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I have difficulty expressing gratitude adequately, especially verbally. I’m much more comfortable with material or practical gestures, than with words. Knitting, and particularly lace knitting, has given me a perfect vehicle for occasions in nothing short of an epic poem is needed! The process of knitting a lace shawl is meditative and measured; often increasing in complication as the pattern grows and expands. I love every stage of shawl knitting – the choosing, the swatching, the confidence of the first few rows, the methodical body work, and the breathless anxiety of the last few rows. It is a labour of love, and this one was finished last week as an 80th birthday gift.

Moonlight Shawl

Pattern: Moonlight Sonata Shawl, by Shui Kuen Kozinski.

Yarn: Garthenor Organic Shetland Single Ply Laceweight, in ‘Fawn’.

Needles: 3mm KnitPro Symfonie circulars.

(Ravelry link)

Verdict:  I loved knitting this shawl. The sunspot motif is bolder than most lace knitting I’ve done, and is easy to ‘read’ and memorize. (Although there isn’t a ‘plain’ knitting row in the whole pattern).  The shawl is shaped at the neck to fit shoulders more comfortably, and the back curves gently (which I prefer to a sharp point). I used a thinner yarn than the pattern recommends, so I worked 12 repeats of the pattern instead of 10. The pattern is clearly written and comprehensive, and a great introduction to shaped Faroese-style shawls.

The yarn is also wonderful: a balanced single in a blend of natural colours, with subtle shading. The Shetland wool gives the shawl considerable substance and warmth, despite the lightness of the fabric. And the slight stickiness of the yarn meant that I only used one lifeline, and could easily pick up any dropped stitches.

I would have done without even that one lifeline, except that one of the tips of my KnitPro circulars popped out of its cable, causing me to scramble to catch the dozen or so escapist stitches. I stuck the tip back in with some superglue, and haven’t had any more incidents. I’ve read that this problem may be quite widespread in KnitPro/KnitPicks, but I think that the needles are lovely enough to risk it.Moonlight Shawl

As usual with deadline knitting, I put in several frantic hours in the last week in order to finish on time! Having exhausted all my favourite podcasts early on in this project, I searched out a new source of background media – and settled on the many wonderful lectures available at the TED site. I strongly recommend these if you like to knit while listening to interesting words: the lectures are mostly 15-20 minutes long, and on subjects as diverse as bacterial chemical communication, new ways of looking at poverty statistics, and futuristic robotic design. (A favourite was Margaret Wertheim’s lecture on using crochet to illustrate hyperbolic geometry).

The shawl was a joy to knit and was well liked by the recipient. It’s gratifying to see that, as a means of communicating affection and gratitude, lace knitting is as eloquent and complex as any language.

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A few weeks ago, exhausted and grouchy, and thinking “Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life?” we escaped our responsibilities for a few days. We’ve returned, refreshed and rounder of girth, after a relaxing break.

We wanted to get as far as our (pretty meagre) resources would take us, so we aimed for the edge of Europe, for the city that has one foot in Asia – Istanbul.

Istanbul

Although we were only there for four days, we managed to cram our time full of incredible experiences, sights and tastes. Byzantine and Ottoman architecture dominates the city, an order of magnitude greater than the shops and apartments that line the narrow streets. Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet were particularly stunning, as was the tiny church of St Saviour in Chora – crammed full of exquisite mosaics and frescoes. The bazaars were saturated with colour and texture, and we overcame our inhibitons enough to barter for some goodies. We ate until we were full, and walked until our feet hurt – and then hopped on a ferry to explore the city by water.  (More photos of our trip here).

Kürkçü Han: wool seller

I even managed to do a spot of yarn shopping (!). The winding streets between the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar are lined with shops and informal stalls where many of the locals buy and sell their wares. A narrow opening from Mahmutpaşa Street leads to an enclosed courtyard bazaar – Kürkçü Han – which houses several dozen yarn and linen stores.

This rainy picture was taken from the first-floor corridor that surrounds the courtyard. Make sure you explore upstairs if you are coming here – the corridor is lined with yarn stalls.

This guy had a great little shop, crammed to the rafters with all sorts of yarns. Most of the offerings were vibrant acrylics and cottons, but I found some pure undyed wool crammed into a plastic bag in front of his stall. I bartered with the owner, but he was persuaded by one of his other customers not to budge in price (in fact, I think she was pushing him to charge me more than the stated price!). I came away with ten hanks of creamy worsted weight wool, for the bargain price of £5. This will be yarn for dyeing, I think.

We came away from Istanbul reluctantly, but spent the rest of our break relaxing with family around England. We’re back at work, and holding onto our renewed energy levels. And we’ve learned our lesson – don’t wait until you reach breaking point to take a break. Even a few days away can make a world of difference!

The winter months are the worst of the year for me, and the weeks leading up to mid-December especially so. I think I must have an overdeveloped SAD gland, because the hunkering gloom, the shortening days, and the excesses of the holiday season really take their toll on me. Solstice is when I begin to come to life again, as the days lengthen and the spring flirts with thoughts of return. Still, the early months of the year are recuperative, and slow.

I finished this sweater in time for the gathering light, and it has already seen some good wearing.

'oxo' sweater

Pattern: Pamela Costello’s Incredible, Custom-fit Raglan Sweater. A perfect recipe of ratios and suggestions (and like all good recipes, amenable to tweaking). Seamless, versatile, and quickly executed – the style suits the recipient better than any other.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Wool (in a charcoal black (a bad choice for knitting in the gloom!) I used 7 skeins, this yarn really has great yardage. I’m beginning to realise why worsted weight sweaters are so popular, the knitting goes by very quickly, and the resulting fabric is soft and warm. I think I’ll use Cascade again, maybe a heathery shade to make a Forecast.

Needles: 3.5mm circulars, and 3mm circulars for the ribbing (I’m a very loose knitter).

Notions & Mods: After following the suggested ratios from the pattern, the design of the sweater was largely improvised. I knew I wanted a warm cable pattern, but not too crowded. I relied on the ‘oxo‘ cable, which is particularly suited to my feelings for the recipient!  The sleeves are heavily cabled, and there is an asymmetric sprinkling of Xs and Os on the left front, and a couple of columns running into the ribbing on the back.

Verdict: pleased

(Ravelry link)

Romney Ewes

I have barely picked up a pair of needles since my last post. The summer has oozed past in a fog of work and tension. There hasn’t even been much sunshine to encourage the heart. Still, Autumn heralds the return of my knitting enthusiasm, and I already have a couple of small things on the needles.

In the meantime, some barely related sheepishness…

A week ago I went up to London to witness a peculiar event. To wit: a group of guild members and other Freemen of the City exercising their ancient right to “herd sheep over London Bridge without need or cause of having to pay a toll or fine.” This privilege dates back to the thirteenth century, and gave freemen the opportunity to trade in the city’s markets without having to pay extortionate bridge tolls. Needless to say, the right is seldom exercised now – there being no livestock markets in the Square Mile these days – but this opportunity to try out the privilege drew many of the lucky few who are eligible (my dad among them).

Crossing

The sheep who had been volunteered for duty were a flock of fifteen Romney ewes. They were impeccably groomed and very well behaved – their owner had trained them for the occasion by marching them alongside busy roads and clashing bin lids together. Reports suggest their fleece was very soft, and I have ambitious plans to procure some from next year’s shearing to make some ‘Freeman’ socks for the parent.

The event was patronised by the Lord Mayor of London (whose charity benefited from sponsorship), and where the Lord Mayor goes, his bodyguard goes too. These members of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers were dressed in their heavy uniform (including helmet), and carried pikes and muskets while marching back and forth across London Bridge for four hours under bright sun. Their elaborate appearance and behaviour drew some bemused stares from tourists and some smiles from depressed City bankers.

Company of Pikemen and Musketeers

They weren’t the only people to get dressed up. Here are some lady shepherdesses, and a different kind of pastor.

Bo PeepAnother kind of shepherd

We had a great day – finished off with some lunch from Borough Market and a quick visit to All the Fun of the Fair (my idea of sheepish fun).

Cache coeur in progress

Now I can get back to my new-found enthusiasm for knitting: starting with a quick baby wrap that will need to be sent on to South America in the next week.

I hope to have this finished in the next couple of days, after which I’ll try to tackle the queue of recipients in need of winter wear.

When we moved to Wales last year I was overjoyed – a country in which sheep outnumber humans 4:1 had to be a knitter’s paradise! Unfortunately, it soon became clear not only that the country’s sheep flocks were not interested in producing knittable wool, but that the human population was equally disinterested in knitting. I scoured the local newspapers, yellow pages, and the internet for high-quality, locally produced knitting wool – with negligible results. And then I heard about Glasu – rural development initiative dedicated to developing sustainable communities in rural Wales, and encouraging innovation in the production of food, building materials, and animal products – including fine wool.

Glasu support Wonderwool Wales, a showcase for local Welsh wool production, and a marketplace for UK fibre producers. This year’s festival (which took place over the weekend) hosted over 140 producers and distributors from around the country, selling not only wonderful wool fibre, yarn and clothing, but also alpaca, silk, bamboo, and many more. In its third year, Wonderwool Wales has tripled the number of exhibitors, and is fast establishing itself as one of the leading UK fibre shows.

My husband, mother-in-law and I went up to Builth Wells to attend the show last Sunday – and had a wonderful time! We spent all day looking at all the fantastic products, talking to the producers and finding all the yarns and fibres I had hoped for when I came to Wales. There were yarns and fleeces, spindles and felting kits, natural dyes and exotic fibres – and livestock.

Wonderwool Wales

I broke my yarn fast with gusto!

Swag

Clockwise from top: 200g Garthenor Organic Manx/Wensleydale Laceweight, UK Alpaca shade cards, 200g UK Alpaca 2/12nm black, remnants of UK Alpaca sock yarn in moss and mustard, a crochet flower kit from The House of Hemp, and (barely visible) a pair of felted alpaca shoe inserts for my mother.

Baby Bowmont Braf DK

I also bought a skein of Baby Bowmont Braf DK. Bowmont Braf is the showcase yarn of Wonderwool Wales. The Bowmont Braf project was set up four years ago to test if Wales could produce “fine fibre suitable for high-end quality products”. The yarn is lovely – very soft and lofty, and I couldn’t resist this green colourway. I’m not sure what I’ll use this for – I had reached the end of my budget when I bought this, so I only have a lonely skein – but I’m very glad to be able to buy such a high-quality local product.

I’m also pleased as punch with my Garthenor laceweight! I’ve been dreaming about this yarn for weeks, and in the end I phoned ahead to ask Chris from Garthenor to hold two skeins back for me. It is a very soft and bouncy yarn, and I’m planning a lace stole that incorporates some traditional stitch patterns to compliment its origins.

The best buy by far was the UK Alpaca 2/12 laceweight. The show price was £1.50 for 50g/300m – so my £6 worth bought me a good-sized shawl. I almost bought an equivalent amount of hemp yarn, but in the end I played safe and opted for a little taster crochet kit.

I’m very glad we were able to go to the show. Everyone was friendly and keen to talk about new products and innovative techniques. I saw a huge number of yarns and fibres that I had only ever read about, and made copious notes about equipment that I’d like to invest in. Most of all the show renewed my interest in locally produced wool, and fed my enthusiasm for new fibres and crafts!

I’ll certainly be back next year!

Having grown up with only two seasons, I find it difficult to adjust to the dramatic changes in the day here, especially in Winter. Although it sits right in the middle of my favourite season, I dread the Summer solstice because it marks the beginning of the decline of light and warmth, and the rising supremacy of dark and cold.

So it is by happy coincidence that R.’s birthday often falls on the day of the Winter solstice – the shortest, darkest day, which nevertheless heralds the gradual strengthening of light and warmth. That his presence should so palpably harbour the promises of the better season is just one of the reasons for my idolatry!

On a prosaic note, all this also means that cold-weather gear is an appropriate present for him – and here is this year’s offering:

Gloves
  • Pattern: My own. I searched all available sources for a pattern that I liked, but I couldn’t find one. I wanted a seamless glove with a 45 degree thumb, so I just made it up as I went along. I traced and measured R.’s hand a few years ago, and I used these measurements to knit the fingers. I added a slip-stitch contrast stripe pattern to make it a bit more interesting and to add structure.
  • Yarns: Kathmandu DK tweed in 423 ‘Mustard’, just over one ball; and Rowan Harris 4ply
    in ‘Herring’, scraps. (You probably get a medium woman’s pair of gloves from one ball of Kathmandu, even without the contrast yarn).
  • Needles: My grandmother’s steel 3.5mm dpns.

Octopus
For a man who swore he would never wear conventional office clothes, R. has developed a surprising obsession with neck ties. So I also bought him this silk Octopus tie from the lovely Jes Switaj. And because I can’t let a birthday go by without giving him a book, he also gets Orhan Pamuk’s book of essays, Other Colours.

We’ll celebrate with his twin and the rest of his family later, and I’ll be able to do some last-minute knitting before the rush of the next few days.

Tepuys from the plane

I’m back from my trip and trying to adjust to the change as quickly as possible. It seems strange to have left in October, and returned to find Christmas just around the corner.

To tell the truth, I’m feeling unsettled and strange. On the one had glad to be back and on track with work, on the other so very alien and out of place in this country. I have moments when all I can do is throw myself on my bed and scream my homesickness into my pillow.

On a lighter note, here is a list of some things I did on my trip:

  • Got married (again!)
  • Travelled on 12 different planes, including two 6-seater propeller planes small enough to fit inside a VW Beetle.
  • Felt the spray of the tallest waterfall in the world.
  • Spent ten short days in my favourite city, watching it tear itself to pieces, and emerged with tenuous hope for its future.

Ready?When my husband and I caved to familial pressure and agreed to undergo a second, (this time religious) marriage ceremony, I decided to at least avoid the worst of the associated symbolisms and traditions. I wanted, for example, a simple and elegant dress as far from white as was possible, to be worn with a hand-knitted shawl in a glorious, jewelled green silk. Not so much to ask, I hear you say? Well, insidious and persistent comments have finally diverted me from this ideal, so that (under my mother’s watchful eye) I caved and bought an ‘oyster’ coloured dress, which clashes horribly with my beloved green shawl. So, Mountain Peaks has been set aside for now, to be finished and worn at some future anniversary.

But since the dress (mother approved, mind) has been deemed too ‘immodest’ for church, I’ve been given the added task of finding something to cover my shoulders. (My mother’s suggestion doesn’t bear thinking about!).

So, enter Cobweb from Rowan 40. If you ignore the hungry vampire who models this shrug, and imagine it in Kidsilk Haze instead, with small pearly seed beads – doesn’t this look appropriately virginal? Never mind the fact that it will probably be stifling in 30°C heat and 80% humidity, and that I will already be dissolving under the intense glare of judgemental Hispanic matrons – I think I’ll enjoy the dark origins of this pattern!

In any case, don’t you find that in situations you have no control over, wearing a personal item hand-knitted by you with much effort and care gives you confidence and cool? I very much hope so…

Oh, and by the way, I have six weeks to knit this!

Bookmark

Tomorrow we’re driving to my parents’s house to celebrate my sister’s birthday. To bulk up what I thought was a meagre birthday hoard, I crocheted her this silk bookmark.

  • Pattern: Fan Bookmark by Crochetroo.
  • Yarn: Hipknits Laceweight silk. (Custom dyed for me months ago, but not yet used).
  • Hook: 2mm.

I’ll post on the rest of the stash and the party when we come back!

*

ETA: After all that secrecy and suspense, did I remember to take pictures of my sister’s birthday bash? You know I didn’t. Instead I clucked around cluelessly while she opened her presents. For the record , I made her a drop-stitch scarf in Collinette ‘Giotto’, and gave her a Madeleine baking tray to go with the baking book my mother bought for her. A good, if unrecorded, time was had by all!

I’ve been a bit distracted for the past couple of weeks. I feel like I’m ticking along from one appointment to another without time to stop and breathe.

Last weekend we travelled up to Ceredigion to spend some time with my cousin. We had a peaceful and relaxing break with wonderful food and some fantastic company.

Russ & Friends

The colours of the west are so lush – I took lots of very bad pictures, and a couple of not-too-bad ones.

Apples

Pond Life