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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!

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Montoya Beach

Nobody reading this needs me to sing the praises of Ravelry. Since its inception the site has become an invaluable source of information on patterns, yarns and techniques for knitters and crocheters. I’m as addicted to its features as anybody, but I hadn’t expected to find in its forums the voices of some of the kindest, funniest and most intellectually stimulating people I have met in a long time. Some of the best online debates I have participated in have been on Ravelry – and I’m not talking ‘wool vs. acrylic’, but discussions on politics, philosophy, ethics, religion, and more.

I recently took part in a swap among members of one of my favourite Ravelry groups, and my swap partner spoiled me rotten with the most generous haul of gifts. Among the spices, wild rice and artisanal soap were nestled three skeins of Punta del Este ‘Montoya Beach’ linen laceweight yarn.

Let me tell you a story about this yarn… I had spotted it online and fallen in love with its texture, and cool sharpness –  this colour in particular reminded me of the coastal waters of a  place I miss very much. I mentioned this yarn in a post I wrote a year ago, and my swap partner had read it, followed the link and bought some for herself. Having been assigned to send me a swap package a few weeks ago she selflessly sent it ‘back’ to me!

Now I need to find an appropriate pattern for this yarn, one that makes the most of its qualities, and that gestures to the journey it has taken so far. A growing movement of lace stitches, with a suggestion of flowing water, or surf and breaking waves.

I’m away for a few days, taking a needed break to be with family. I’ll be making some exciting fibre purchases over the weekend, and I’ll be working on a growing black/grey mass that may, one day, become a sweater.

Glass House - Roath Park

No craft content today, just some still-sharp memories of sunny days in local parks.

I’m always impressed by the range of botanical and flower gardens to be found in this damp and misty country. The sunshine of the past few days has pulled us out of the flat into exploratory walks, lazy lounging on lawns and serial ice-cream feasts. Yesterday we visited the local park’s glasshouse, a tiny affair which nevertheless packs a substantial punch of diverse plant species arranged around a glossy pond in which goldfish and terrapin swim hopefully.

Today the skies are grey again, but when the weather finally turns, we’ll know where to go…

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!

My yarn budget has been limited of late, and I’ve done most of my knitting from my (really already ridiculously inflated) stash. I haven’t bought yarn in many months, and I find that I don’t mind too much. But I have been feeling the lack of yarn exposure. That is, I miss the experience of seeing and feeling unknown yarns, squeezing skeins, comparing new colourways, and wondering to what knitterly purpose they could be put. I don’t have a local yarn store – my nearest one is two train rides and a hilly walk away – so I can’t really justify travelling a long way just to feel up a skein or two.

I had a kind of epiphany recently, though. I realised that there was a way of getting my fill of yarn exposure without breaking the bank – shade cards.

Shade Cards

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Buttons

Such a long time since my last post! The business of autumn has kept me busy: wrapping up, nesting, organising my work a little in expectation of hibernation. Really very little crafting going on, and my Cobweb shrug is lagging behind (it’s not as if I have a rapidly approaching deadline!) I have this long and complicated trip to plan – I wake up worried thinking I’ll forget something crucial.

I’m entering into hoarding mode, squirrelling away supplies – material, intellectual and inspirational – to dip into in the coming months. Some of these are obscure, others are unashamedly covetous.

Lovely stuff:

Inspiration:

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

free-cover-patterns_24.jpgVogue Knitting has always posed a bit of an identity crisis for me. It epitomises the style and fine design that characterises modern knitting for me – elaborate, impractical, chic.

But it lacks the homely usefulness of traditional knitting – it doesn’t really satisfy the desire to clothe one’s family in warmth and comfort. As a consequence I rarely buy VK, and instead read it furtively in bookshops, and quietly lust after its more extravagant designs.

So I was very happy to see that the magazine is making available for download its 25th Anniversary cover designs for free!

free-cover-patterns_30.jpg

The garments range from an oversize cabled pullover to a vintage-style cape, and are designed for a range of (mostly luxury) yarns. The most impractical (and therefore the one I’m drawn to first!) is Shirley Paden’s 60’s inspired colourwork dress (above). I doubt anyone but the model on the cover could carry it off, though!

Kaffe Fassett’s flower cardigan (right), in Kidsilk Night and Kidsilk Haze is stunning, and perhaps actually flattering to a greater range of body shapes and sizes! The cost of the yarn (and the effort of knitting Fair Isle with KSH!) make it prohibitive at the moment, but it is certainly tempting.

A beautiful collection of couture designs!