waking to pokey paws and the low rumble of purrs…..

oh Bernard what big paws you have

Some mornings I slowly wake to the sound of a low rumble beside me on the bed, a mix of deeps purrs and snorring.  When he’s feeling mischievous he reaches out and presses my face with one of his fat old paws, I’m not so appreciatiove of this treatment but for some reason Bernard finds it the greatest lark and will keep doing it…..I open my eyes and look at him and he quickly brings his paw to his mouth to lick, like the poking has got nothing to do with him and then as soon as my eyes close back comes the paw….

He was proper cuddly this morning and for some reason decided to keep patting my nose, every pat I’d “gah” and wrinkle up my nose….and I’m sure his purr got a little bit louder like he’s laughing at his naughty ways…..he loves teasing and waits til I close my eyes and stop fidgeting before squidging my nose again…..

He’s doing okay for the moment, he’s lost a bit of weight but seems to be alright in himself….he was out loads yesterday as it was all wild and windy, he loves running around the garden, and having the wind tickle through his fur, sadly he didn’t have any of the cats from next door to play with as they’ve moved house now, but he still manages to entertain himself with lamb leaps and skips as he bolts up the path.

someone is a fan of wool shawls

This is probably the closest picture of what I see first thing on waking, he’s pretty much decided the brown shawl is his (fancy things are really wasted on me obviously*) and at bedtime he likes to nestle down in it alongside me, if I need to get up in the night he’ll stretch out and totally takes my place while I’m gone, and then I have to contort myself back into bed around him so I don’t disturb him or if I do then I’m mewed at quite crossly…mostly though I’m all forgiven by a lullaby of purrs to lull me back to sleep……even when I’m all fretful and anxious the sensation of him purring against me is the most soothing sound and allows me to drift away back to sleep.

He’s been very good while I’ve been knitting and the “wool incidents” where balls of wool are found at stuck to his paws or are on the floor have been very far and few…. (a different story when I used tapestry wool or acrylic, neither were safe and I’d often find them all over the house or outside in the garden)….I think he likes the sheepy scent of the real wool, and will often cuddle next to me with his nose or chin resting on the wool so he can smell it…it’s his birthday next month so I’m considering knitting him a littlel real wool blanket, one that’s all sleepily sheepily scented and coloured the same thundery sulky greys and browns as himself.

*the shawl was originally quite a lot of money from a posh boutique in Norwich, however Bernard has always had a fancy for it and of late I don’t have the heart to move him.

Warm toes, wriggling hedgehogs and the awesomeness of Anne…..

WYS socks on Brittany dpns

In case you think you’re dreaming and are starting to rub your eyes…..no you’re not still half asleep…. I’m actually knitting socks……I need Bernard to give me a fragrant trumpety trump introduction……toot toot…….I can’t quite believe it myself, especially as I’ve got a little basket with four socks on the go at the moment……I’ve had very half hearted attempts at trying to use double pointed needles before, and they’ve all ended in tears and knitting that looks like something the cat has dragged in, but that hasn’t stopped me dreaming, being all wistful and sighing “if only” or “I wish”…….

I’ve mentioned my marvellous friend Anne on here many times before, she’s been knitting since she was knee high and is also a very skilled dressmaker and needlewoman (she’s currently making someone a wedding dress, not a frou frou meringue but something very beautiful, elegant  and that can be worn again for posh do’s….), over the years I’ve known her she’s kindly and patiently given me knitting lessons, only to have me completely forget everything she’d shown me within minutes of her leaving….when I told her about the shawl and showed her what I’d been doing she laughed and couldn’t believe it (I think she’d thought like me that  I was only ever going to be a knitter of dish cloths)….

WYS socks on Hiya hiya dpns

Anyway knitting the shawl (sorry to keep on about it) really helped me understand how a stitch is constructed, and how I go about fixing my knitty mistakes whether it’s picking up a slipped stitch or correcting yarn overs and such like…..and the last time I saw Anne before Christmas I’d said that this year I’d really like to learn how to knit socks (and where pre-shawl this would have been as daft sounding as wanting to learn how to fly…it now seemed something achievable)…due to various coughs and colds  I didn’t get to swop presents with Anne until a couple of weeks ago and along with a pair of her knitted socks (she knits me these for birthdays and Christmas so my toes are kept very happy and warm) she’d put together a sock knitting kit….a set of Brittany needles, a little sock pattern and a ball of self striping yarn……so as soon as we’d had lunch and a pot of tea was made, I got my first sock knitting lesson…….

I love Brittany needles, the wood feels lovely and warm in my hands, they help me feel such a conection to my  knitting, and while the tiny dpns do look a bit like I’m knitting with cocktail sticks they worked their magic, and within stitches it felt a lot less like I was holding a wriggling hedgehog and my fingers were knitting…..somewhat too tightly at first and I had to keep thinking flopsy drunk fingers to loosen up my stitches,…..also Anne is an excellent teacher, she’s very patient and shared with me some of her own little tips to make for nicer looking socks…..

A few years ago I did a PTLLS course and realised that I find reading handouts and someone else’s instructions very hard, if I’m just told something without being allowed the time to jot it down then it goes in one ear and right out the other…when I’ve had to learn how to do computery things I always need to write down my own little notes, often with pictures of my fingers pressing buttons.  It seems like a pfaff but it’s how I’m able to learn, in the past I’ve been made to feel that I “fared so sorft” if I didn’t just immediately get it or understand what I was being taught……

And I’m finding knitting the same…as long as I can write out an instruction or pattern line, draw out where my needles need to be, the direction of my knitting etc then I’m quite happy……and because Anne is such a love she’d knit a bit, explain what she was doing, un-ravel, pause while I wrote out what to do, sometimes with a little scribbly thumbnail and then she’d knit again…..

Jamiesons of Shetland socks

I’ve had 3 lessons so far and I’m really enjoying seeing the socks grow… I’ve also bought a couple of other double pointed needles (dpns) by different brnads to see how they compare and which suits me best…..

The Brittany ones are lovely, but they are quite delicate (and I’ve already snapped a couple, but their replacement service is really good)…I’ve got some in bigger sizes and don’t think they’ll be breaking in a hurry.  They feel really lovely to use and the wood means my stitches don’t go flying off the ends.

The super shiny needles are Hiya Hiya (bought from Ginger Twist Studio in Edinburgh along with Clare Devines Sock Anatomy book)…..they are so sleek and slippery, my stitches really glide along with no trouble, and I’m fast losing my heart to them.  I was a bit worried that they’d be too cold as I suffer from Raynauds but the metal doesn’t feel chilly in the slightest.

Finally I’m trying out some Karbonz by Knit Pro (bought from the excellent Meadow Yarn, their customer service is top rate and they have a wonderful choice of everything a knitter could wish for)….the metal tips mean they slip through a stitch like a knife through butter and then the karbon stem holds the stitch, they’re lovely and smooth but I am finding a slight catch where the tips join the stem….this may be because I’m so tight in making my stitches…..

close up of the stocking stitch Jamisons socks

The yarn in the first two pictures is by West Yorkshire Spinners, it’s their sock yarn and is self striping, this colourway is called Goldfinch.  Isla at Brit Yarn has a lovely selection of their sock wool and is incredibly helpful and has answered all my knitting enquiries.

I’d got to where I needed to be for my next lesson a bit ahead of myself, and then had restless fingers and wanted to practise, so had a bit of a root around in my wool and found a couple of balls of Jamieson’s of Shetland Shetland Spindrift….I’ve used the same amount of cast on stitches as for the WYS sock yarn but I’ve made the height of the sock a bit shorter….the wool knits up a dream and I’ve been wriggling my fingers through the ribbed end pretending it’s a cardigan cuff…..(the colourway is Damson and it’s all full of tiny flecks of other colours).

back view of sock in Lavenham Blue wool

My last sock is using a wool I’d half forgotten I had…..my friend Debbie (who modelled my dottie angel frocks in the Summer and kindly took photos of me and my shawl last Saturday) bought me this a few years ago from Cafe Knit in Lavenham in Suffolk….I really do have lovely friends as Debbie herself is vegan but knew I’d like this wool.  It’s called Lavenham Blue and it’s spun from a local flock of Leicester Longwool and is dyed using woad grown in East Anglia….perfect for channeling your inner Boudica as you knit.  It’s 3 plys spun together and I’m pretty sure it’s a dk weight wool (I’ve lost the information tag that came on the skeins.)

Originally I’d used some of it for a pair of wrist warmers but I’d knitted them up a bit too loose and the wool was sommewhat ticklesome and scratchy so they weren’t being worn as much as they deserved, so I un-ravelled them, spit spliced the wool together where necessary and then started knitting these socks up on 3.25 mm needles……I’ve probably made this one a bit big but for now I’m just trying to practise the basic construction of a sock…..

detail of Lavenham Blue sock heel

I do like the heel construciton though, Anne said she prefers this way which gives for a stronger heel (it won’t wear out so quickly) and it almost looks like it’s ribbed…..the back of the stitch is purled, then the front is slip 1 stitch, knit 1, then slip 1 all the way across.

The colour of the woad wool is really pretty, and reminds me of a jam jar of water that you clean your brush in if you’ve painting with blue….all watery and mottled.

view of inner heel on the Lavenham Blue socks

The wool that is used to knit the stitch forms tiny loops across the back of where the preceeding stitch has been slipped so it’s nice and easy to count your rows and see how many of them you’ve knitted….I’ve knitted less rows than for the socks using the sock weight wool, and then I’ve shaped the heel at the bottom….I just need to recaluclate now how to do the de-creases at the side as I’ll have less stitches to work with (you have to pick up the slipped stitches at the ends of the heels once the heel has been knitted) as I knit the foot section of my sock.

Anyway I’m really pleased with my socking progress and would like to say a huge thank you to Anne for all her patience and kindness….I can’t wait to get these on my feet and am looking forwar to the day when I get to knit a pair of socks for her.

finding gold on a Winter morning…

bracken by the golf course

As I mentioned yesterday, if I’ve had a walk out over the marsh I often turn down a little path that runs behind the back of a local golf course….a skinny copse of trees edges the green and for the most part it’s allowed to run wild….there’s been a lot of “conservation” work going on over the marshes and nearby Denby wood of late and personally I think it’s all been done a bit heavy handed, but trees and undergrowth seem to be allowed to just do their own thing here……….

There’s small pockets where frosty fingers haven’t reached and this tends to be full of birds, busy turning over leaves, rooting around for insects, grubs, anything wriggly to eat…..I’m ignored by most of them though one Robin flys over to where I’m watching them with his head cocked, this way, that way…. then when he realizes I don’t have anything with me he gives me a quick chirrup of song before he flies back to the other birds.  Everytime I try and take pictures of the wild birds here I end up not apppreciating what I’m actually seeing… (also my pictures come out looking dreadful, all blurred and too distanty*)

glowing bracken

But what I can share is how beautiful the braken was that morning….all golden and warm toned with the sunlight shining on it….all those delicate fronds , repeating away into nothing…..I love bracken, from when it first appears and is so bright and granny smith coloured, all curled in on itself and then slowly opening up to reveal the deepest Christmas tree green…..in part it brings back happy memories of playing on the common near where I grew up, running around half wild as the bracken would tickle my legs, making dens and head quarters as we played war games…..or deer watching with my mum and dad where we’d get up really early, drive out to pockets of woodland near to where we lived and then quietly walk and watch the deer, as the mist over the fields cleared the stag and does would head back into the woodland and the cover of trees……

golden amidst the frsot

So all those memories flood back back I walk through here…..I love the shape the bracken forms and that brown is so gleaming, all shades of precious metal, and almost amber coloured in parts….. (as soon as I got home a big tin of embroidery threads was emptied as I tried to capture those fragile frosty fronds in silk and stitches…..)

frozen gorse

There’s also gorse on the marshes, all prickles and mustardy blossoms…..it looked so breathtaking with it’s sparkling frosty shimmer….parts of the gorse were almost sagey green and teal in colour.

golden gorse blossom in the frost

When it’s Summer and the blossoms are warm I like to carefully pick some and eat them, all velvety and swtet, they almost melt away on my tongue….apparently you can make a nice wine from their blossoms but I’m thinking you’d need to pick quite a lot and to have hardy old finger tips.

In warmer months the gorse is so full of fat bees, softly buzzing and tumbling over the blossom, it’s quite eerie to see it so bare of insect life.

mustard coloured lichens

A patch of lichen catches my eye….it’s such a bright vomity mustard, a real contrast to the muted frosty colours everywhere else….it’s all mouldy and scabby looking but such a fierce strong colour.  I feel like I’ve found the pot of gold at the end of rainbow…….a golden treasure near the end of my walk.

teal coloured lichen

There’s actually lots of lichen growing in this section of the marsh, mostly it’s that glorious, heart uplifting gold that does you the world of good to see, but there are softer shades as well, this delicate teal, all trembly and barely there like gold leaf flakes that have just been finger pressed down….the copse and undergrowth are so quiet to explore when it’s cold….(no shouts of “four” from the golf course as I think it’s a bit early and too nippy) and is so rich in colour, shape and texture.  I never fail to go home all inspired with new ideas and colour combinations.

* if you’d like to see some truly beautiful photographs of wild birds then head over to Jeni Reid’s Instagram page…..I first saw her work on Wovember but love her photographs of birds in her garden

a frost kissed morning and the finest lace knitting…..

hawthorn tree on a frosty morning

As I mentioned yesterday, we’ve had a few damp and most dreary of days, when it’s all wet out it’s a bit limiting on our walks as they mostly involve heading out over pastures and meadows and going over marsh land…..but when there’s been a good old frost like we woke up to Thursday then I can head out and trapse along the hedgerows, often feeling like I’ve been transported to another world or time……the distant rumbling of trains soon becomes part and parcel of any background noise……

If you were reading my blog last Summer you may remember some pictures I posted of lush meadows filled with wild flowers, looking like something from a 1970’s flake advert……this is the same meadow in the Winter.  In the middle there is a small cluster of hawthorn trees and when the cows are out they tend to gather here…perhaps they all get together to have a right gossip….a few last berries remain on the trees, all shriveled and frozen.

hawthorn against the morning sky

The witchy finger twists of the hawthorn totally fascinate me, it’s not something I take a lot of notice of once they are covered in new leaves and little red berries but come Autumn with blustery winds then they become one of my favourite trees……the gnarly little branches and twig tips are covered in lichens, tiny peeps of gold and mustard almost look too bright against the greys and muted colours of a Winter’s morning.

 

frozen brambles

Under the hawthron there are a few brambles, I don’t normally pick many fruit from this bush as they tend to be a bit small and it’s really prickly, but it looks beautiful this morning, those prickly stems are all covered in fine frosty crystals which sparkle in the sunlight…..in warmer months there are usually no end of little birds here, a banditry of tit-mice live close by and you can hear them squeekily chiruping…not today, they’ve headed off to any gardens that are close by in search of fat balls and treats*.

angelica and frost kissed sorrel

Around the edges of the meadow are the remains of last years sorrel and angelica….the shapes they form are really striking and and are inspirring me with a new series of botanical embroideries….

sorrel all frost kissed

That gorgeous deep rusty red all hidden under the frost…..I love the nubblieness of the sorrel seeds but they look even more beautiful with their dusting of white…..

frozen yarrow and moss

Crouching down low to the ground I can see small patches of moss and yarrow….it’s like a miniature world down here…the yarrow seems more like fluffy bracken fronds and are so clearly defined….

the finest lace knitting

Over the marshes and then along the back of the golf course….there’s a small copse which seems to offer a little shelter from the cold morning, and I’m aware of all the birds pecking about, poking under the dry leaves, and there’s a couple of squirrels which are scampering about, turning up littel piles of mulch….not sure if they’ve forgotten where they’ve burried their larder…they look quite indignant to see me and stop and watch as I walk past.

I nearly missed this cobweb, so carefully spun and looking like the finest spun piece of lace knitting…….

*not connected with my walk but I’ve just ordered some special peanut butter from Wiggly Wormers for the the birds in our garden…..they’re a brilliant company to buy from if you live in the uk as their bird food is grown here.  They often have really good offers and are the best place I think to buy live food for birds….if you’ve not tried live food before then it’s amazing, the birds love it and one little robin sat just inches away from my finger when I used to fill our feeder last year.

A fine and frosty morning…..

A frosty Thursday mornin'

While the past couple of days have been somewhat damp and dreary, when I woke early on Thursday the light seemed so odd that at first I thought we’d had snow (we get so little of it here in Norfolk that it still makes me get all excited and happy), in fact it was a heavy frost and it’d quite transformed the way everywhere outside looked…..

As soon as my boyfriend had gone off to work I bundled up and headed out to the shops but as it was such a beautiful morning I figured the marshes would be walkable so I took the scenic route…..

Within minutes my nose felt numb and it felt like it was starting to run, the skin around my eyes was all tingly because of the crisp air….I hadn’t realised it was quite this cold and was glad I’d really wrapped up warm (I ended up wearing what I now think of the cat blanket but which is in fact a nice shawl from a posh boutique that used to be in Norwich so I wasn’t going to win any style prizes for dress but hoped I’d stay warm)…..

 

just after nine in the morning over the marshes

Normally in the winter this way is really boggy, and the year before last it flooded, so all this was under water, it looked beautiful with swans and moor hens swimming very close by to where I’d sat that day…….it’s so open here and so very very beautiful….

The air is just filled with an orchestra of bird song, they’re all out in force, hungry for food…and I’m glad I made sure to fill all our feeders before I stepped out.

looking across to Keswick mill

For a good couple of weeks last year this way wasn’t really walk-able, you could get part way but then it was just too wet underfoot where the water has risen….. but today while it’s still cold and frozen underfoot I thought I’d risk it, see how it is and if it’s too wet I can always turn back.

I always love this view, Keswick MIll is just in the distance.  It looks so bleak here in the colder months but when there’s been a frost it looks so otherworldly, all fey and mystery.

The light is really grey and eeie and I was hoping hoping hoping with fingers crossed inside my mitten that it would snow later on (it didn’t).

frosty view over the marshes

The only other sound apart from the bird song is the rumble of the trains as they hurtle along in the distance….

I bought a pair of boots by Sorel some years ago and they are brilliant for wearing when the weather isn’t great, they keep my feet warm and dry, they also lace on which means if I step in a wet muddy bit they don’t slip off like wellies….

the morning starts to wake

It looks so different here in the Summer, pastures all full of colourful wild flowers, blue catseye speedwell, and stitchwort which looks like tiny white stars, wild chamomile…tiny tufts of ragged robin.

marsh grass and frozen puddles

I love the look of the marsh grass when it’s frosty, the spikey clumps look just like they do on maps to show that land is marshy……it’s such the best map illustration/marker. Sometimes when I’m here I half expect to see a Marshwiggle all set up with his tent……

But the marsh grass also hides a secret, it tends to grow up where it’s particularly boggy, and while it’s fine to walk across here in the summer when it’s been good and dry, when it’s wet or wintery you’re more like to sink into the mud ….

frozen puddles

A little further in and you get an idea of how treacherous this area of the marshes can be, I think the frost helps to pin point the really wet bits so they are easier to avoid….

the cow tracks to the gate are all frozen over

The cows were quite late off the marshes this year and where they’ve kicked up and trodden is still very noticeable….the tracks are all muddy and that’s frozen across good and proper. This always makes me think of big pieces of bark, if you’ve ever seen old Yew trees their bark looks just like this, all layers and soft curved edges…..

Ooh but it was cold though, even with fat mittens from Norway on and wrapped up in “the cat blanket” I began to right feel the pip…..it’s hard to walk fast across here as the ground is boggy underneath the frost so you have to step carefully…..once I’d crossed the meadow though I was able to walk a bit faster through the copse behind the golf course, and by the time I got to the shops I was all rosy cheeked and pink nosed…..

Winter sunshine on my mustard gold sheepy scented shawl……

all woolly wrapped

Ladies and gentlemen……Trumpety fanfare………may I present my finally finished Open Sky shawl…….I am so unbelievably over the moon happy with this shawl, it’s pretty big and is just so warm and cosy and drapes around me wonderfully.

(this is me, with my foraging basket , wearing one of the dottie angel frocks I made in the Summer…..the lovely fingerless gloves are one of a pair I bought from Ella Gordon, they’re so lovely and warm, and are worn pretty much all the time through the colder months).

As you may recall I first started knitting the shawl in October, at the time I really wasn’t a particularly good knitter (I’m not a whole lot better now), I could do very simple things (and by that I mean dishclothes or scarves) but I found telling the difference between a purl or a knit on my needle very hard, and as for passing stitchings over or skipping them and making yarn overs…..it was all gobbledegook to my ears…..after being nominated for a Liebster blog award at the end of the Summer by Zeens and Roger and answering her questions with what amounted to a right old ramble, it got me really thinking about things I wish I could do or do better.

This was in part due to a question she herself had been asked by Buttercup and Bee and which I decided to also answer, I’ve never wanted to fly or be invisible or anything “super-powery”…but oh to be able to knit properly.  And the more I thought about it the more I decided that the only way that was going to happen was for me to practise.

 

my tah dah shawl moment

(I love the way the sunshine makes the wool really glow)

I already had an old Harmony knitting book and made a few little swatches with stitches I knew, and just slowly became a bit more familiar with what was supposed to be happening on my needles….and then I fell in love….all head over heels for a lovely blue scarf I saw on Instagram, and really without thinking what I was doing I bought the pattern, bought the needles and some wool from Jamieson and Smith and just dived in.

Everything was new to me, the shawl needed to be knit on circular needles, it started off with a garter stitch cast on, had fancy sounding stitches…but you know what, while it wasn’t all easy peasy once I started it became not second nature, but my hands and fingers found their rythmn.  Pretty soon I began setting my alarm earlier and earlier, I’d pop the kettle on, make a big pot of tea, and then me and Bernard would sit on the sofa together and I’d slowly make another row or so…sometimes I’d just be un-knitting stitch by stitch needing to correct a mistake, other time progress was made in leaps and bounds.

I’d like to say at this point how great the designer has been,  I joined Andrea’s group on Ravelry and where there were things I sometimes didn’t quite understand, she’d reply and explain them, she has been so encouraging to my endeavours, and so were other people in the group, but also seeing other peoples work progress as they knitted their own shawls was very inspirational.

 

 

 

open sky shawl knitted in Jamieson and Smith wool

(Orange and green and yellow all together, the more colours the better………the wool seems so springy and the stitches are really bouncy)

Finally the shawl was finished and I cast it off,  and in  what I call a most Isadora Duncan-y way, flung it around myself only to choke and gasp for breath as I half near strangled myself…..I’d not thought about knitting up a tension swatch and had made it far too tight.

The pattern calls for 5mm needles and I’d used 4mm ones (thinking I needed to use the needles suggested for the wool I was using and not the ones in the pattern), plus in my head Aran weight was smaller than worsted but I think it’s actually a smidge thicker, so I had almost 1 and a half times as many stitches in 10 cms as the tension or fabric warranted.

Now I know blocking will help loosen up knitting but it wasn’t going to create the amount of drape I needed so I sort of resigned myself to the fact I’d have to un-ravel it completely and start again, I wasn’t all happy but neither was I thinking I was a complete and utter loser, I wasn’t going to shove it away in a cupboard and forget about it…..in part this video helped…and yes, I did feel a bit like a dropped stitch, but as Stephen West says “You’re not a waffle or a quitter….you’re a knitter” (I could watch this every day, it’s so funny and it made me laugh when I really wanted to cry)

wrapped in golden sheepy bliss

(This is such beautiful wool, it’s lovely and sheepy scented even after it’s had a wash,and feels like I’m being cuddled by sheep…)

So Christmas Day saw me un-ravel the shawl, and then Boxing Day, I got up early, made a fat old pot of tea and cast on again….(actually the upside to un-ravelling and having to knit again was that in my first shawl I’d started using another brand of Shetland wool then switched to some from Jamieson and Smith and there was quite a difference in colour….the second shawl is knitted up using just Jamieson and Smith Shetland Aran and looks so much better)

And pretty much for the next couple of weeks not a peep was heard from me…..having grown up in a house full of chatty women I’m quite a talker and happily admit to being able to talk the hind legs off a donkey (I know I’m more a Miss Bates than a Miss Dashwood or Anne Elliot)…….but when I’m knitting…….is that a pin being dropped?  I still made some daft mistakes but by this time my confidence had grown and rather than un-knit each stitch I was un-ravelling rows, not quite happy as Larry but knowing it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

mustard coloured wool in the winter sunshine

(using a larger needle means the wobbly tension made from my beginners stitches is somewhat noticable, the smaller needle was a bit more forgiving…..  )

Once my second attempt was all finished, I tentatively put the shawl around me and while not quite what I was hoping for it did look and feel a lot looser.  From reading the pattern notes and also from reading the comments in the Ravelry group’s thread I knew the shawl really needed blocking, so I bought a wee bottle of Eucalan from my local knitting shop, soaked it in tepid water for 15 minutes or so and then let the water run out and folded and pressed on the shawl…..then following the advice from the lady from the knitting shop, I pressed some of the water out with a towel but also then put in the washing machine and set it on a very gentle spin before pinning it out on some blocking mats I’d bought over the holidays and allowed it to dry…….

detail of edging around the shawl

(I love the edging of the shawl, pinnning it out allowed me to really open this section up, it didn’t look half so nice before blocking…..)

Anyway, after about 4 days on mats I un-pinned it and the shawl pretty much flung itself around me under it’s own steam….it’s so drapey and floaty (even though it’s quite heavy)…there’s a couple of smudges of grey fur amongst the yellow (Bernard was determined to stretch out on it while it was blocking and I had to chase him off the shawl a couple of times) which has sort of felted in but I don’t mind, but I’ve had to shoo him off it now it’s all finished, it’s too nice to share with his dirty little paws…..

There’s a very informative post over on Andrea Mowry’s blog about the importance of blocking and I’d certainly recommend having a read of it…she’s so evocative in her writing you can almost smell those swatches drying……

my Kenny Everett leggings

So yesterday in the Winter sunshine, my friend Debbie kindly took these pictures of the finished shawl in all it’s lovely golden mustardy glory…….a reason to be cheerful indeed.

(… if you’re thinking is she really wearing leopard print leggings……yes I am….I love them and always think of Kenny Everett dancing around in his pretending to be Rod Stewart when I put them on……)

It’s definitely a shawl I’ll be knitting again as it feels just wonderful all wrapped up around me and I certainly won’t be catching the pip wearing this as it’s lovely and warm. And if you’re at all interested in reading my snail like progress and woolly observations while I was knitting the shawl then all the entries are under Open Sky Shawl in the tags section.

 

 

Gnarly old mummy fingers and stitches as soft as rabbit ears…..

single breed Jacob wool

I really was intending for my next blog post to be about some of the embroidery and sewing I’ve been working on over the past few months, however it seems it’s going to be another woolly one…..it doesn’t help that I’m sitting here on my sofa and I’m half surrounded by balls and skeins of wonderful sheepy scented wool…..it’s hard to think about anything else and I keep finding myself picking up a ball for a quick squeeze or to breath in that fragrant warm aroma……..

As I’ve mentioned in my last post, I’ve started testing out wool from different sheep breeds, this all came about by a knit-a-long set up by lovely Louise over at Knit British, and on Friday Louise and Isla from Brit Yarn started a Natural shades knit a long….it was announced in December and I’ve found it really interesting to listen in as it were to the people in the group discuss what they were thinking to knit, which wool, which shades…..as long as the wool (fleecy or spun) is un-dyed then it’s fine….. I haven’t started yet as I’m still deciding what I’m going to make…I’m not up for anything huge, and really don’t have the budget to buy a lot of wool so it’s using what I have left from my swatches really, however I’d ordered some single breeds from Brit Yarn around Christmas so I’ve got 8 or 9 different colours and textures and plan to have a play with the shades and different wool and just see what happens……

The above wool is all naturally coloured Jacob, and the colours are just splendid, they make me think so much of storm clouds, all distant rumbles….when I was growing up if one of us (me or my sisters) was grumpy our mum and dad would say “they’ve got a face like thunder”…

rosewood knitting needles

When I was at primary school we regulary had trips up to Norwich, sometimes to The Castle, other times to Bridewell Museum, or Strangers Hall or an art exhibition on at The Sainsbury Centre, our teachers were very keen for us to have a bit of “culture” I suppose, and I used to love getting out of the class room….even now many years later I still love the Norwich museums….Something that has enthralled me ever since I was right little were the mummies at Norwich Castle…..there’s several in the collection including a cat, but the one that really used to give me the willies was the female mummy…her face is un-bandaged and one hand with the most wizened old fingers is peeping out….I don’t find it spider scary anymore but it still unsettles me….anyway, when I first saw these beautiful rosewood cable needles I immediately thought of those black twisted fingers peeking out from the linen wrappings, and even though I’ve got a lovely set of Brittany cable needles I really couldn’t resist these ones…..there’s something all Roald Dahl and witchery about them, all spells and magick and like I say..mummy fingers that I can all too easily imagine scratching at the door like in a Hammer Horror .

The short little needles just above them are also made of rosewood and you use them for working the edges of shawls, although the Open Sky shawl doesn’t use this technique I’ve got a couple of patterns all lined up for this year where you need to use them….holding them I feel like a giant…ahhgrrrr….(that’s my giant noise)

Norwegian wool

I’ve mentioned our friends in Norway before, Saski and Hania and not so baby Ivo (he’s two soon and looks so rosy cheeked and happy in the pictures his mum and dad send us)…they always gift me lovely local presents from Norway and when it gets cold I wear my thick Norwegian mittens and half fancy myself as a character from The Snow Queen….this year when Goska asked if there was anything I’d like I immediately said “wool please”….I was expecting perhaps one ball, maybe two…instead, Christmas Eve the postman staggered to the door holding a huge parcel, 8 balls of the most robust dense sheepy scented wool you could wish for…..there are 4 balls of this lovely donkey grey and 4 of the milkiest white…..I vaguely know what I’d like to knit (short sleeved cardigan/tunicy thing, just a couple of buttons and scoopy necked) but haven’t yet seen a pattern that’s quite right so perhaps it’ll be something I can design once my knitting skills have improved a bit.

Anyway, after I’d un-ravelled the shawl Christmas day, I cast on a few stitches with the Norwegian wool to see how it felt….it’s very thick and quite felty feeling, the colour isn’t solid and instead is broken up by tiny flecks of lighter grey.  The stocking stitch is as soft as the spot behind a rabbits ear, and the seed stitch edge feels all nubbly and delicious against my fingertips.

hues from september

Finally the most exciting news (for me it’s exciting….and I do appreciate if you found my blog because of my patchwork you’re thinking not that blooming old shawl again)….is that the Open Sky shawl is all finished (for the second time ) so trumpety fanfares and I’m feeling so pleased……it’s currently all stretched out and pinned in the middle of our front room on blocking mats…..once it was off the needles Bernard of course made a beeline for it and so there are sections where it’s already grellowy… grey smudges of fur as a sign of “guess who’s been here”…..he keeps walking up to it, staring right at me as he pats it then it’s lamb kicks and high jinks before he runs off before he can get told off.

To be perfectly honest it’s my fault as for the first couple of days after finishing it I wore it in the evenings as I was feeling the pip somewhat, and Bernard gave me such a look, jumped up and gently pawed at it…I didn’t have the heart to refuse him so plumped up a cushion and laid out my just finished shawl for him to curl up on… my boyfriend sat there all open mouthed not quite believing what a push over I am when it comes to Bernard having his own way….purrs and paddy paws of appreciation went some way to assuring me I wasn’t a daft old ha’peth but after some minutes spent picking off tufts of felting cat fur and I’m sort of having second thoughts about being quite so free and easy with my shawl sharing.

A warm and woolly how do you do……

blue faced leicester swatch

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to practise up my knitting skills, and where in the run up to the holidays my days were spent sewing and embroidering for Christmas craft fairs, early mornings and barely lit evenings would find me with a wrinkled forehead and my knitting needles in hand….I started setting the alarm an hour or so ahead so I was able to magic up a few minutes for me where I’d be able to play, trying out new stitches and getting a bit more familiar with what should be happening on my needles as I knit….slowly slowly slowly and my confidence began to grow…Bernard, the cat that is all curiosity, soon began to squidge himself up next to me before the heating came on, a quick pat of the wool before curling up and taking forty winks…..

I’ve mentioned before about serendipitous moments and last Autumn felt full of them…..first up was reading Felicity Ford’s piece about wool and knitting, this resonated within me so much, and then from reading that I found the wonderful Knit British site….this was then at the end of October/start of November or I should say Wovember which is a month long celebration of Wool……..

 

Norfolk Horn from Kentwell Hall

Part of the way Knit British celebrated was by starting a British Breed swatch knit a long over on Ravelry (I was a bit late joining it as it had started in October)…..there are over 60 different breeds of British sheep and they all have fleece so they all have wool for knitting….I think it would be fair to say a lot of knitters are only familiar with a few and tend to pick up a ball and squish it, rub it, sigh if it’s all soft and marshmallowy (I do this each and every time I walk into my local yarn shop)……wools that are a bit more characterful with coarser fibres can all too often get over looked…and that’s where the swatch knit a long is so interesting  becasue it’s encouraging you to try out a breed you’ve not used before…..

blocked Norfolk Horn

I’m just a beginner and to be quite honest hadn’t really given a whole lot of thought to my wool or yarn buying, well most of the yarn I use for crochet is second hand tapestry wool t when I’ve bought wool for scarves I’ve not thought about where it comes from, the sheep it was shorn from, the farmers who’ve looked after those sheep or whether those sheep were rare or endangered breeds….anyway the swatchy kal is really making me think a whole lot more about the wool and the people behind it.

I made some enquiries about buying some locally produced wool and while I was waiting to hear back about those I bought a ball of Blue Faced Leicester wool…I’d not actually used this wool before, but had read that lots of knitters liked it……it knitted up so soft and dreamy…after the swatch was all knitted you need to test it so after I’d washed and blocked it, I had it pinned under my thermals to see how if felt against my skin….it was like being kissed by sheep, so gentle and warm… When I was just turned 20 I had to have a pretty serious operation on my back and it left me with a huge scar, this is very sensitive and I have to be careful what I wear as a lot of things make it feel all nettle stingy and take my very life away….the Blue faced Leicester however was lovely, and I’d happily wear winter vests knitted from it.

I heard back from Kentwell Hall which is just over the border into Suffolk, they  sell Norfolk Horn and I bought 3 balls of dk weight for a tenner….it felt very different from the Blue Faced Leceister, had a warm sheepy scent (I love my wool to smell all Baa Ram Ewey) and was a beautiful porrdigey colour….it felt lovely to knit with and really slipped along my wooden needles…..

 

flecks of darker grey and wispy fibres

Finding some wool from a Seely Suffolk breed was a bit more difficult, and NellieAnneJane was kind enough to reply to a request on Ravelry on where I could source some……one of the places/people she suggested I contcted was June Ongibanjo and she came up trumps with this lovely Aran weight Suffolk wool, while the breed is Suffolk it’s not from sheep with an actual Suffolk postcode, I’m still looking for those……(she didn’t have the Suffolk on her site but I contacted her and she had some in stock so I bought a huge skein along with a lovely fat skein of Blue Faced Leceister which was also in an Aran weight)…..

blocked Suffolk swatch

The Suffolk was completely different to the other two wools, the ply making up the body of the wool was much looser, seperating as it pulled through my fingers then coming back together again as the stitch was formed on my needles….stroking the stocking stitches felt like that short hair on an animals muzzle, all donkey nose soft and warm……but having it tucked into my thermals was a whole different matter….the wool was full of tiny coarser fibres which while making a wool that looked really interesting, felt like a hedgehog scurrying around under my clothes…..I then pinned the swatch onto my outer layers (just a layer of very fine thermals was enough to protect my skin from those tickly and scratchy fibres) and this is where the wool really came into it’s own…no pilling or piling or whatever, no tiny bits rolling all up and looking dreadful, instead those coarser fibres slowly lifted in the warmth and gave the swatch a beautiful haze, like early morning mists over the marshes…..this is my favourite wool I’ve knitted with so far.  It would be ideal for using in a cardigan, the sort you slip on as soon as the weather turns nippy and the evenings become right cold, and which you keep on til April or May.  A real old friend of a wool.

wensleydale wool

The other local wool I was able to source came from Serena Plenderleith who has a flock of Wensleydales out at one of the Saint villages around Bungay in Suffolk (which is pretty much just down the road from Norwich)…..this feels so lush and lustrious, all silky and is more like a lock of Rapunzels hair than wool…..I haven’t knitted this one yet though I’ve stroked it plenty……it’s so golden and shimmery and I think I’m going to feel more than a little like Tom Tit Tot spinning his flax into gold when I have this on my needles.

I’m really enjoying knitting these swatches, it’s a bit like having a hello and how do you do with the wool, getting to know them and find out their secrets……I don’t expect to knit all the breeds in one go, but slowly and surely, steadily…just buying a ball or skein when and where and with what the purse allows.

I’ve also bought some single breed wool from Brit Yarn, their service was excellent and Isla was very kind and answered all the 101 questions that I had about the different qualities of the wool I had ordered.

And as I’m sure you can imagine, Bernard is loving having lots of wool around, he’s not been too naughty, he’s just cuddle up to what ever is on the sofa with me, generally laying on it, there’s been a little licking, a little snuffling and paw patting but he’s been much better than when I’ve used brightly coloured balls of acrylic or tapestry wool.

serendipitous stitches and late summer shades

memories of goldenrod and sorrel

The house is quiet, the heating hasn’t come on yet so I’m all bundled up with a blanket pulled down from the back of the sofa, Bernard is feeling somewhat sociable and has decided to cuddle up close to me, half on my lap, half on a cushion, his purring vibrates and trembles along side me and it’s one of the most comforting all is right with the world sensations I know…. the feel of my knitting is close becoming a second one.

The last couple of days have seen him wriggle up under my knitting where he can sprawl out on my lap and be enveloped in sheepy scents and warm stitches….he’s so contrary as he’s gone right off bed time cuddles but is perfectly content to be a lap cat when we’re alone.

I’m not far from finishing the shawl now…I’m sure  it feels like I’ve been knitting it an age and rabbiting on about it forever, (my first shawl I started back in October) but actually it’s taken me just under 3 weeks so I’m quite pleased with my progress from those first struggling and wobbly stitches, and wholly appreciate everyones patience while I’ve knitted it.  This started out as a blog about my sewing, what inspires me and from time to time bread and baking and Bernard would all make an appearance….of late though sewing projects have been properly neglected but not forgotten about…often when I’ve been knitting, I’ve needed to stop and scribble down new ideas for ideas and thoughts for projects that had only been hazy at best seem somewhat clearer……allowing my mind to wander off while making woolly stitches has allowed those ideas to grow, and jumbles of thoughts seem to be making more sense now.

hues from september

When I was knitting the first shawl which had to then be un-ravelled, I asked a group on Ravelry that were discussing interchangable needles how they went about choosing the ones they ended up buying, and several knitters were kind enough to give me some advice which boiled down to try a few different brands to see which feels good for you, look through the sets a brand offers and buy a needle size that isn’t in the set (often the 3 mm  isn’t in there) see what cable size is offered in the set, and like the needle, think about buying one that may not be in the set…and then have a play, try them and see which suits you.

A few years ago for my birthday present, my boyfriends parents gave me a voucher for an on-line knitting shop and I spent it all on wooden Brittany knitting needles…at the time I only had a couple of pairs but I really liked the feel of them in my hands so much.  I was only able to do garter stitch and stocking stitch but knew I liked those needles and it made sense, even as an absolute beginner, nice needles would inspire me to get better…..every single time I open the wrap I made for those needles, pick out a pair and use them I think of Kathy and Phil…so when they gave me money for my most recent birthday I knew I wanted to get some interchangable needles……

mustard coloured ragwort and rusty coloured sorrel

I had a look at what was available locally at first and the only ones I could find were Knit Pro ones with the swirly patterns on them…..I’ve tried them but just looking at them makes me feel all swirly myself, and I know if I knitted with them for any length of time they’d make me all headachy…..anyway I then had a look on-line and wanted to try the three brands that had been suggested to me…Knit Pro, HiyaHiya and Chiaogoo….now this is another one of those wonderful serendipitous moments which I seem to be experiencing a lot with my knitting…..I only seemed to find one place* that sold all three brands, and they had both the Knit Pro Karbonz and rosewood Cubics which I’d really wanted to try……so I ordered a selection and a few days later my parcel arrived, all beautifully packaged.

It was only when I turned the parcel over and saw the return address that I had to stop and shake my head…the return address was Bramfield…it’s the next village along to where I grew up and where some of my family still live.  I emailed Anj to say the parcel had arrived and mentioned how I was orignially from just down the road and she laughed as her and her family regularly take walks over Blackheath, which is part of the common land that surrounds Wenhaston…..

(I just needed to show a picture of the goldenrod and sorrel…..as soon as I started using the Knit Pro Cubics with this wool I felt I was back in the late Summer, walking around our favourite blackberry bush, picking berries and noticing the mustard and rust colours of the wild flowers that were growing there then)

knit pro needles from meadowyarn

My dad had always lived in Wenhaston, and often on Sunday afternoons we’d go for family afternoon strolls around the village…this was back in the seventies and we’d often see other families out, walking off Sunday lunches…even when me and my sisters had all grown up and moved, my mum and dad would still go for walks……when he died my mum received permission from the village to have a bench made in memory of my dad, and then had it placed on Blackheath, this was where he’d played and had gotten up to all sorts of larks and high jinks as a boy…anyone tired can have a sit, rest their legs awhile and admire the view.. ..there’s a little plaque on the bench with his name…..Anj has told me since that she often sits on this bench, watching her dog and boys have a right good run around, and it means a lot to her as her dad is/was also a Brian……

starting the lace edge

So even though this was quite by chance, it seems knitting this shawl has in a most roundabout way bought me back to thoughts of home and where I’m from…….I can’t not hold this knitting and think of people I love…from birthday money for wool and needles,  thinking of Anj sitting on dad’s bench to the sound of her family playing, beads threaded up by little grubby hands, squirreled away and re-found in a vintage sewing box bought by my boyfriend for me…….While I’ve often thought about the connections when I’m hand piecing patchwork, remembering who gave me the fabric, (I’ve often described my patchworks as feeling like I’m looking at a photo album, remembering so many people that have meant the world to me)…..this morning looking at my shawl it seems I can really feel it in my knitting too…..

*Meadowyarn is a lovely on-line shop, they have a brilliant range of needles and yarn, and  notions and patterns and oh, everything else I can think that would make a knitter feel they were in paradise.

I wanted to say that these rosewood needles by Knit Pro are really lovely to use, admitedly they look a bit odd as they are square sided, but they look a lot stranger than they feel, they’re nice and comfy, the wood means they feel warm in my hands (as I suffer from Raynaud’s warm needles is a plus)….I decided to buy the shorter length as I hold my needles right at the top so I didn’t think the longer ones would be quite as suitable.  Their look make me feel like I’m knitting with something that has been made from my nanny’s sideboard, as they are all polished/laquered, but this is just me having a passing fancy……I haven’t had the chance to really test out the other needles I bought but I plan to very soon, however, I have really liked these ones and wanted to give a mention to Meadowyarn as I’ve been very impressed with their customer service.