Kitten soft with a silky lustre….

a rainbow skein

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be sent a little skein of a new yarn base from Joy who works under the name The Knitting Goddess (I’d just like to say that I think Joy has the most perfect name, seeing her brightly paired hues always makes me smile and feel proper heart happy)….it’s been custom spun for her by the wonderful folk at John Arbon Mill, the base is British Bluefaced Leicester, Wensleydale (which is a lovely lustrous and clotted cream, gold sheened wool), Alpaca and silk….and as you can imagine is wondrously soft…in fact all the wool and alpaca comes from UK flocks, then is processed in the UK and spun in Devon.

I wholly suspect Joy has been at Hogwarts as her colour combinations are so magic, and this colourway was no exception, it’s called Almost a Rainbow and definitely captures all the smiles and oohs of when you look up and there is a rainbow arc in the sky….

winding onto a nostepinne

After a few days of petting and stroking the yarn, and thinking about possible stitches to try out, I began by winding the yarn into a little ball…if you’ve been reading my blog a while you’ll know I used to use the cardboard tube insert from a roll of kitchen paper to do this, well no more…I’ve had an upgrade….(I commissioned local green woodsman Simon Lamb to make me a nostepinne, and as well as making me a regular sized one, he also made me this dear little one which fits into the palm of my hand and is the ideal size for making tiny balls for swatching, it’s made from local Norfolk Yew)…I much prefer to wind my yarn on a nostepinne as it helps me get a real feel for the yarn, it’s a bit like saying “how do” and allows me those few extra minutes of yarn play and feeling the yarn thread through my fingers is always blissful….I could really feel the Wensleydale and silk as I wound the yarn.

knitting swatch

One of the treats for me in learning to knit has been the “joy” in knitting little swatches like this, I don’t have the same knitting experience as I do with sewing or quilting so these are an excellent way to find how a yarn knits up, how different stitches suit it, but also and most importantly, how does it wear…I’m not a particularly speedy knitter so if I’m going to spend hours upon hours knitting a shawl or socks or a cardigan then I want to know that the yarn will suit the purpose…..at the moment I like knitting shawls so thought I’d knit this swatch using a 4mm needle which is quite a big needle for a 4ply yarn, but that helps create a nice drape which is what you want when you knit something to fling around your shoulders…..as you can see, even unblocked the stitches look nice and well defined….

I particularly love how clean and bright the colours are, no muddiness going on, and the fabric that the yarn makes is proper kitten tummy soft….there is a real lustre and lusciousness to the fabric, it’s the sort of knitting that you want to keep laying against your cheek to go “oooh”….

unblocked swatch

I tried to use a couple of texture stitches as well, and while I’m not particularly confident yet to try any brioche knitting I can imagine that this yarn would suit those sort of stitches extremely well, all those different colours layering on top of each other and peeping out from behind another yarn, just the thought reminds me of those wax crayon scratch pictures I used to make at Primary school….

I also tried ripping back every-so often to see how the yarn would behave, and even after the fifth rip back of the same piece of knitting, the stitches still looked fine (I can still count on one hand the amount of finished knits that haven’t had at least a few rows of re-knitting so I always like to know a yarn can cope with mistakes and errors…)

I must admit to squish squish squishing those rows of garter stitch more than was probably good for them, there’s a nice amount of depth to the stitches without the knitting feeling bulky.

blocked stitches

After the swatch was finished, I gave it a little bath and pinned it out to set, it dried really quickly and kept the shape very well….over the course of testing I washed and blocked the swatch 3 times and it still looked as good as new the third time….over the course of the week the swatch was pinned under clothes, tucked under a bra strap, and shoved into a pocket….there was no itchy or playful tickle just soft silky kisses.

The stitch definiton is excellent, it’s probably easier to see on the stocking stitch and garter stitch rather than the texture stitches, however, the areas where there is a lot of texture look incredible because you have all this colour going on and then there is a wonderful silky lustre overtop so the knitting almost glows… there’s a very very slight halo above the stitches, I wasn’t aware of it until the 3rd wash and then it’s still only barely there, a bit like ground mist on September mornings.

colourful stitches

As I mentioned earlier I really like knitting shawls so tend to think of a yarn as “how would it knit for those”, but as my knitting improves and I feel more confident, I’m starting to daydream a lot about knitted vests, not a what I call a tank top, but proper next to the skin vests….vintage knitting books often have patterns for them and whereas in the past I’ve laughed and thought “oh no”…after knitting with this I’m very much thinking “oh yes”….it feels very comfortable next to the skin and I think it would feel the other side of fanciness and luxury to wear a chamisole top or Spencer knitted in this….

pumice rubbing

Now I’ve heard some stories about Sonja from Blacker Yarns at The Edinburgh Yarn Festival, how she tested one of their yarns with a piece of pumice stone to show how it wears and I thought to try that out here…..I’m so sorry Joy and the fine folk at John Arbon, please don’t think I would normally treat my knitting in such a way, but I wanted to see just how mean I could be, (also I know some other people testing this were going to try it as socks….I did check with Joy and she said this wasn’t intended to be a sock yarn as there is a lack of wooliness but to go ahead and test how I like)…..

I broke some pumice so the edge was pretty rough and then swiped and rubbed for about a minute…I didn’t just do it in one direction but back and forth, left and right and diagonally…..to be honest I thought I was going to rub right through but the fibres (possibly the silk) lifted, fluffed up, and after wetting there was a little felting…Personally I’m not sure I would use this for socks as I prefer them to be woolier, but on the other hand, I’m not sure how well some of my ‘sock yarn’ yarns would behave if I treated them the same…..I know lovely Maylin is testing some, she’s been knitting herself some toe caps so please keep an eye on her most awesome blog for her full report……however if you wanted to knit a pair of fancy shmancy bed socks then I can’t think of anything more luxurious to slip your toes into than this.

rainbow hue

Overall I think this is a really wonderful feeling yarn, it’s gentle against the skin and has a lovely flopsadoodle drape which for me would mean it’s ideal for a shawl, the skeins are 100g with a length of approx 400 meters… so that is enough for quite a nice sized shawl….it’s retailing at £19.50 a skein so won’t break the bank either.

Britsilk was released this weekend at Fibre East and will be available from Thursday on The Knitting Goddess website (you might want to just check with her instagram to see what time it will go on sale) it’s been dyed in multi-colours like this swatch but also in semi solids (ohhh you should see the Coal and Black colourways…perfect for ohh lah lah lingerie) and then the next batch of yarn will be in December, which right now seems a long way away but I’m thinking, once you’ve done all your present shopping then a skein or two of this as a treat for yourself might be more than a little bit nice.

lace detail

Many many thank yous to Joy for the opportunity to have a little play with this gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful yarn, it really has been a pleasure to knit with.

 

 

 

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A birthday blankie for Bernard with some bobbled corners…..

bobble pom poms

Over the past six weeks I’ve been taking part in Hanna’s #lentenwipdown…… something I find I do time and time and time again is to start something new when I already have a pile of half finished (or sometimes just barely started) projects that really deserve my attention a whole lot more….I don’t know why I do it, it’s not like I don’t love those half made pieces but I think it’s more a case of just wanting to try everything…..we don’t have a very large house although I’m lucky enough to have a room for all my sewing and fabric and yarn hoarding, but I’d much rather this room was free of all the half mades and just starteds, so the “wip-down” has been a good boot up the bottom to get me tackling some of those very slow wip’s…..

more nine square patches

After going through various half made items to assess how much really needed doing to each one before it was finished I decided to tackle this crochet blanket….and a couple of reasons were behind my thinking…..since using tapestry yarn for my crochet blankets I’ve tended to avoid using acrylic yarn, I don’t like the way it squeaks, it makes me feel all “stat-icky” with electricity (my hair always gets a bit bird nesty when I’ve been using it), and I’ve found it makes my hands ache more than when I crochet with wool yarn….in a corner of my work room I had a couple of big bags of brightly coloured acrylic yarn and a lady on the bus had told me that her grand-daughter used this to make blankets for various charities, so I thought if I finished joining in the little squares for the blanket then I could not only have a finished wip I’d also be able to get rid of those bags of yarn that I wasn’t really planning to use again…..

crocheting-along

Joining in the little squares actually didn’t seem to take that long to do at all, I love chosing the random colours and like to mix up rather odd colour combinations, it’s always been the main appeal of crochet for me, using up small pieces of brightly hued yarn to create multiple coloured squares……

Actually I’m trying to remember exactly when I started this blanket, orignally I made my two youngest nieces a couple of crochet blankets when baby Eliza was born (she was 4 in November so that’s a few years ago now) and I had lots of squares left over, I then used some of those to make a lap blanket for my friend Joyce and as is my way, made even more little squares for fear of not having enough so again I had some left over…….they ended up being shoved into the back of a cupboard where they were forgotten about……when I found them again at the start of 2015 I decided to rip out the third and fourth rounds, and join them together on the third round.  (The fourth round had been white and I’d wanted a more intense spread of colour rather than pops of colour in a sea of white)…..

making a new blanket

I stuck with it for a good while but somewhere along the way I got bored again and bundled it all back into the cupboard…..

layingtwo strips together

When I was making the blanket I’d found it easier to concentrate on crocheting lots of little squares then joining them into nines (rows of 3 x 3) and then joining those nines together (in rows of 7 by 7)…by the time I’d gotten bored there were a whole lot of big 7 x 7 square pieces which doubled up as small window blankets for Bernard to sprawl out on (he loves laying in the window and prefers to have something underneath him…for a cat that was originally found in a dustbin* he is very high maintenance)

sewing in the last dozen or so tails

But it’s always sewing in those yarny tails that are my downfall…..good intentions to sew them in as I go seem to fall by the wayside very rapidly, and while I know there is a technique where you crochet them in as you go, whenever I’ve tried to do that I ended up with fat old lumpy sides….

upside down

Anyway, a certain furry someone is always interested when a crochet blanket is being made, put it down for 5 minutes to go make a pot of tea and you’ll find it “just being kept warm” on your return…..

Because he loves blankets we decided that this would be a birthday present for him as he clambered up onto it every evening, and mewed if it was elsewhere, even needing to be carried upstairs on a royal cushion of crochet blanket come bedtime…(yes, he is one very spoilt cat).

rainbow tails

I really tried to keep on top of yarny tails while I was joining in the squares and as a nice incentive and way to keep track of tail sewing in progress I began saving all the tails in a bowl we normally have filled with Quality street at Christmas…and slowly the tails began to pile up……

I love seeing this mix of colours, combinations of colours that might seem a bit Hmmm in fact look great together, a bit bright and circussy perhaps, but this jumble of colour never fails to make me smile…..

crocheting over where two squares join

And finally…the day came when the last yarny tail was all sewn in…the blanket while an okay size wasn’t over huge or anything so I decided to add a few rows of single colour border, first white then pink and then red…….

I probably would have left it at that but then remembered the wonderful blanket I’d seen in the window of Norfolk Yarn the other week….. so I decided to make some of my own fat and squidgy pompom like baubles…..I didn’t make them as dangly as I thought they wouldn’t last 5 minutes if himself was feeling mischievous, so attached them right up to the edge of the blanket…and filled them with some red fleece I’d bought ages and ages ago….

I’m sure if you have a cat you know what happened next….he’s chosen to pretty much ignore it…that’s been a few hard whacks with a paw of the baubles but for the most part he’s walked past it, nose in the air……no doubt when the fuss of a new blanket has died down we’ll find him all curled up asleep on it……

If you want to make your own baubles this is how I made mine….

pom pom bobble detail

Baubles for a blanket (UK terminology)

dk weight yarn, 3.75 mm hook (I like my crochet quite tight)

Round 1….Make a magic loop and then work 6 double crochet stitches into it, you’ll end up with 6 stitches, carefully pull your magic loop closed and finish the row off with a slip stitch…

Round 2….Work 2 double crochet stitches into each of the previous stitches, finish with a slip stitch, you’ll have 12 stitches….

Round 3….Work 2 double crochet stitches into the next stitch, 1 double crochet stitch into the next one….repeat this pattern all the way around, so you have 18 stitches, finish with a slip stitch.

Round 4….Work a double crochet stitch into each of the previous stitches, you’ll still have 18 stitches…finish with a slip stitch.

Rounds 5 and 6….Repeat as for round 4.

Round 7….Work a double crochet decrease, then make 1 double crochet stitch, repeat around 6 times, finish with a slip stitch, this will reduce your stitch count down to 12.

At this point stuff the bauble firmly, try to use the same colour stuffing as the yarn you’ve used….

Round 8….Work a double crochet stitch decrease all the way around so you end with 6 stitches, finish with a slip stitch.

Fasten off leaving a long enough tail to attach the bauble to your blanket corner.

 

It feels really nice to have at least one less work in progress in the cupboard of doom, and the last few weeks while finishing this has made me think about other pieces in limbo that have been shoved away, what do I really want to finish, what can be charity shopped etc and what can be worked on next……..

*Bernard was a stray cat that was found eating food from a big catering bin at the back of a row of takeaway shops…he wasn’t skinny but his diet wasn’t really very good….nor did he have shawls that have taken me weeks to knit to sleep on…..

 

My stay at home Norwich Yarn Festival…..

 

 

norfolk yarn windowA few weeks ago it was Edinburgh Yarn Festival and although I would have loved to have gone and join in all the fun and community and yarn squishing it wasn’t something I was able to do, so rather than sit at home and feel in the doldrums I decided to have my very own little celebration of yarn…a bit of a stay-cation crossed with a festival at home….it all coincided rather nicely with one of my local yarn shops (the very nice Norfolk Yarn) running a stranded colourwork/Fairisle knitting class on March 11th…ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved the look of this style of knitting, but never thought it would be something that I could actually do….however this past year or so has seen my knitting come on in leaps and bounds…. personally I’d still call myself a beginner, but an adventurous one and I’ll pretty much rush in where angels fear to tread….so when I saw the sign for the class I thought “yes please” and booked in…… then ,as it all tied in nicely with the dates for EYF I decided to have my own “festival at home”….really this was just a good excuse to buy a couple of books I’ve wanted for ages and perhaps order some new yarn and needles…….

This is the window of Norfolk Yarn at the moment, I love the blanket and those crocheted bobbles inspired me when I finished off my crochet blanket…..

my norwich yarn fest

A book I’ve really wanted even before I could properly knit was Yokes by Kate Davies, I love the patterns and am very much of the opinion that it does you the world of good to look at things to inspire you to get better at something, a bit like a woolly carrot dangling in front of you…..I think the hardest thing is going to be which to cast on first but there are a couple that I keep turning back to look at……

The purple knitting was some travel knitting, something to do on the bus and to have in my lap while drinking a coffee (more of this another day as it was some of my gift knitting which will be it’s own blog post) I’m finding that I like to start off most of my knitting on wooden needles, I love the way they feel and also I find small cables want to curl up under my chin which these long needles don’t do….

I’ve used West Yorkshire Spinners Aire Valley dk in the past to knit squishy socks for my boyfriend and I really feel it’s about time I made some for me…this yarn is slightly thicker as it’s aran weight but it was reduced and I like these bright colours….In case you’re at all interested you can find a nice simple pattern for aran/worstead weight socks just here…these make lovely comfy house socks and I think if you used a softer, fancier yarn then you could make some beautiful bed socks (I’m thinking to make some with eyelets around the cuff, then thread ribbon through them)….this yarn was purchased from The Crafty Ewe which is brimming full with a really wide selection of yarns, needles and books for every pocket…(they also sell KA needles which my friend Claire uses, (I totally trust her needle suggestions, so I’ve recently bought some of their dpns to try out and they are as smooth as William Powell in The Thin Man films… I can certainly see myself buying more in the future….)

Along with the yarn I also bought a packet of Hiya Hiya bamboo tips from The Crafty Ewe and a packet of Knit Pro wooden tips from Norfolk Yarn…..although I have plenty of metal tips I find I like the feel of wooden/good quality bamboo ones more…..

The Colman’s Mustard postcard is a nod and a wink to my lovely friend Eva in Italy, I noticed a Colman’s Mustard tin on her bookshelf in an instagram picture she shared, and Norwich is after all home to Colman’s…

Both yarn shops are located very centrally in Norwich and are just a few minutes walk of each other, Norfolk Yarn is on Pottergate near Head in The Clouds, and Crafty Ewe is just up past The Guildhall…..

stranded colourwork rowan tweed

The workshop on the Saturday was much easier than I was expecting it to be, I still need to work on my tension and not pull the strands too tight but on the whole I was pretty impressed with what I was able to do (I know I sound like a right old head swell saying this, but I really was pleased with these and to say otherwise would be silly)…..the yarn we used in the class was a Rowan one and while I know a lot of people do like this yarn it didn’t do a lot for me, I think I like those wilder yarns with a bit more baa ram ewe to them, all Gabriel Oak with a little Heathcliffe on the side….however the colours were very pretty even though I know the ones I chose are too similar in tone……

I managed to knit about a quarter to a third of one fingerless mitt in class and then finished it and it’s twin off at home during the week….they are lovely and warm to wear though I think now it’s all sunshiney I’ll be tucking them away until the Autumn…

The workshop was very well priced as it included materials including yarn, a pair of needles to keep and cups of tea and coffee….

 

my own yarn fest

I also made a few other “festival at home” purchases….I ordered some yarn from Isla at Brityarn,  because I knew I was doing the stranded knitting class and thought it would be nice to then have some sticky Shetland yarn to play with (and if I’d gone to EYF I would definitely have made a bee-line to the Jamieson and Smith stall )…..last year I bought this fabric and think it would be interesting to try and match the colours for a pair of mittens or wrist warmers to start with….I was really inspired by the Knitsonik Colourwork Sourcebook which I’ve mentioned here before, not just as a very inspiring resource book for knitting, but I’ve used some of Felix’s ideas and suggestions with my crochet, embroidery and patchwork…and as Isla is totally awesome she’s also ordered in some other colours of the Jamieson and Smith yarn so I’ve since been able to match the lighter pink in the above print….

knitting goddes yarn

The other book I’d really been wanting to buy was The Book of Haps, and I think my first cast on will be the Houlland Hap by Donna Smith, this book was just waiting to come back into stock when I did my workshop at Norfolk Yarn but I was able to pick it up the following week (which meant my yarny “festival at home” was able to last a bit longer….I’ve got some beautiful yarn my big sister bought me for Christmas and think that would suit the Houlland hap really well, but I’d also like to try knit it with yarn that I’ve hand spun…oh, but telling you all about that will need to wait for another day….

I’ve mentioned The Knitting Goddess several times before, I love the way she colours yarn and I was lucky enough to test swatch some of the St Kilda yarn she dyed for Blacker Yarns last year….when I saw she had released another limited palette which included this mid blue green I decided to buy two skeins as I want to knit a fancy shawl to take away with me on an equally special holiday in September….. Buying this yarn I was able to support my favourite yarn company and favourite dyer, and hopefully one day I’ll be able to thank them both personally for all their hard work in creating beautiful yarns and sumptous colours.

rob's handknit jumper

Another highpoint of EYF after seeing all the amaing pictures popping up on Instagram is wowing at all the wonderful handknits that people wear…..and I was even able to participate a little in this…..when I went to buy some vegetables on the market that Friday, lovely Rob from Folland Organics had his coat open and a peek of handknit was on show, so after kindly taking off his coat on what was quite a nippy morning, he let me take a picture of it….what is so nice (and not just becuase I really like the pattern and colours) is that this was knitted by his wife’s granny for her husband, and once he died the jumper was passed onto Rob….I love that there is a real sense of family and love in all those stitches, and how this didn’t just end up going to the charity shop…..I love the warm almost toasty and chocolate hue of the brown, and Rob said it’s super warm and cosy to wear.

devonia

And then, when I thought all the yarn excitement was over, this beautiful braid of John Arbon Devonia fibre arrived as a “sorry you didn’t get to come to EYF” present from the awesome Meg who writes a very interesting blog called Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet …. this is a real deep and eerie underwater green yet somehow makes me imagine those huge forests from the dawn of time in dinosaur films …It looks like a huge piece of green apatite quartz with those deep pine tree hues all swirled alongside silvery slate and gunsmoke……. Along with this stunning fibre Meg also sent me one of her beautiful handmade notebooks which is even fountain pen paper friendly inside… and while there is still a way for me to go with my handspinning before I dare spin this, tiny ideas at the back of my mind are thinking to try and find some knitting patterns inspired by Devonian fossils…thank you again so so much Meg, your kindness and thoughtfulness just blows my breath away.

I know this post was all about knitting, and that not everyone knits so hopefully it won’t have been too boring, but I think most people who read my blog craft in some way or another, and so will know about other festivals, and events, perhaps Quilting ones or The Knitting and Stitch show, which again might not be possible for everyone to travel to, having a “Festival at Home” is very easy to do and can be tailored to whatever your interest or hobby, and it means you can support local to you shops, especially if they are having a workshop that weekend where you can learn something new or perhaps support favourite vendors that you know would have been at the official do/show etc…. I know it’s not the same as going to the bigger shows, especially whre meeting up with friends is all part and parcel of the enjoyment, but at least it still feels like you’ve participated in a little way, especially when you can compare yarny or fabric purchases on Instagram.

 

 

A wildling green wooliness……

a-wee-wildling-of-a-skein

A while back the very lovely Joy of The Knitting Goddess sent me a wee sample of her Wensleydale Shetland yarn to have a little play with…I’d already seen and swatched some of the St Kilda yarn which Joy dyed for Blacker Yarns and so was more than a little curious about this blend….I know Wensleydale is a particularly lustrous wool and Shetland is more matt so I wasn’t really sure how the yarn would look and feel.

The colours for the St Kilda yarn were incredibly bright and vibrant, very different to the more muted shades I normally associate with Blacker Yarns and when I first saw the shade card I couldn’t help but laugh and think of the Can Can dancers in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge film…all flashes of colour admist twirling skirts and petticoats…..

walking-home

The sample I was sent of the Wensleydale Shetland is the most wild apple green I can imagine, you think you know a colour and then you see what Joy can do….it’s not a particulaly dainty or green green but has a slightly brown hue, it’s very like something I would expect to find growing in the hedgerows, those leafy natural greens you imagine wood nymphs and dryads to be………the yarn seems full of shadows, softer hues slowly becoming deeper and more mysterious…..I love how even on a “solid” colour Joy is able to capture so much more, and creates a yarn where colour seems to dance and twist around the ply…..

As you can see in the top picture, the yarn is really glossy, the vibrancy and sheen of the the yarn is really something special, there’s some very very fine floaty up strands but these are more like thistle down than anything coarse or kempy….there’s also a nice bit of bounce to what is quite a fine yarn and it also smells….mmm, there’s a very (this smell always makes me want to breathe it in deep) soft and warm sheepy aroma to the skein….holding it up to my face it feels a little tickly, like when my cat wants treats and he tickles me with his whiskers when he brushes against me with his furry cheeks….

 

knitting-goddess-wensleydale-shetland-swatch

I decided to knit up a swatch on 3.25 needles and try my hand at a simple little lace pattern (this is a Diamond lace pattern which has a repeat worked over 20 rows) as I thought I’d probably look to use this yarn for a shawl as it’s so fine…..(compared to the Blacker Classic I’m currently knitting with it seems barely there on my needles)…..

I also chose to knit the swatch on these Brittany wood needles, they are my prefered needle of choice when knitting up a swatch…the Wensleydale Shetland loved being on wood…..and I had no trouble with knitting or slipping stitches together, no poking needle tips through the ply or anything……also I found the yarn very good for not tangling up out of a ball (I like to hand wind my yarn on a “nostepinne*” and sometimes a yarn seems to really catch itself and knit up, however this was so lovely and slippy , no tangles…no tantrums….)…as always with lace knititng it’s a bit hard to see quite what is going on with the stitches but while they were on the needle my knitting was surprisingly easy to read….the markers either end of the needle are for the border which isn’t worked in the lace pattern.

After knitting about a dozen rows, I left the knititng for a day and then  I ripped all the stitches back which sounds a bit foolish but I was curious how the yarn would rip…I’m still very much at the stage with my knitting where most projects need a little correcting…the yarn slipped apart beautifully, there’s enough sticky to keep a stitch relatively in place if you accidently drop one, but if you need to do extensive un-ravelling then this is pretty straightforward….and nor did the stitches crimp and curl up too much, there was a little kinky curl but not enough to distract when I re-knitted…..

blocked-wensleydale-shetland

Once I’d knitted my swatch I soaked it in a little bath of warm water and Eucalan Wrapture, there was no colour bleed, and then I blocked it out and allowed it to dry…the lace work opened up a treat….I was really surprised at how strong the knitted fabric feels, I’d initially dismissed this for anything other than shawls but I can imagine it looking amazing in a cardigan, perhaps not one you wear where the cat will pluck it, but something for if you’re going somewhere fancy but a bit on the nippy side…..Actually the way the colours in the yarn respond to light I can imagine every head turning if you wore this somewhere where there’s lots of candles…

I’ve had this swatch tucked under bra straps and pinned under thermals and I’ve not been aware of any yarny tickles, although it is a tiny bit wispy held around my neck, I quite like that feel but I know for some people it’s not so pleasant.

on way to mill

I tried taking a picture near a candle to show how dappled the colours look in that sort of flickering light but it didn’t come out very well…..but the above picture of the little lane up to the local water mill captures what I’m trying to explain…all those shadows and bursts of green n the sunlight…..negative spaces and patterns created by them rather than clearly defined stitches (or in this case, leaves)….

wesleydale-shetland-swatch-detail

While I don’t think the yarn has the most defined stitch, the wispery haze sort of blurs them a litle, the stitches that it makes are no less lovely, the yarn overs and knit 2 togethers are held perfectly in place, and I think it’s made my relatively beginnery stitches look pretty impressive…..perhaps it’s a yarn that benefits from going up a needle size so the wispy fibres have room to stretch out rather than hunch up.

There’s also a wonderful feel to the fabric, it feels very silky and is reminding me slightly of an alpacca/silk blend I used recently but it has way more character….it’s a nice springy fabric.

I can imagine a shawl or wrap knitted up in one of the coppery, bronzey shades Joy also creates would almost look like ethereal armour….and those blue, turquoisey ones are so liquidy….you can picture how a piece knitted from those colours would look spilt, flowing….

Regarding stitch count….on 3.25 needles I was getting 20 stitches to 4 inches in stocking stitch…I forgot to write down my row count and I don’t think they’ll be the same as in the lace pattern….

knitting-goddess-coral

I really enjoyed knitting with the yarn, I loved how what I thought was a very delicate fine yarn has surprised me with it’s strength….

I’ve actually ended up buying myself a couple of skein, and I chosed the coral colourway….I really do like single coloured super sized shawls so I thought if I order 2 skeins I can knit something really wow factor….as I mentioned on my instagram when the yarn arrived the skein keeps shifting from browny pinks to warm almost faded rose petals with hints of vintage rouge tins and old tea bags which I know doesn’t sound too complimentary but there’s something really time worn and faded, almost Miss Havershamy about this colour, which has me proper smitten.

I know I’ve said this before but Joy’s parents couldn’t have chosen a more apt name for her as her yarn colours make me so full heart singy and smiley-ness….skeins of beauty, skeins of Joy indeed.

The Wensleydale Shetland blend is currently priced at £18.50 for a 100g skein.. the skein is 4 ply weight with approx 400 metres per skein.

The wool is all sourced and processed in the UK and has been custom spun by The Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall before being hand dyed by The Knitting Goddess.

*it’s the rolled up cardboard insert from the kitchen paper….not pretty but it does the job.

 

 

Not really been “feeling the burn” this January but instead I’ve been baking bread and knitting, and flirting something terribly with the neighbour’s cat…..

karise-shawl-2

And all of a sudden it’s nearly the end of January, I’ve barely touched “things to do” lists and while I don’t really do New Year Resolutions , even good intentions to feel the burn with Jane Fonda or Mister Motivator have been a bit neglected (maybe I need to knit up some stripey legwarmers so I cna at least dress the part)….. however, I’ve had some good tidy ups of cupboards where fed up with wips go to die, or are shoved at the back of or ferreted away until I feel inspired with them again….

One such wip, though this wasn’t tucked away in a cupboard but was at the bottom of a knitting basket, has been this Karise shawl by Karie Westermann…this will no doubt look a bit like Deja Vu as not only have I knit this shawl before (this is now the fourth time I’ve knit this pattern) but I’ve also knit it in this very same yarn (but that one was a gift for my sister Rachie and this one is for me)………now I want to make this very clear, I love love love this pattern, it’s incredibly easy to follow and because it was the first lace knitting I ever did, the pattern will always own a huge chunk of my heart….however I fell so out of love with the yarn that it just put me off finishing it (I love the colour but the yarn is an alpaca/silk blend which now feels a bit on the scratchy and dry side)….perhaps I should have bought some bamboo needles as I was using metal ones and the yarn was just very slippy on my metal tips…..I don’t know why I thought one pair of needles would work for all the yarns, coming from a sewing background I have umpteen assorted needlecases each with different needle types in them and I suppose the variations in knitting needles works much the same way……

Anyway, other newer projects took over, and for the most part these were all using woolly and sheepy scented yarns, those are by far the yarns I love to touch and hold and to knit with….but I really wanted to start the New Year with clean knitting needles, no new cast on’s until the knitty wips were finished…..I haven’t got a finished picture to share yet, but the shawl is all blocked and I know come Summer when I want to sit outside right early in the morning or on the back door step in the evening, then this will feel lovely, but at the same time I know it’s not a yarn I’d make a special effort to purchase again….if you are at all interested then more notes are just here on my Ravelry project page.

 

ready-to-eat

Other things I’ve been doing have included baking bread again….for the past year our main oven has been playing up, the temperature has been rather erratic and fingers would be kept crossed while bread and cakes were baking….but finally we had to stop using it, we can still use the top stove or rings and we have a very small oven to use while we save up for a  new, sadly bread was one of the things that had to stop being made as I found the little back up oven a bit complicated and I was worried I’d break it….but then in October my boyfriend became rather poorly and where as normally I’d call him down to turn it all on for me, I really had to get to grips with it myself….and after a couple of months of getting a bit more used to it and a bit more confident I wasn’t going to burn the house down, I decided over the holidays to wake up the natural starter in the fridge and see how a loaf of bread would bake in it…

Well actually I was quite pleasantly surprised…I’ll be the first to say they aren’t quite as good as when they were baking in the gas oven, but the boyfriend is giving them thumbs up and that is what counts…..I’ve had to tinker a bit with cooking times, and to make the dough a little drier than normal….the sponge seems to like being left over night, and then the dough has some hours to gently prove in the morning before I need to bake it….but the loaf I baked early this week came out so well I was actually tempted to have a small taste myself….(I ended up with terrible stabby pains and felt like the wolf in Red Riding Hood with rocks sewn up in his tummy) but it was nice and crumby, with a gentle mellow flavour of sesame seeds and honey……

winter-blossom

I’ve not really been out over the marshes for the long walks I’ve been sharing over the past few years, it’s felt bitter cold and has been a bit wet…a local farmer grazes his cows on the comman land and marshes and I think they were on there a bit later than normal as the ground is all hoofed up, and huge areas are a right old mud bath…..when it’s like this it’s not very tempting to bundle up and head out like when it’s nice and sunny…..but the signs of Spring are coming up all around us….just down the road there are trees in blossom, I think some of these are winter flowering cherries but already I’m seeing sharp green shoots poking up out of the ground and most walks down to the shop involve stopping to notice what’s growing and coming up in all my neighbour’s gardens….

And it’s not just things growing…..one of our neighbours (not a next door one but a chap I say hello to because he has a lovely Newfoundland dog that is very friendly…a couple of months ago she ran off with my basket and we had to chase her…it was a bit like a Benny Hill sketch as we chased her around the green…..she’s completley gorgeous and I happily give her cuddles even though she’s a bit slobbery), anyway he mentioned he had a Maine Coon cat and ever since I’ve been keeping a look out for it…..well guess who I’ve now met…..oohh he’s so beautiful, and so so big, almost twice the size of our Bernard….I’m none too sure how Bernard would feel if we took on another cat…hmmm….yeah, maybe I do,  he’d be right pouty and those whiskers would go all forward and he’d put his parts on and play up so perhaps it’s best we’re a one cat family…..

lunar-tides

Another wip I’ve finally manged to finish were these socks…the pattern is called Lunar Tides and it’s by Louise Tilbrook…what I thought was so clever about them is that the pattern can be followed either top/cuff down…or toe up…..I’ll be writing more about these socks in the next day or so, but they really were a great knit…there were times I found them rather difficult, however once I got going and understood what I had to do aroud the heel I was fine….this was a great introduction to knitting cables and I would certainly look at not just knitting these again but also at knitting more of her patterns as a lot of them use softly flowing cables….

The yarn used is by John Arbon which I bought last Spring from Meadowyarn (they are an on-line shop but are actually based about a mile or two from where I grew up and are in the next village along to where my mum and one of my sisters still live), it’s a lovely and sticky woolly yarn  (which is handy if you manage to catch a needle on your fingerless mitts when you’re knitting on the bus and suddenly there’s no needle holding the stitches together……) and has a soft haze over the stitches….

And I think I’ve mentioned this before but I’m now on Instagram…I’m still at the oooh this is very exciting stage and tend to post 2 or 3 times a day on there with a fair bit of waffle but you know me….mostly it’s a little bit of everything, sort of like how I write my blog I suppose , though I know for some people my blog has been a bit too yarny, a bit too woolly this past year……I’m sorry those people feel that way, I’m certainly not sorry for writing about the incredible enjoyment I’ve got this past year from playing with pointy sticks….I love story, knowing about something’s history or background, whether it’s is bit of old cloth belonging to your great aunty Frieda, uncle George’s gardening tools etc…and I’m having a lot of fun finding out about different sheep breeds, and local to me yarns….I love all the different stories behind the yarns and  I’m enjouing discovering similarities between knitting and embroidery and patchwork…more of which I’ll write about soon..

a-lichen-miten

We did mange to get out of the house a couple of times over the Winter holidays on one of those glorious sunshiney but still bitterly cold days…..while we were down near the river this lichen caught my eye, I thought the colour was particularly splendid but also was fascinated by how it looked like a mass of tiny mustardy blossoms….I shared it on Instagram and had lots of people say how much they thought it looked like a woolly mitten….I’d totally not seen that but now…I just can’t not see it…so some little thumbnaily scribbles are being made as I’d like to knit a little pair of something woolly which reflects those colours…

bernard-shawl-testing

And it wouldn’t be a proper catch up if I didn’t share a Bernard up-date…he’s all fine, as I said back in September, the vet is very pleased with how he’s doing, and there seems to be no sign of the cancer returning …so hoorah….being told that was such a weight off our shoulders, we don’t have any children so all that love gets spent on our furry and rather windy bottomed boy…. he’s still pretty mischievious and is firmly of the belief that anything knitted is for him…he’s definitely king of the shawl thieves, and while there are a couple that are kept well out of his way, I don’t mind too much if he likes to nap on this one……

You may remember this was the first real bit of knitting I did,  I was waking up super early to work on it, and while the rest of the house was sleeping and it was all dark outside, Bernard would keep me company on the sofa while I purled or knitted…and more often than not, un-knitted to correct a mistake…so I very much feel it’s both our shawls, and a few bits of grey fluff aren’t the end of  the world by anymeans……

That mostly brings me up to date, and more posts are already being written, lots of things and ideas to share but I’ll save those now for another day…and in the meantime, hope you have a great weekend.

 

Unravelled stitches and sea shanties ahoy……

kinky skein of shlasdair

Earlier this year I started listening to The Caithness Craft Collective Podcast and loved it straight off, Louise is warm and friendly and funny, and as well as knitting she also talks about her sewing and quilting which I find really interesting to listen to as it’s not always as easy to talk about fabric as it is yarn, anyway if you’re not already listening to her then pop on over as I think you’re in for a treat….Anyway, back in the Summer Louise held a unkal/kal which was split into 3 divisions…..to knit something you really wanted to knit, not necessarily the same as everyone elses current knitting project but something that you wanted to do,  second was to rip out something that you were not liking and then you could use the yarn for something else and thirdly…I loved this one….if you had a work in progress (or wip) then to leave it alone til a certain date then to get it finished by the end of September….

Well I had several wips (quilty ones and woolly ones) and entered a couple in that division, though sadly I ran out of time and couldn’t get them finished in time but fingers crossed for finishing at least one of them over the holidays…(grannies paperweight blanket I am looking at you)….and I knitted 2 shawls for what Louise was calling the Super-Corn” division….(her little girl Daisy decided a Unicorn with superpowers would be called a Super-Corn…)…one was in all natural shdes of undyed yarn and the other was in a lovely sky blue alpacca silk with woolly pips of tapestry wool…yeah, I don’t have a huge budget and had the tapestry yarn and wondered if it would work……

three balls blue

Anyway I didn’t feel I had anything to rip out until I listened to a Shiny Bees podcast episode….(it’s knitting based and Jo interviews lots of knitting designers which I really like, and she’s very funny)…on it Jo was talking about the qualities of alpacca yarn and how like woolly yarn it can be made to look brand new when you un-ravel it and wash it and leave it to dry….. and that got me to thinking about a crochet scarf I’d made a few years ago, I didn’t make it wide enough and the yarn I used was only 4 ply and pretty soon it began to curl up along the sides and I just stopped wearing it….anyway I emailed her and she replied explaining the steps I needed to do to make my yarn beautiful again……

So I chopped the very top edge off and began to unravel, it wasn’t easy as the yarn had felted a little, a lot in parts, and oh man, I had sewn my ends in like you wouldn’t believe but finally I had a handful of different sized yarny balls……the yarn was a luxury blend by Shilasdair  which had been hand-dyed on the isle of Skye and was a blend of merino lambswool, angora, baby camel and cashmere….every bit as soft as that sounds…..

And I took Jo’s advice…which I wrote about here….

Something that I love about knitting or crochet is that if it all goes wrong or you’re not happy with then it can be un-ravelled/ or frogged/ ripped right back to become once more a ball of yarn and all ready to star again…..very different to sewing where if you cut that fabric wrong…it’s not always so easy to fix.

ishbel-lace-work

So now I had this beautiful freshly skeined yarn…what to knit……it won’t really be hard to guess…..and so before I knew it I was knitting another Ishbel shawl….I hope the above picture captures the soft squoosh of the yarn…..it really was kitteny and oh…..sort of fudgy …..the stitch definition is….hmmm not really well defined, it’s not stark but more subtle…

I knew I wasn’t going to have enough yarn as I lost a bit due to felting and where it was impossible to unravel because of how I’d sewn my ends in (I like to be thorough is my excuse) and luckily I found Tangled Yarn which is a lovely online shop and they still had some of the original blend by Shilasdair (the blend has since been changed)…..Rachel is really lovely and was very helpful, and was very intereseted when I told her about my adventures in yarn unravelling and re-using and posted about it on facebook….

ishbel-ripples

I love the back and forth, undulating flow of the pattern , very rythmic to look at and stroke, it makes me think of waves and the lilt of a boat rocking, of sea shanties and sailors and life on the ocean blue…..there was a little speckling and mottling as I included in the other skein, remember the original yarn was at least 5 years old and had been washed 2 or 3 times  so I was pretty pleased with how comfortably the new yarn fitted in……

By this time I’d become pretty happy knitting this pattern, I left off my stitch markers (feeling very brave and hoping it wouldn’t all end in tears)……and just kept going, I kept an eye on my yarn and worked several repeats so I would have a really large shawl……

shilasdair-ishbel-shawl

And that is exactly what I’ve got……I’m really super happy and over the moon with this (I know, I say that about all my knitting but….I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with it this year and if I said otherwise than that would be fibbing)……it’s really really soft, very drapey and floaty…..I know this yarn is available as a dk and am thinking a shawl in that would be wonderful, a slightly weighter yarn to fare woosh around your shoulders….

It feels like I’m wearing a waterfall…..

I worked the new yarn in over the lace work every some rows, not really keeping count and so there were a few ends to sew in at the end, it was only when we were photographing the shawl that I saw I’d not trimmed a couple of those tails off quite properly…..

isbhel-detail-after-blocking

I’m just squooshing the shawl around and demonstrating the ooohhh soft and springyness of those swaddled layers……

You can see the mottled speckles of the different yarns a bit clearer here but it doesn’t bother me and I quite like the watery effect it has…..

agggghhh there’s one of those not quite trimmed off ends poking up under my chin

stitches-that-flow

Here those pointy tips are really defined and pokey but actually after wearing the shawl out yesterday where it was wrapped and bundled around me the points are curling inwards rather now but that doesn’t detract from the overall shawl loveliness factor…….

i-love-my-knitting

I couldn’t help it…..this is such lovely soft yarn (sorry for keep saying it but oohhh it is rather wonderful) and it feels really airy, I used a 4 mm needle and found the yarn possibly on the skinny side of a 4 ply although it knits up nice and plump…..while I was knitting this I was also knitting the Ishbel shawl in Cornish Tin II which as we all know is a right plump and puddingy yarn so perhaps that is why this felt a bit skinny…..

I really wanted a big shawl that I could properly swaddle myself up in without feeling like I was on the verge of having a hot flush,one I could wrap around my shoulders and feel like I was …oh, channeling my inner water sprite or something and would happily sit by a murky pool or bog if I could wear this……

So huge huge huge thank yous to lovely Louise for making me appreciate and think out of the box about re-using yarn and inspiring me to create a piece of knitwear I am so thrilled by, and to the awesome Jo of Shiny Bees who explained the best way to skein up and re-wash my kinki curled yarn……I am now off to swaddle  and shawl woosh some more…….

(the yarn is the Summer Loch colourway and if you’re interested, my notes and observations on knitting the shawl can be found on my Ravelry project page)

 

 

Bubbling blackberries and a yarn to fare own my heart……

blackbery-jam-red-stitches

I’m so excited to finally be able to write about this shawl….as you may remember back in September, lovley Sonja from Blacker Yarns emailed me and asked if I would like to have a little play with their new Cornish Tin II and I was really bowled over with how beautifully it knitted…..plump and velvety, lots of bounce and seeming to hold on to all that heel kicking and joyfulness of a field full of baa lambs….between then and the day it went on sale I hummed and hah-ed about which colour to go for, I knew I could only afford one skein so the pressure was on….I finally chose Wheal Rose Red though if there had been a bright forest green I’d have chosen that as I’ve got a bit of a thing at the moment about green, but that’s beside the point, all the shades in the Tin II are gorgeous, combining rich and deep with a gentle subtleness…they aren’t brash, I think that’s what I’m trying to say……anyway I woke up crazily early on the day it went on sale and had ordered a skein from Isla at Brit Yarn before I think she’d even had a morning cup of tea and was out of her pyjamas……

a-deep-red-sea-of-yarn

The skein arrived the next day and the Autumn sunshine meant I was able to sit outside and slowly untwist the skein and allow the light to skip along those woolly twists……The Tin II is a wonderful blend and some of those darker natural fibres cause the shadows to really swallow down amongst those wraps of ply………it’s not as glossy as the Tamar but where as that was almost like knitting with sunlight and air, the Tin II is much more puddingy and substantial feeling…so much so that I had to keep checking the label as it doesn’t feel like a 4 ply at all, it’s certainly robust.

In the time leading up to the release day I went through my library of patterns and the one I wanted to cast on again was Ishbel by Ysolda Teague (I love how it’s nice and wide rathe rather than short and deep)…I’d only just cast my first one off and was really happy with how that looked and it also gave me some wriggle room with yarn…..or so I thought

a-deep-berry-red-yarn

I spent a few days just petting and stroking the new skein, I’m sure I’m not the only knitter that does this, I’d already said “how do and hello” earlier when I’d knitted the wee skeins Sonja had sent me, but there is something so wonderful to sit with a whole fat skein of such beautiful yarn, allowing your fingers to sink down and immerse themselves in colour and stroke those woolly fibres……after about a week of such nonsense I cast on and was treated with the most wonderous raspy shuffle as I wrapped the yarn around my needles…..from the notes I made while knitting the swatch I decided to cast on with a 4.5mm needle so I’d create a little more lightness and drape to the fabric….the  first part of the shawl almost knitted itself and because I just got far too excited knitting this I made one of those daft sort of mistakes that I didn’t notice and after spending a couple of hours trying to correct it I decided to just rip it all out and start again a bit more slowly……the yarn was fine about being ripped, the stitches popped apart so easily……

This yarn has such an amazing stitch definition, you really can see which stitch is which and so I decided not to use my beloved stitch markers, a bit scary at first but I was able to “read ” my knitting really clearly and progress was actually faster I think than if I’d have been shifting markers along all the time….there was no interuption to the flow of knitting and the stitches almost seemed to appear by magic…..

One of the lovely things about knitting this Ishbel was the back and forth messages I had with my friend Alida….she’d admired my first Ishbel and wasn’t sure she could knit one herself but I thought otherwise (she’s an amazing sock knitter so I knew she could do it) and even though she’s in Canada and I’m here in Norfolk we were having our very own little Ishbel kal…..

Even with having to re-knit the centre part twice (I was a row away from starting the lace work when I’d had to rip it) the shawl was finished in just under a fortnight which is pretty good going for me…however disaster almost struck….I didn’t have enough yarn……Ishbel is a fantastic pattern and this is a link to Ysolda’s chart for Ishbel if you want to keep an eye on your stitch count….a % of shawl made is given and I was keeping track of this and where when I started thought I had plenty of yarn, as I worked those last rows I realized my yarn was almost gone…so I put a call out in the Blacker Yarns group on Ravelry and the very very kind MontyMouse sent me enough yarn to finish my knitting (actually she sent me extra to what I’d asked for in case the yarn got gobbled up quicker than I’d anticipated…..) so hugest of huge thank yous to her…….this was a valuable lesson to me though in how much a 4ply can differ.

tin-ii-after-blocking

I know from the handful of shawls I’ve knitted this year that lace work can look a bit….hmmm, squishy and wet pasta like before blocking and while I really liked the look of those fat stitches above I truly was swept off my feet when I saw what happened after I’d soaked my shawl in a sink of warm water……you can really see those those undulating waves of knitting……and any rusticness and hedgehoggyness totally goes away on that wash….not that I thought this was hedgehoggy in the slightest, shuffley and full of sounds when you rub it or knit it yes but not unpleasant to sit against your skin……

I allowed the shawl plenty of time to fully dry before taking out the blocking pins and was so over the moon and happy with the results…..it looks much weightier than it actually is and oohh the colour…..if you’ve ever made blackberry jam, think back to when the sugar and berries begin to merge and the contents of the pan is transformed into that deep bubbling red….this is that shade exactly……..

tin-ii-shawl-finished

(just look how it flows over my shoulders…..that’s softness for you)…..While I was knitting this my boyfriend became rather ill and it’s taken him a while to feel up to taking any pictures for me so the shawl has been very patient and waited and waited…..but he’s feeling a bit better and well enough to be my “David Bailey”…. finally I am so so thrilled to share this with you…..

It’s really soft to hold, not Blue Faced Leicester kitten tummy soft, but soft like old velvet chairs, comforting softness that envelops and makes you feel safe……the texture of the stitches is incredible, tracing over the lacework and I can feel those knit two togethers and slipped over stitches…the spine down the centre is so clear and defined….tiny ridges are a tactile pleasure for my hands and fingers…..and my favourite part…look at those pointy tips along the shawl’s edge…so pokey sharp they could nearly take your eye out…..

weighty-lacework

I really am incredibly happy with how this project came out….it’s wonderfullly warm without feeling over heavy, and while I wish I’d have bought two skeins so I could have made it a little longer I’m not really fretting about it as this is still a nice wearable size…..because I used the 4.5mm there is a really lovely drapey feel to the shawl which I hope you can see from the above pictures…..

The fabric feels wonderful and fudgy, like when you see moss growing and you can press your fingers down into the green and it feels all bouncy…..

This is always how I imagined yarn to feel, warm and soft, light, a slight tickle, mossy and woolly…..thank you so much to everyone at Blacker Yarns who have worked so hard to create this stunning blend, it honestly has felt like a real privilage to knit with this yarn and certainly this knitter for one greatly appreciates all your hard work………

I’ve just checked and both Brit Yarn and Blacker Yarns still have some of this very special and limited yarn left, so if you’re still wondering what to tell people you’d like for Christmas…perhaps a skein or two of this….it’s available in 4 ply and dk weight and Blacker Yarns also have a section on their site with some really beautiful free patterns which use this yarn……

More notes on my bubbling blackberries Ishbel can be seen on my Ravelry page…..

 

 

 

 

 

Naked knitting and those sheepy aromas…..

washed and blocked castlemilk moorit

As I mentioned at the start of November (or Wovember as this month it’s all about celebrating wool) I’ve spent the last year knitting up swatches of undyed single breed yarn to help me learn about all the different and special qualities that the many breeds of British sheep have…. I always want to start singing “Getting to know you” from The King and I as soon as I start to hand squish a new yarn and cast on… and that’s what the swatching is all about really, saying “how do” and learning as much as you can about that yarn…..I started knitting the swatches from an idea by Louise of Knit British (there is a Ravelry group where you can read about how other people have found a particular yarn and compare notes)… and it’s been really interesting seeing how the yarn knits up, how tickly it is, how kitteny buttery soft or not it might be, how does it wear…

Now I’ll be quite honest and say before last year I’m not sure if I could actually name more than a couple of breeds of sheep apart from Shetland and Wensleydale (and that one I knew because I love Wensleydale cheese), and I’m now trying to learn as many as I can (ooohhh just thought to myself, what a great game could be made where you guess the name/identify the sheep breed, does it have horns, does it have black legs, face…. someone invent it please…Wovember ladies…perhaps one for next year?)….and the names of some of these lesser known breeds are wonderful sounding…. who wouldn’t want to knit with a Badger faced Welsh Mountain, or a Swaledale (I love the sound of saying that…. swaledale,swaledale,swaledale … feels like I’ve been at the wine) a Baldwen or a Teeswater….. one name that I heard mentioned a few times and which sounded lovely was the Castlemilk Moorit……

Velvety and chocolatey are two words that are used to describe it with good reason, it’s plump and mossy, smells divine, is a gorgeous chocolatey moussey pudding brown and has fair captured my heart like you wouldn’t believe…..this is definitely a yarn I’d like to use for a cardigan but I suspect I’d never want to take it off…. it is soft but not like a merino or Bluefaced Leicester, more like the softness underfoot as you step out walking on marashes or meadowland, there’s an ease to the yarn, which after a soak in warm waer becomes even more apparent…..unblocked the stitch definition is good but afterwards the yarn seems to want to felt slightly so the stitches snuggle up to each other, something with a very heavy or defined patttern would be great but as much as anything else, I think just plain stocking stitch for this “I can’t stop touching it” yarn suits it very nicely….this was a woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns.

working the pattern

Llanwenog I knew pretty much nothing about, it’s very dry and crisp, not quite so soft as a Norfolk Horn and much more clean coloured, the stitches were really easy to see and so any stitch pattern was very clear, I think it would be a good yarn for anything with lots of twisting cables….. personally, I found it quite tickley, it’s a fat yarn and although I sort of became used to it pinned under my thermals I didn’t find it as comfortable as the Norfolk Horn, however worn on top of clothes it was warm and toasty and even after rubbing it furiously against itself and wearing it pinned against my side for a week there was no sign of pilling or haziness over the stitches….. so it’s certainly one to consider using for jumpers and cardigans.  I don’t know if anyone is using this in a blend for dye work but it’s such a bright creamy white that I thnk it would be really good, a nice clean base to show off subtle shifts in hue especially with some of those softer plant dyes.

seaweed pattern in North Ronaldsay

Probably one of the most interesting little sheep I’ve learnt about this year have been the North Ronaldsay sheep…they live on the island of Ronaldsay and eat seaweed….. they sound like something from a Joan Aiken story.  I first read about them in “In the Footsteps of Sheep” by Debbie Zawinski and have been quite enchanted with them ever since….

The yarn I’ve been knitting with is a rather robust woollen spun blend by Blacker Yarns but a couple of knitters on Ravelry have said I should try  this blend of North Ronaldsay  from A Yarn from North Ronaldsay… because that seems a lot softer….it’s all to do with how the yarn is prepared, so I’ve got that on my list of yarns I’d like to try next year.

At the moment though my swatch is all ripped back as I’d thought knitting a seaweed stitch pattern would be fun but the yarn seems happier when the stitch pattern is bolder and better defined….however I thought that my stitches made were lovely and plump, very squishy and the fabric knitted was nice and sturdy, basically whatever you knit with this is going to keep you super toasty and snug….I can imagine it would be great for an outdoors jumper or cardigan if you want to wear something warm when you’re gardening but don’t want to wear a million layers, and actually this reminded me so much of my dad’s potting sheds, all those balls of twine slowly uncurling amongst seed potatoes and well oiled trowels and forks…..those fine almost wiry strands of kempy hair lifting and teasing upwards.

dark brown black Jacob

Another favourite I’ve discovered this year has been the Jacob.  I’ve used this in my Nature’s shades shawl and the more times I wear it the softer it feels, also I’ve noticed after wearing it for half an hour or so, there is a soft and sheepy aroma around me which I like very much and it seems to encourage Bernard to jump up on my lap for a cuddle.

One of the lovely things about the Jacob sheep is that their fleece is made up of more than one colour so they are quite distinct looking, from a porridgey cream through a silver grey, a deeper slate grey and then the most chocolately dark brown/grey…..the lighter greys can look a bit cold indoors under artificial lighting, but outside they show up warm and beautiful.

I found the darkest shade a bit difficult to knit with as I found the stitches hard to see (I was trying to be a bit fancy with my choice in stitch pattern so totally my fault not the yarns) and there were a fair few kempy fibres lifting up through the stitches, but I loved how this felt after blocking and it’s definitely a favourite….the Jacob blend I’ve been using is by West Yorkshire Spinners.

detail of light grey Jacob swatch

Actually I noticed the lighter yarn had less kempiness about it, and suspect the porridgey one will have even less……the light grey certainly felt plumper and the knitted swatch seemed a bit more substantial, although this seemed to balance itself out a good deal with washing and blocking.  This is such a nice feeling, warm to the touch yarn to use and the West Yorkshire Spinner’s range of this is really nicely priced if you need to watch what you spend but don’t want to use squeeky acrylic.

Like the Llanwenog I found this yarn has worn really well, (goodness knows what my postman thinks when I open the door and stand there with knitted swatches pinned all over….) no pilling and the knititng fabric just gets softer and nicer to wear…..a cardigan or jumper knitted from this would last for ages and be a first choice in comfort.

I used a lot of Jacob in my Nature’s shades shawl and it was a littel “hello, I’m woolly” when I first started wearing it, over s few weeks of wear it’s become a lot softer and is a pleasure to wrap around myself.

Shetland dk from Naked Wool

Another yarn I’ve bought but have yet to knit with is this wee ball of Shetland yarn from The Shetland Sheep Wool Company….. it smells nice and being yarn from Shetland fleece there is a nice little range of undyed all natural shades.  The company is sort of local as it’s based over the Suffolk/Norfolk border in Bury St Edmunds, however and I only found this out after I’d bought the yarn and started playing about with it, the yarn itself comes from Shetland flocks that live all over the UK ….so the yarn itself is not actually local which is a shame as that is what I felt the packing/branding had implied….. anyway, not the end of the world by anymeans and it will be interesting to see how this Shetland yarn compares to yarn from Shetland based sheep.

It’s been quite a journey of discovery this year, slowly increasing my knitting skills but also gradually becoming aware of the different yarn qualities, which yarn blooms up nice, which wears well, which is tickly and lively, which yarn is quite and soft…. slow step by slow step I’m becoming more considerate in my yarn choices and even in which items I chose to knit.

Coming into knitting from this slightly different view point has really made me fall in love with what I’m able to create with a ball of yarn and a pair (or 3 or 4) pointy sticks, and has given me so many ways of feeling very connected with what it is I’m knitting and what I’m knitting it with.

As always, many many thanks go out to the wonderful team behind Wovember, for their inspiration and enthusiasm for all things truly sheepy and woolly…..and if you can also see what wovember means to other people just here…..

A barley sugar tasting, wild fruit syrup

haws-september-2016

I love foraging for wild fruit, getting to make jams and jellies, fruit crumbles and pies…however last year the blackberries around here were rather scarce and so were the mirabelle plums…. with the help of a couple of excellent wild food books (Richard Mabey’s Food for Free is excellent) I decided to become a bit more adventurous in what I looked at for picking……the hedgerows around where I live are so full of the most beautiful scarlet and vermillion berries with crab apples and wildlings growing nearby that just a slow hour’s amble just up the road and round the way, stopping and picking a few here, a few there, soon produces a colourful basket right full of a wild fruit harvest……   (I’m now on the lookout for a yarn this same heart racing vermilliony red…any suggestions would be much appreciated)

When I’m channelling my inner Catweasel and clambering through the hedges or half up trees I’m often stopped and asked what I’m picking, and what am I going to do etc … the fruit I’m asked about more than any other are haws…… the colour of them can vary slightly, sometimes they are a dark wine red, other times they’re very orange red, but the easiest way to tell what they are is that the leaves are all the same shape, they almost look like tiny oak leaves.. the flesh inside is a bit like an avocado’s, sort of waxy/buttery….and like rose hips they’re super rich in vitamin C so they’re an ideal fruit to use to make a winter syrup……or a surprisingly fruity tasting breakfast preserve.

rowan-berries

Along with the haws I’d ideally throw in a couple of handfuls or so of rowan berries, we have a few trees around here although my favourite tree was picked clean by the birds over the course of a weekend (which will teach me to pick some a bit earlier next year)….they’re such a fantastic and bright colour, a gorgeous vintage lipstick red … I understand there’s a lot of rowan berries up in Scotland this year, so you could easily just use rowan and apple for the syrup if you don’t live near any hawthorns.

The village where I live is actually a suburb on the edge of Norwich (though I think everyone who lives here will say it’s a village) which was originally farmland and orchards, I suppose that’s why we have so many established hedgerows and lots of fruit trees, every so often I notice a new apple tree or a damson, but generally we’ve got crab apples and wildlings(apple trees), cherrys,pears,mirabelle plums and then sloes, rose-hips, haw and rowans, dotted around all over……

apples-and-rosehips

The Winter syrup is really easy to make…..all the fruit will need a wash and clean, I trim the bottom off the haws and if the flesh inside looks at all brown then I just throwto that one in the compost bin, only use the fruit that is a lovely creamy yellow inside.

Ingredients

500 -750 g of red wild fruit (haws, rowan berries, rosehips….a selection is good but 1 or 2 is fine….use less haws to rowan and rosehps just because they’re fiddlier to pick and are a bit pfaffy to prepare)

2 – 2.5  kilo of wild apples (they tend to be a bit “oooh” sharp and tart when you bite into them.

granulated sugar

large jam pan

glass bottles for preserving

Preparing the fruit

Wash all the fruit, cut the bottom off the haws to check the flesh inside, put into the pan and for every  100g of red fruit you want to use 75 ml of cold water…..  bring to a boil, turn down the heat and gently simmer for about half an hour/ fourty five minutes or so until the fruit becomes very soft.

I tend to prep and cook the haws first as they are rather fiddly, let them start cooking first then the rose hips if I’m using them, and finally the rowan berries….rose hips are topped and tailed then popped into the jam pan, rowans are given a rinse, remove the stalk then into the pan…..

Once the red fruit has all cooked, turn off the heat, and allow to cool before straining through a jam bag (I use an old cotton pillow case that is kept just for this purpose) and collect the juice…..

While the juice is straining chop up the apples, you won’t want the stalk or very bottom of the apple in the pan, but you can put in the cores as long as they look okay, chop up  into quarters (conker size) and for every 100g of apples you want 65 ml of water…..  you can also pop in a couple of star anise “stars” and a couple of cloves…. bring to the boil and then simmer for about half an hour – 45 mins.

Unless you have room for two drip drip drip jelly bags, then you’ll need to empty the pulp from the bag (save it into a big bowl, don’t put it in the compost just yet), rinse out the bag and then put the cooked apple into it……

Strain the apples and collect the juice.

Now using both lots of left over fruit pulp, weigh the combined pulp and to each 100 g of pulp use 100 ml of water…. simmer for about 15 minutes and then strain and allow to drip… depending on pets you can let this drip over night.  (you can also squeeze the bag if you want, the syrup won’t be quite so clear but it’ll still taste as nice and you’ll just be able to make more)

Making the Syrup

Measure out the juice, for every 500 ml of juice you’ll need 250 g of granulated sugar.

Bring the juice to a gentle boil, sort of when it just starts to burp and hiccup….then carefully add the sugar, stir well and bring up to a rolling boil…. you want the syrup to be at a good rolling boil for about 7 or so minutes…. very carefully pour into sterilised preserving bottles… (a ladle or measuring jug and a metal bottle funnel are really useful at this stage)

I find the syrup keeps best in a cool place pretty much for all the Winter, once the bottle is opened you’ll want to use it up within about 10 days…it’s nice taken like a throat syrup off a spoon but if you pour it into a cup and add hot water then it’s a nice soothing and fruity tea which if you have a cold is very welcome.

Tips

While this is perfectly possible to make by yourself, prepping the fruit is faster and less tiresome if you’re chatting with some company…. when you empty the cooked fruit into a jelly bag (or pillow-case) soak and squeeze out the jelly bag, the juice won’t drip properly if the bag is dry…also empty the cooked fruit into the bag with the jelly bag in another large bowl or second jam pan…..(if not it’ll go all over the floor or work surface)… depending on how much pulp you’re straining, it’s often easier for one person to hold the bag in place just above the pan to collect the juice, while someone else strings it up.

If you’re using an old cotton pillowcase, use it inside out and chop off the bit htat tucks in on itself…that way the pulp won’t stick all around the seams.