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.

 

 

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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.

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.

Golden stitches, sheepy scents and apple cake….

garter stitch ridges

Bit of a grim weekend weatherwise though the January sun peeped out for a couple of hours this morning…and along with the sunshine came the kittens from next door…..they move away soon and while I’ll be sad to see Bernard’s playmates leave, when you have half a dozen extra cats digging around in your garden then it can get a bit frustrating…vegetables have been dug up, salad leaves re-planted umpteen times, polyester covers slid down and torn…even the protective green plastic wire we put round the cavalo nero has been dug under…..

Yesterday I made a weekend favourite, an apple and spice cake that I’ve began to make by adding some ground almonds to it, I completely forgot to set the timer but I think I rescued it in time.

 

soft and drapey stitches

So while the garden has been invaded with the catkins of mischief, the shawl has slowly been growing….

I’m now about to start on the edge of the shawl, it’s a bit more complicated to work so my stitch markers are essential to keep track of where I’m up to…..the shawl is knitting up bigger than my first attempt, it’s coming up all drapey and is starting to weigh a far amount when it’s on my lap.

 

mustardy coloured wool from Jamieson and Smith

I really like the little clover-leaf pattern, it’s quite dainty and it’s nice to work.  I’ve also been going through my big old Harmony stitch guide for other patterns that I could use instead for when I knit this up again…..

garter stitch edging

And I love how the edge of the shawl that goes round your neck is worked, I’m quite tempted to run some ribbon through the holes that are formed.

The wool is also softening up no end while I’m knitting, the constant handing of the shawl while it’s being moved through my fingers maybe, it’s just feeling so bouncy and wonderful to hold.. .and an extra bonus is while I work on it it’s keeping my lap beautifully warm.

Even on the most miserable weather days this gorgeous colour is so up-lifting to my heart, never failing to make me smile and feel happy.

stripes of stocking stitch with clover leaf pattern

And I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that Bernard has been sniffing around it, while he’s been remarkably good while I’ve been do the actual knitting and hasn’t run off with any balls of wool (which is his normal way when I’ve used tapestry wool or been making little acryllic crochet squares), instead he’s cuddled up to the balls, resting his head on them with his nose pressed up close ….tiny nostrils quiver and purrs with the sheepy aroma….however, he has a real fondness for shawls and blankets, deciding any that are made belong to him.  The last couple of evenings have seen him shuffling up closer and closer, if I put the knitting down to put the kettle on, he makes good use of the opportunity and stretches out, paddy pawing gently and purring with pleasure.  Goodness knows what he’ll be like when it’s time to block it.

And for a wee Bernard update, he’s doing okay, we had a visit to the vets late last week and for now we’re keeping a close watch on his paws to check if any new lumps appear…he’s got a bit of a chesty cough at the mo which for now I’m treating with a nightly masage with chamomile essential oil….but if the cough is still there at the end of this coming week then it’s back to the vet for an x-ray just to be on the safe side.

 

Wrinkled apples and the sound of my knitting…..

jamieson and smith aran wool knitted up using 6mm needles

The cupboards were getting a bit bare of basics after the holidays so I had to pop down to the shops at the start of the week, after a proper damp,dull and dismal weekend weather wise, which was actually a rather nice one for us…boyfriend spent the time stripping his computer and tinkering with it on the table and I sat on the sofa half watching old black and white films while knitting my shawl with Bernard asleep in a windowsill or on the back of the nana chair supervising… Monday surprised us by being really bright, and splendid, all clear blue skies and birds chirping.  It properly felt like the start of a brand New Year,  clean and fresh and brimming full of potential and who know whats.

Walks to the shop involve strolling past the crab apple trees, skeletal and nubbly limbed with the odd mouldering leaf or fruit attached to twiggy tips.  I’m so happy I made the syrups and jellies with the apples, it feels like I’ve captured a small piece of warm September, all orange sunshine and sweetness.  Across the path are some bigger apple trees in a neighbours garden,a few wrinkled old apples still remain on bare leafed and gnarly branches, vinegary scented ghosts of Autumn, flame red, amber and golden yellow…..they’re the same yellow as my shawl.

stitch markers along the patterned section

I love this golden mustard hue so much, evocative of so many things I see out on my marshy meanders, yellow bottomed bees, gorse and broom blossoms when it’s all overcast, October leaves and lichen on trees and the goldenrod that grows in abundance around my favourite blackberry bush…..it’s such a warm colour and will even match my Ella Gordon gloves….As it’s wool the colour seems that much more warm, it’s a strong colour but it’s such a natural and familiar one, not eye aching and somewhat vomity coloured like some acrylics I’ve seen…..

As the shawl widens, rows become slower to knit and progress seems to dawdle along, but each time I get up to make tea I can see the fabric gradually growing.  When I knitted the shawl the first time I didn’t have a whole lot of idea as to what I was doing and whethe ri was knitting it wrong, so I kept close watch on the number of stitches each row had, writing down how many increases the pattern was making each time a new row was finished…and after a while I began to be able to count and work out how many sttiches I should expect to have on my needles……

stitch markers help me keep my place

When I first knitted the cloverleaf pattern I was rather worried I’d lose count and tied in bits of old wool every sequence of pattern, and that worked fine but I thought using beaded sttich markers might be a bit nicer….and I like the weight the beads give to the feel of my knitting (it’s the same with my pens, I always favour the heaviest lumpiest old fountain pens to anything lightweight and streamlined.)

glass bead stitch markers

Some Christmases ago my boyfriend bought me a box of delights, a little leather suitcase full brimming with vintage haberdashery pieces…along with a pair of beautifully sharp embroidery scissors and Dewhurst Sylko threads, were no end of little boxes and tins, and I felt rather like Howard Carter opening them all to see what was hiding inside…”wonderful things”…… one of the tins of wonderful things held a collection of glass beads all strung in a higgedly piggedly way, and I’ve always wanted to use them but have never really known what to make with them…..a lot of my fancy sewing or knitting notions have been presents from friends, family, people I  love who I straight away think of when I use these pieces….and so I thought to make some stitch markers with the beads then I’d be using them plenty rather than have them just sit all tucked away and half forgotten.

home made stitch markers

I was going to use jump rings as I’ve already got some stitch markers that use those, but they do snag a little if I’m not super careful, luckily the Jamieson and Smith wool is nice and robust and can cope with the odd catch or snag but I wouldn’t want to use those markers on anything too delicate..then I remembered an old jewelry fixing I had kept and ferreted away from a broken necklace, it was part of a toggle clasp and I thought it would be perfect, so I bought a little packet of them and spent some time over the holidays making stitch markers from the beads…so now when I use them I think of my boyfriend but also Ian* and his dirty little hands as I suspect it was him who had threaded up the beads originally.

The little head pins I used were from a local bead shop and they have tiny silver pearls at the bottom of the pin which fitted up against the beads perfectly…I’ve found the toggle clasps fit up to a 6mm needle fine….they feel so nice to use, and really do help me stop making some silly mistakes with my knitting.

What with the shuffling rapsy sound of the wool and the soft wooden resonance of my needles, the jingling of the markers is making me feel and sound somewhat like a one man band when I’m knitting…..

 

*inside the sewing box was a piece of carefully preserved card with rows of brightly coloured wool sewn in a running stitch…on the back was a note from a very proud grandma…..it’s become one of my most beloved treasures and I wouldn’t part with it for the world.

 

A sheepy scented shawl…warning there’s waffling…

garter stitch edging along the open sky shawl

Wishing you all a most marvelous New Year, fingers crossed it’s a year over brimming with happiness, laughter, good times all round…we can but only hope and do our best…after what was at first a bit of a rubbishy start to the Christmas holidays, we actually had a nice, restful break, just the three of us, some old tv box-sets including all the lovely BBC Narnia Chronicles which I don’t think I’d actually seen in their entirety before.

Christmas Day afternoon saw me sitting on the sofa with a fat pot of tea by my side, and after a deep breath, and big hug to give a last fond farewell I began un-ravelling my Open Sky shawl…as readers of my blog know, I’ve pretty much just learn to knit, while I could do very simple garter stitch or stocking stitch for dishcloths though even then I needed a lot of quiet and if mistakes were made then everything would have to be un-ravelled and I’d just have to start all over again…..this all began to change at the end of the Summer, after deciding it wasn’t very likely a fairy godmother was going to magically appear and swoosh her wand, if I was going to learn how to knit I’d better start by practising and teaching myself…so with the help of an old Harmony knitting guide I slowly began to cast on, and generally just have a little play to see what I could do…and you know what…something seemed to just click and my knitting looked okay.

Then I fell in love, hook, line and sinker…I saw this shawl on Instagram and was right on the verge of asking a very kind knitting friend if she’d be able to knit if for me, then I stopped and thought, no, I wanted it so bad I thought I’d just have a try and knit it myself.

 

garter stitch and clover leaf

So I bought the pattern, and slowly cast on to began to knit the shawl…it felt amazing knitting it myself…the best way to describe it was like when you first learn to ride a bike, turning round to see your dad isn’t holding your seat anymore and you’re actually cycling all by yourself….wheeeee.

And that’s just how I still feel to be honest, I still can’t believe the slowly growing fabric in my lap is something I’ve knitted, there’s a pattern in the stitches, holes that are meant to be there and it doesn’t look like something the cat has coughed up (my first attempt at crochet looked particularly grim).

increases and a woolly haze

 

The wool I used was from Jamieson and Smith, I’d bought one of their shade-cards at the start of the year and had been half dreaming of making something with their wool, though back then it had been crocheting an edging for my grannies paperweight blanket.  The wool I’ve chosen for the shawl was their Shetland Aran, which sadly is now discontinued but I’ve just checked their site and they still have some left and the colour range is so nice.

It feels lovely to use, it sounds quite raspy and shuffly as it moves through my fingers and over the needles….and when I’ve needed to un-ravel then it holds the stitches very well so I can slip my needle back in before they slip away to the row underneath.

Finally I cast off the last stitch and had hoped to be all Isadora Duncan and be shawl flinging and dancing around…and ended up half near strangled, I’d knitted up the shawl far too tight and hadn’t even thought to do a gauge/tension swatch…So I was a bit cross with myself but wasn’t going to give up quite yet.  I’d already made some mistakes while knitting, and for the most part learnt to correct them myself….actually I learnt to correct all my mistakes…to begin with I’d un-knit the row and keep count of the stitches, and before too long I could see what I’d done wrong…then one of those lovely serendipitous moments happened, I found the funniest video by Stephen West…and was determined to not be a waffle or a quitter.

(Actually I wrote a lot more about this just here)

Open sky shawl in Jamieson and smith wool

I’m not sure if Bernard thought all the un-ravelling was the greatest game in the world, he pretty much buried himself under the wool and made the loudest purrs….then Boxing Day I got up very early and began to cast on the shawl again.  When I knew I’d knitted the first shawl wrong, I made some swatches with the remaining wool in a series of different needle sizes, and am thinking I’m a bit of a tight old knitter.  The pattern has called for a 5mm needle but to get the gauge asked for I’m having to knit using a 6mm.  I sort of twigged I wasn’t going to have enough wool so bought 4 more balls before Christmas, thinking any left over can be used in a hat or pair of wrist warmers.

When I began trying to cast back on I kept getting in a bit of a pickle and after I think the third attempt decided to start off with one of the rich sheepy scented new balls then work in the un-ravelled wool as I progressed…… I think I spent nearly all the holidays on the sofa with a gradually increasing shawl and a big pot of tea never that far away….and yes, there’s been a few mistakes, often daft ones where I wasn’t paying attention…and after knitting up some swatches for the Knit British British Breed Swatch KAL over on Ravelry, I’ve gained a bit more confidence so at one point where I’d made a mistake about 15 rows earlier, I just went “oh do it”, slipped out my needles and just un-ravelled….just down to where I needed, and then carefully, picked up my stitches and carried on, quite happily with a rather impressed looking boyfriend sitting beside me.  (okay, I like to think he looked impressed, but I suspect the reality was he thought I was a loon for un-ravelling as he couldn’t tell where a mistake had even been made.)

open shawl pattern with stitch markers

Something I’ve found helps me keep my place better is to use plenty of stitch markers, and almost every row they’ve saved my bacon as the odd yo or psso seems to get forgotten about.

I love this wool so much, it smells so good, and I can’t help think of that as the “baa ram ewe” factor….I’ve tested one of my swatches by pinning it under my thermals to see how it is against my skin, and while there is a first ripple of feeling something there, it’s not unpleasant and once I’ve made this shawl I’ll certainly be thinking of something else to knit with it next…..I’m hoping there’ll be enough wool left to knit a matching beret style hat or something.  I’ve also tied pinning a swatch to my clothing to see how it wears and it’s still looking good so I’m thinking this would be rather splendid for a cardigan.

I’m thinking my knitting looked nicer when I used a smaller needle, my original shawl was knitted on a 4mm needle (which explains why it was so tight), the wool is rather less forgiving on the larger needles, but I’m sure it’s going to look grand when it’s wrapped round me a few times.

Sorry for waffling away, I’m just so happy to be knitting this shawl again (and it’s feeling a long more drapey and shoulder flingy than the first one.)

 

No twirlin’ in the streets just yet……

Open Sky Shawl end of row 6

Well the shawl is finished…sort of.  But sadly there’s no tah dah moment or pictures of me twirling that shawl like someone in a Stephen West video…..it’s not come out right (totally my fault not the pattern) and …deep sigh….I’m feeling more like a dropped stitch as I’m going to have to un-ravel it.  I’m writing this rather shoulder slumped as I’m a bit disappointed but at the same time I know it’s really not the end of the world.

row 9 of shawl

Firstly I’ve gained so much knitting confidence this past month, and the fact I’ve even got a shawl to un-ravel is actually pretty good in my book.  This was my first time on circular needles which I’d always been a bit worried about using in the past…now I love them and am currently testing a few different interchangeable ones to see which I prefer.

Open Sky Shawl row 17

In the past when I’ve made mistakes and knitted stitches wrong I’ve normally just unravelled everything regardless of how many rows I’d knitted, but while knitting the shawl I’ve been learning to correct any wrong stitches made, slowly but steadily un-knitting stitch by stitch, figuring out how to work back and make that y/o or psso I’ve missed…. and apart for a couple of phone calls to my lovely friend Anne I’ve been able to solve any errors myself, in the past when I was trying to knit a tea cosy she regularly got to see a fat woolly lump of knitting and was told “it’s all gone wrong” and she’d magically sort it out….

Ahhh the tea cosy….perhaps this is the best place to start with what has gone wrong with the shawl…some years ago when I first met Anne she showed me a lovely tea cosy she’d made from a pattern in a Family Circle magazine, it’s brilliant… she lent me the pattern to try and knit one myself as I’d said I’d like to try knitting it….how hard could it be……first up I didn’t have any skinny 4 ply wool wool but I did have some lovely pure wool Aran wool I’d bought for pence in a charity shop so began to knit on that….any knitters reading this will now be shaking their head and if you don’t knit….well it’s like being told to put on a delicate ballet slipper and you turn up with gre’t big old clod hopper work boots……unsurprisingly the “tea cosy” soon became a little (cough cough) larger than I’d expected.  When I’d substituted Aran for the 4 ply I had no idea that the size would change so much….no, I don’t know what I was thinking…probably not thinking at all….

open sky shawl in scotch brrom end of row 41

And it’s a similar story with the shawl….. I’ve used an Aran weight wool and on the label of the original wool I started with it said 4 mm needle, but the pattern suggested a worsted weight wool on a 5 mm…..for some reason I ‘d thought that Aran was a finer wool and worsted was like chunky bulky or whatever…but in fact Aran is just a cat’s whisker bigger than the worsted so knitting it on a smaller needle was so not the right thing to be doing for a nice drapey shawl…and so what I’ve got is some pretty sturdy old fabric which doesn’t have a lot of drape as I’ve knitted it up so tight.  I spoke to Anne yesterday and she asked me about the gauge…Gauge…poop….I hadn’t even thought to do that.  I hadn’t really thought about how  when you knit you’re really creating an actual fabric and before you start knitting your “item” you really need to knit up a swatch so you can check how many stitches you’re making to the inch, I hadn’t done this, so had knitted away quite merrily without realizing something wasn’t quite right……

marked where I missed a yarn over and will pick up in the next row

Now I’m doing what I should have done in the first place, knitting up a swatch piece on bigger needles and the knitted fabric seems much more bouncy (my poor old squashed stitches will breath a sigh of relief once they’re unravelled)….

Auld Gold joins Scotch Broom

So while I may not yet be twirlin’ down the road with a hand knitted shawl draped round me, I’m not too down hearted. I’ve learnt loads these past few weeks, knowing that I can follow a pattern, trying new stitches, just believing in my own ability to do something woolly….yes, it would have been nice to have something to show now for all the hours spent knitting, but in a way I’ll be doing that when I knit the next one. …I truly believe every cloud has a silver lining so yeah I’m feeling a little bit sad but nothing a pot of fancy tea won’t cheer.

Knitting it again also means I’ll be able to just use the Jamieson and Smith wool so the shawl will be a gorgeous streak of “auld gold” rather than a mix of two mustard yellows (I’d started the shawl using a flecked yellow from Jamieson’s of Shetland then switched to the gold from Jamieson and Smith) …..learning to do something properly doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and patience and I’m happy to take it slowly…..and those early morning moments with Bernard’s paws perched on the edge of my knee have been lovely…..though I could have done without the times he played his little trumpet and produced a most unpleasant smell.

Scotch Broom and Auld Gold

*the “tea cosy” is currently all bundled up in the top of a cupboard however I’m planning to ferret it out once all the craft fairs are over and then to knit up some swatches to determine how many stitches I’ll need to knit the roof (the original pattern uses DK and if I double up the Aran It’s going to be far too fat for my fingers to cope with so perhaps a little tweaking is in order…..I’d quite like to see the size of tea pot it would now fit, but am thinking it’ll make a rather nice cushion for the sofa.

Because I’m not a waffle or a quitter……

Open Sky shawl knitted in a mustard coloured wool

In a few more weeks it’ll be a mad flurry of Craft Fairs so daytime knitting has been put on the back burner, though I’m still getting up early to have those first precious hours of the day to myself….slowly waking up with my knitting on my lap, a big pot of tea by my side and generally Bernard squidged up alongside me.

Once we’ve eaten in the evening then the hours before bed count as knitting time as well…but mostly the time I seem to be enjoying the most is first thing in the morning and I think I make less mistakes then too…..the most I’ve had to un-knit has been 4 rows (when there’s over 150 stitches on your needle it’s liable to make you feel a bit cross when you have to unknit 4 rows but not as cross as when there are 225 and not 226…one stitch at a time and mistakes are sorted out and slowly I’m gaining more confidence…I’ve now made a Pinterest board of lovely knits I’d like to make rather than just dream about making, noticing delicate stitch patterns that I recogonize has made me so happy and has given me another small boast  to feeling I can do this.

close up of my Open Sky shawl

The shawl is coming along fine…..I’ve now knitted up the main part and though it’s a bit tricky wrapping it round myself in case it comes off the needles, it is very nice to hold up to my face and breath in….I know I keep mentioning this with the Jamieson and Smith wool but it smells so wonderful, all warm sheepyness….this is wool that has been grown (I’ve just read the latest Wovember post which is why I say grown) and feels real, alive….rich and beautifully tactile….not the softest billow of fluff and air but exciting and so touchable……

In many ways this wool is reminding me of the quilt I made the other year for my beloved one….the fabric chosen wasn’t the prettiest, all brown woven Japanese linens and the patchwork was very simple, big squares which I was inspired to make in part by paper framed walls inside traditional Japanese homes, and also being practical because the fabric frayed like the devil……the patchwork was then laid over wool wadding and hand quilted using the baptist fan pattern, chosen because of the similarites to a Japanese design I’d seen at the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge on a piece of ceramics……nearly a mile of quilting thread later and it was finished…..running my fingertips over the fabric, and bumps and ridges of the quilting is one of my greatest pleasures….even now it’s still something that I love to do….and this wool makes me think of that so much……

The yellow I chose isn’t as bright as the Scotch Broom, and doesn’t have the same flecks of colour in it, tiny daubs of gold and mustard, in fact it’s a much more flat colour, (a bit like a screen printed poster by Henri de Toulouse Lautrec for the Moulin Rouge) nor is it so floppy and drapey once it’s knitted up, however there is something about it that my hands can’t leave alone……and then there is the heavenly waft of sheepy aroma everytime I pick it up and cuddle it on my lap ready to knit some more.

Scotch Broom and Auld Gold

If you’ve not headed over to Wovember yet then you are missing out on so much sheepy wool reading….there’s about 3 posts a day and the day is started off with pictures of the dreamiest little lambkins, yesterday there were pictures of some rams (or tups…one was called Boris which made me laugh out loud so much…)…the posts are a brilliant mix of “oohh lambkins” but also the realiities of life on a farm (a caesarian birth), some background history about wool (wool smuggling was great to read about)…and also some places where you can source your wool if you want to buy it from a small producer…buying wool in this way must make such a huge difference to the people who “grow” it….I know myself how nice it is when things I’ve made sell, all my hard work isn’t in vain, and stories of how peoples children won’t go to bed without their quilt or cuddle blanket makes me fair beam, so it must be the same for the people who work so hard caring for their sheep, and having people be all excited and wanting to give them money for their beautiful fleeces must be very rewarding.

This past month has been full of small moments, coincidences that have come together in a most serendipitous way….practising those small samples and swatchs…seeing Andrea’s shawl on Instagram and losing my heart, reading Felix’s piece about British wool, and the articles she links to, finding out about Knit British and then the wonderful wonderful Wovember itself …..(whenever I say wonderful wonderful I can’t help but hear this in my head…)

someone is a fan of wool shawls

Early morning moments with Bernard so wedged in close to me he’s often half in my lap…(he’s currently obsessed with a shop bought shawl I wear first thing as the house is a bit nippy…he reaches up and half pulls it off me then tunnels himself under it to make a little nest….within minutes there is the sound of him snoring and thankfully he’s been a lot less windy so he’s not too bad smell wise)…we’ve had a few words about the milk jug and how it’s not for him to dab his paw into ….he thinks otherwise and my fingers are now all scratched to tell the story.

As I mentioned at the top there’s been a couple of minor mistakes, nothing some quiet time couldn’t mend, and where as before it would all have been unravelled, I’m learning more and feel confident to take a step back, study my knitting and think “what the bue blazes is wrong here”….however yesterday there was a bit of a melt down moment…I’d just started knitting the edge section, and the boyfriend was talking to me and I had stitches on both needles, stood up went over and found what he was looking for, and then when I sat back down thought something didn’t look right….I think I’d knitted 2 stitches together (on purpose non knitting readers) but had caught up part of the stitch below (not what I had wanted to do) so I un-knitted but then in trying to fix my stitches I thought I’d dropped some stitches so was picking up all over the place then realized the yarn was still like 3 or 4 stitches back on the left needle…..I had no idea what I’d done or whether everything was now “ruined…I’m so stupid…it’s all ruined”…

The next hour saw the biggest strop, tears in the kitchen and a wobbly voiced phone message to my friend Anne (she knits me socks so I call her Queen of Knitters…she’s been knitting since she was 5, when she was 12 knitted herself a jumper while watching the 1966 World Cup when England won….I think she’s brilliant and though we met only about 5 years ago by happenstance she’s become one of my dearest friends)…then I had a bath (a few more tears and sniffly noses)…..and I calmed down…..and thought to look at a few of my favourite knitty instagramers…..

then I saw this…..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwmfP0PNOLg……….   Totally brilliant, very funny and I had to play it a couple of times so I could sing along to it……then spoke to Anne and she said if I’d dropped a stitch I’d have a ladder…didn’t have one so she advised counting all the stiches, knitting back and if I wasn’t able to fix it she’s come round at the weekend……another listen to Stephen West…..felt my knitting mojo returning and then carefully counted the stitches on the left needle (which hadn’t been played about with), then really looked at the rest of the knitting, tracing up to where the stitches form and I saw where something looked a bit not quite right…..unknitted up to that point and with a crochet hook and a piece of string acting as a lifeline (just in case)…picked up dropped the offending lump on my needle…….gave the knitting a gentle little tug and no ladder……so I hadn’t dropped a stitch at all but had created one while scrabbling about getting stitches on to my needles…then I knitted everything back and you wouldn’t have known there had been an upset just an hour or so earlier……..

So thank you Anne for your wonderful knitty advice and thank you Stephen West for making me laugh and reminding me I’m not a waffle or a quitter. (I’m just waiting now to put on my shawl and do a twirl)

While the lark is still sleeping and the sheepy scent of my knitting……

I missed a psso

For the past week I’ve been waking at five, “up like the lark” but I suspect quite this early the lark will still be sleeping if it has any sense…. quickly pulling on as many layers as possible (we’ve not put the heating on yet so the house is a bit nippy) and then I creep down the stairs trying not to step on Bernard or trip up as he runs down the stairs along side me, it’s bad enough in the daytime when I can see properly…..I try not to turn too many lights on while my boyfriend is still sleeping…I light the gas under the kettle and the day’s first pot of tea gets made, then it’s into the front room, make myself comfy on the sofa, big shawl goes round me and Bernard then jumps up and squidges himself next to me on a cushion I have to plump and lay flat for him, he sort of tunnels under the shawl so its half pulled off me and covers him so he looks like a little grandma but as long as he’s happy….then I pick up my knitting and lose myself for the next couple of hours in the gentle, rhythm of making stitches ……

two shades of yellow

The absolute joy and feeling of contentment I’m finding in this early hours knitting is worth the first few minutes of feeling cold and a bit sleepy eyed…if I sneakily try and fit in a few hours in the day time for knitting I feel a bit guilty as that’s my allotted time for making items for craft fairs and commissions, but these early morning moments belong to no-one but me.  If I make a mistake I don’t get fraught, stitches are un-knitted back to where yo’s didn’t happen or they happened in the wrong place….it’s all good practise and I’m becoming more familiar with how my stitches are supposed to look,

This is my knitting time, no music or background noise apart from odd sounds the house makes while it’s quiet….it’s good for allowing the jumble of ideas in my head a quiet place to settle and sort themselves, shift and slowly come together……I tend to always keep a little notebook nearby to jot down new thoughts, scribbles and thumbnails, not all of them will be made but jotting them down allows space for more that may…….

Auld Gold joins Scotch Broom

To me, progress on the Open Sky shawl is going remarkably well….however I’m all too aware I’m not a fast knitter but I’m getting better and can now knit while a film is on…before it was only with quiet or gentle music…..nothing too rocking or stitches would fall rather than fly off my needles…..there’s been a few mistakes and I’ve unknitted a few rows…..sometimes it’s easy to see what I’ve done….I’d missed a pass one over (or what I think of as a leap frog stitch) and had knitted over the row before realizing my mistake….the stitch count was off and I slowly, carefully counted along and then saw what I’d done, so the top row was un-knitted then I marked with a piece of spare tapestry wool where I’d erred….at first I thought I was going to have to unknit half that row too but then thought about how the psso was formed, felt a bit foolish for un-knitting half a row before that I hadn’t needed to, and managed to fix the mistake…….seeing how the stitches sit is much easier on the cable between the needles and I’m rapidly loving knitting on circular needles……at the moment I’m in the process of buying a few odd interchangeable needles and cables, testing out which ones feel most comfortable before buying a fancy set.

Auld Gold and Scotch Broom

Once the Scotch Broom wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland had ran out I joined in the what I think of as Auld Gold from Jamieson and Smith…the most noticable difference (apart from a change in colour which I’m fine with…it just makes me think more of the different colour lichens I see on our walks, or the pastures of yellow and gold in the Summer…) is the scent.  A warm sheepy wonderfulness sits like a mist or a fog over my knitting…and as I fold and wrap over my knitting once the sun is up, then the smell permeates the first wool….

I wasn’t 100% sure how to join the wools together so I sort of felted them (I tried using a bit of spit and rubbing them in my hand but that didn’t really work so I used a dab of Ecouver laundry liquid and a little warm water and rubbed and twisted for a minute or so then let the wool dry…..it’s a little bit fatter where the two wools join together but once it’s knitted in I think it looks fine and you can’t really see where the joins are….there are flecks of other yellows and gold in the Scotch Broom and while on one hand I wish I’d had more of that for the whole scarf, I am loving using the Jamieson and Smith wool so much…I keep smelling it, sticking my nose right in to the centre of a ball and inhaling, closing my eyes and just drifting off into sheepy scented bliss…..this is real wool…..

I like the bands of pattern between the stocking stitch

Actually it’s my experience with using this wonderful, tactile and gloriously scented wool that has got me to re-think completely any future wool purchases…..you can blame all this on the latest Knitsonik post...I got so excited and all inspired and fired up after reading what Felix had written…it fitted in so much with how I’d been feeling after knitting with the Jamieson and Smith wool…I guess I’d only been thinking about that first touchy wonderful softness of wool without giving any of the rest of it much thought…..(when I’ve crocheted I’ve used brightly coloured acrylic* for granny square blankets, or vintage tapestry wool, when I made Tif’s warm and woolly scarf last year it was with more fancy wools** but though they were soft were sadly completley scentless)…….over the past few days I’ve been reading as much as I can…about Wo-vember and knitting with British breeds, along with a post by Rachel Atkinson that made me so furious and heartbroken all at the same time…. this just can’t be right.

Although I’ve not been doing it for long, I’ve fallen pretty hard for knitting….(even think my beloved one is liking it as I’m not dropping any pins on the carpet for him to stand in)….it’s such a beautiful tactile world of delights for the senses…wool looks so beautiful, even the simplest stocking stitch looks gorgeous with real wool, stroke your fingers over it and there’s a whole world of delicate pleasures for your fingertips…or drape what you’re knitting around your shoulders…warm and wooly and safe and comforting…..the sound of knitting, whether it’s that low, deep like a cat purr sound of wooden needles or a lighter clickety click of metal needles, the coarse swoosh of wool being pulled up from the ball and onto your needles….and the scent…..when it’s sheepy it’s eye closingly wonderful…….

I’m currently trying to source what I think of as “prapah lohcol woohl” (my Suffolk accent now tinged with Norfolk) so I can join in the British breed swatch along with wool both British and local.

* I’ve never had much joy knitting with acrylic, it’s so squeeky and I end up knitting it so tight.  I’ve found it better for crochet blankets for little nieces that can be thrown in the wash if they get dirty…but my palete is getting more refined and even for crochet I now prefer using wool…tapestry wool is a cheap option if your’e making blankets.  I’m always seeing bags of it in charity shops and vintagey tit tat junk shops…do check for moth though a lot is “moth treated” apparently…..

** I used some balls of Rowan tweed that I’d had left over from some other projects and some Artesano dk wool that was like a woolly cloud.