop, now unsurprisingly closed, where the owner spent all her time leaning on the counter and moaning. About the tourists (her bread and butter); about parking; about the weather; about how hard it was to run a wool shop because people would keep coming in wanting to buy stuff (not to worry – they soon went elsewhere); about politics (anyone to the left of Attila the Hun); about the bad service she had received elsewhere – the woman had no sense of irony – and about how the people who went to the local knit and natter groups failed to buy all their yarn from her. Really? You surprise me.

There’s another, too, I’ve encountered. In this one the problem wasn’t lackadaisical service but rather the opposite: you WILL knit this, and you WILL knit it in this yarn. What do you mean, you want to make your own mind up?

Ideally, the service should be just at the right level, and that means being aware of what customers are happy with – some people want to chat, some people want to look in silence (and some people come to see the cat rather than the yarn, but that’s fine). I think it should also involve help where necessary and if required:

(like me being taught magic loop, yet again, yes, I know, I’m blaming my hand surgery). Though there is a fine line between providing help and people who expect you to finish their knitting…

So where, I wonder, will Loop fit in? I’ve not been wildly impressed so far, but I’ve been there with non-knitters – which doesn’t really give you the chance to get a proper impression. We will see. If nothing else, I’m going to enjoy the pattern books. Laine magazine particularly.

And, as a final note, look what we found on the inside of a Zauberball label:

They’re not wrong.

 

Well, hello (again)

I am, finally, back. Or so I think. I’ve been working on a huge project, completely unrelated to knitting or wool, and am beginning to come out from under. Beginning is the word, though. But, yes, it’s definitely a beginning. I’ve been feeling guilty about not blogging while spending so much time nailed to the laptop doing Other Stuff, so here I am. Back. Back, with a revamp. So hello – again!

It may have been snowy over Easter but three of us huddled together in a pop-up craft-makers’ shop (I sat next to, and occasionally on, the radiator) which gave me a c-c-chance to shiver leave the aforementioned major project and think about wooly things instead. And about how fabulous knitting is in detail:

This, natch, is Noro. Taiyo Sock. I’m in love with Noro, which is odd for someone who habitually dresses in black, but hey ho.

and how wonderfully splendid a variegated yarn looks with stitch detail:

This is a skein I picked up at Wonderwool a few years ago, hand-dyed by Ripples Crafts. The colourway was called ‘lichen’: bang on.

This is another Wonderwool find (which reminds me, the 2018 Wonderwool Wales is very, very close), but I can’t find the label. I think it was dyed by Nimu. Actually, I’m sure it was dyed by Nimu. Beautiful – and the pattern is Stitchnerds’ TGV:

It was refreshing – after spending so long editing and writing and considering and checking and and and and and – to spend some time in the close company of wool. Beautiful wool. And it’s also interesting, when you normally work on your own, to work with other people. No, I did not bite anyone. It was fun.

And, as a final note, some more Noro:

Kureyon Sock, I think. Fabulous colours, just fabulous!

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.)

 

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?