Tag Archives: knitting

kleur

At this, the turning of the wheel and the beginning of this new year, I’d really like to wish you all a peaceful and happy 2019! This holiday is often full of joy and new promise but can also make us acutely aware of opportunities we missed this last year or the distance between us and those we love so, wherever you are and however your year has started, I wish you good things. I’d also like to thank you for your interest in and support of my work this past year- I so appreciate it and could not do what I do without it… So thank you!

We saw in the new year at a small village ceilidh (dance with traditional Scottish music!) with some dear friends and there was plenty of laughing, dancing and great cheer! We were very lucky to be included in what were largely family gatherings for both this and Christmas Day and, since this is definitely the time we most feel that distance from our own families, we feel very happy to be building a new community here in this way.

And so the new year begins and I shall mostly spend the next few couple of months preparing for Edinburgh Yarn Festival… I hope to fit in another shop update in that time but, in the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that my dear friend Anna Maltz is releasing a new design tonight, her Kleur shawl, featuring a combination of my Masgot Fine with Garthenor’s Ronas! Kleur (colour in Dutch) is a a joyful celebration of the colours found in both natural dyes and natural sheep shades, all in Anna’s inimitable style!

Kleur by Anna Maltz

Kleur from Anna Maltz

Kleur from Anna Maltz

The shawl starts with a quarter of a circle. A mini-spectrum of seven wedges, shaped using simple short rows: just turning, no wrapping, to help create lines of decorative eyelets between the coloured wedges and make the shawl reversible. They are pictured in a rainbow, naturally dyed on Masgot Fine, from deepest purple using indigo and cochineal to a pink dyed solely with cochineal. The wedges (and the spines that mirror them as the last step of the shawl) use a scant 10g or 15g, depending on the size of shawl: a perfect amount to showcase such a selection of naturally dyed yarns. Next, you knit on in monochrome shades, adding a whole lot more stitches and introduce a mitre. Regular cast offs along one edge make this the triangular half of the shawl, while the change of angle is highlighted by stripes in striking undyed Shetland black and white yarn – Chalk and Chalkboard, organic wool from Uradale farm in Shetland and spun for Garthenor as Ronas. Decreases are worked along one edge, until the tip of the mitre is reached, at which point a third natural shade is added, the beautiful grey, Shale. This unites the triangular and circular sides of the shawl with a simple swathe of pure colour. Finally, the spectrum is revisited with spines.

Kleur from Anna Maltz

I have added just some kits to the shop for the colour wheel part of Kleur in both the small and large size. As well as the rainbow shown in Anna’s sample (which is the large version of the shawl), I’ve made up kits in three other colour ways: red/ blue (dyed with indigo, madder and avocado), pink/ teal (dyed with buckthorn, cochineal, indigo, madder and oak moss) and gold/ purple (dyed with buckthorn, cochineal, indigo, pomegranate and rhubarb). 

Rainbow colourway, dyed with buckthorn, cochineal, indigo and madder

Red/ blue colourway, dyed with avocado, indigo and madder

Gold/ purple colourway, dyed with buckthorn, cochineal, indigo, pomegranate and rhubarb

Pink/ teal colourway, dyed with buckthorn, cochineal, indigo, madder and oakmoss

All are available for both the small and large shawl. Please note that the kit includes yarn for the colourwheel only- you will need to pair it with three shades of Ronas, other shades of Masgot Fine (available in the shop) or other fingering-weight yarn.

I hope you enjoy Kleur! Anna is an incredibly innovative and creative knitter and designer and I find knitting her patterns thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating! She always finds a way to hide  new tricks and techniques in the fun knitting and pushes the design envelope in a way that I think we need in the hand knitting community…

Again, I wish you a joyous and peaceful year ahead and look forward to sharing the year with you!

faces and places: sariann and her wool project

Part of a series introducing some of the places and people we’ve come across since moving to Scotland. Some you may already know but, more often than not, they will be new to you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do…

I recently had the chance to talk to Sariann Lehrer of Chopped Ginger about a project that she’s got going over the past few months…

A chef and cookbook writer, Sariann grew up on a working New England farm and then attended the University of Vermont, where she became involved in the local food and small agriculture movements and spent time working on a dairy farm. She’s also a keen knitter who, on moving to Scotland last year, was overwhelmed at the abundance of sheep in the countryside, the native sheep breeds, and the connection to agriculture that so much of the US lacked.

After noticing that there was a lot of focus on the end product of wool farming- that is, the yarns that we all love so much- and very little on the farmers who care for the land and animals that produce them, Sariann took the plunge and contacted small flock shepherds across the UK to launch the Wool Project. In her own words, the Wool Project “focuses on connecting knitters and the recipients of knitwear with where their wool comes from, the importance of keeping traditional small farming alive, and the integral role that we as yarn consumers have in saving heritage and rare breeds here in Britain”.

Sariann has bought 20kg each of fleeces from four different growers and is producing a small batch of yarn from each of them, to highlight both the value and beauty of each breed and the work that the individual growers are doing to sustain them as wool breeds. She launched the project a couple of months ago with her Wensleydale yarn, has just released a Teeswater yarn and will bring out both Gotland and Bluefaced Leicester yarns over the coming few months.

Sariann strikes me as the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty or her heart broken, a good thing for the driver of a venture that many may say is too difficult in the current market. So many UK-based mills have closed in the last 20 years that there are few medium or large yarn companies still having their yarn spun here. But it is encouraging to see that there is a growing number of small fibre growers and individuals using specialist mills to produce small-batch yarns, enough to sustain a number of specialist processors and mills, such as the Natural Fibre Company and the Border Mill, who Sariann decided to work with. Her reasoning was threefold; the Border Mill is based nearby in the beautiful Scottish Borders, owners Juliet and John are happy to work with many different types of fleece and to process any quantity, from a single fleece upwards, and they specialise in alpaca fleece, which has long, smooth fibres similar to many of the breeds she is working with.

A little about the breeds and end products of the first two batches…

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale

The Fa’side flock was started by Susan and Ian Brash, with their purchase of three Black Wensleydale foundation ewes, and has grown to include a separate flock of White Wensleydale sheep. The Rare Breed Survival Trust lists Wensleydale sheep as “at risk” on their register, meaning there are between 900 and 1,500 registered sheep in Britain. Fa’side Wensleydales are meticulously bred and registered each year, with the hope of preserving and growing the breed.

The Wensleydale breed originated in North Yorkshire in the early 19th century with the crossing of a since-extinct, local longwool ewe and a Dishley Leicester tup. Unlike most sheep breeds, the lineage can be traced directly back to one ram, Bluecap, born in East Appleton, five miles from Bedale in North Yorkshire. Developed as a dual-purpose breed, Wensleydales still carry the characteristics of the founding tup: dark skin, excellent quality of wool and large size.

A separate register was started in 1994 for black lambs, and the number of registered ewes has been quite volatile, with 88 registered in 1999, which has since declined. The black wool colour is a double recessive trait and is impossible to predict within a white herd. Historically the dark lambs were culled to avoid contaminating the valuable clip with their dark fibres. However, these unpredictable black lambs from white herds have become a valuable resource for the small number of Black Wensleydale herds, as they widen the gene pool and lessen the likelihood of inbreeding.

Wensleydale fibre is very strong but soft, lustrous and especially beautiful in its naturally coloured forms. Yarn made from it has lots of drape and silkiness and, although it develops a slight halo, shows up texture well.

Fa'side Castle and Wensleydales

Fa’side Castle and Wensleydales

Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Wensleydale Grey

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswaters are a small but dedicated breeding farm, located in Captain Cook country, with one aim- to keep the Teeswater breed alive and to help remove them from category 3 (vulnerable) of the Rare Breeds Survival watch list. When the small flock was started a number of years ago, the breed was at category 2 (endangered) on the RBS list, so the Tunstall shepherds like to think they have gone some way towards achieving their aim. Today Tunstall-homebred lambs are located as far south as South Devon and as far north as Aberdeenshire.

The Teeswater breed is descended from longwool sheep brought over to Britain during the Roman invasion. Initially, they were used to crossbreed with the highland and hill sheep to create larger, fatter sheep suitable for lamb production on gentler, more fertile land. There are records of Teeswaters being exported to Tasmania, Australia, in the early 1800s and they were also bred into Leicester Longwool flocks to improve the breed. When Teeswater ewes were crossed with the Dishley Leicester Longwool ram named Bluecap, the offspring were the origins of the Wensleydale breed. With the rise of the Wensleydale sheep, Teeswater numbers began to decline, until the 1920s when the breed was nearly extinct. The Teeswater Sheep Breeding Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust have worked hard to keep the breed alive, supporting farms like Tunstall Teeswaters to ensure that Britain does not lose this historic breed.

Teeswater fibre is incredibly lustrous, strong but soft and has extremely long fibres of up to 30cm. Yarn made from it has the sheen of silk and lots of drape and shows up texture well.

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Tunstall Teeswater

Teeswater

Chopped Ginger Teeswater

You’ll have to wait a couple of months to see the next instalment of Chopped Ginger Wool but here is a sneak preview of one of the handsome sheep contributing to the next batch…

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Griffin, the Pedwardine Gotland

Sariann has been really pleased with the results of the first two batches; the lustre and smoothness of both Wensleydale and Teeswater fibres have been highlighted by the processing and spinning and the resulting yarns are smooth, strong and drapey… I’m really looking forward to seeing what projects these beautiful yarns inspire. Sariann’s aim is to eventually buy the entire clip from some of her growers, thus ensuring the continuation of their flocks and an ongoing supply of these beautiful fibres.

As for what I’m going to do with mine, I think I’ll stockpile it until all four are released and then use them together… perhaps a striped shawl?!

You can find out more about the project and buy Sariann’s beautiful yarn at Chopped Ginger and at Ginger Twist in Edinburgh.

breed swatchalong

I remember a long conversation with a friend or a customer years ago about the fact that it would great if Ravelry had a function that allowed you to track other people’s thoughts and experiences on the longterm wearability of a particular yarn…

Of course, there is the option to simply read the comments on the page but somehow that feels a bit limited as most people tend to only write a few sentences about a yarn. And sometimes cranky comments can rank higher in our memory (creating an vague question about the yarn in our head), not to mention the fact that it’s much more likely that someone unhappy with something makes a fuss about it than someone happy with the same thing. In the end, we came to the dissatisfying conclusion that what we were looking for fell outside what we could reasonably expect Ravelry’s yarn pages to be capable of doing and that they can at best function as a starting point for further investigation.

We both felt incredibly passionate about the idea of tracking yarn in this way because, like most knitters/ crochets/ weavers/ other, it’s not just how a yarn feels and behaves when you first pick it up and work with it that counts for me- I want to know how it responds to wear. Does it hold up and bloom when it’s worn or turn into a sad saggy, pilly mess? All of this can be related to the processing of the base fibre but it’s also a lot to do with the type and quality of fibre used. Either way, we’d both spent a lot of time trawling projects made in a given yarn, hunting for their maker’s initial and subsequent thoughts about the yarn and that had made us want to give as much detail as possible in our project pages, in the hope of sharing information about yarn and inspiring others to do the same. Because sometimes yarns that don’t seem particularly promising to start with end up being the ones we love because they hold up so well and even improve over time- and we just wouldn’t know that from picking them up in a yarn shop and using that old knitter’s trick of rubbing them against our cheek!

This particular project is a great case in point. I bought a couple of balls of Blacker Yarns Alpaca/ Shetland 4ply at the 2010 UK Knitcamp marketplace and dithered for ages over what to make with it. It felt sturdy and strong and a bit too rough for a hat or mitts and so I finally decided to use it doubled to make a Winterberry hottie cover.

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland which, along with my Hansel, keeps us snug and warm

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

As a plant nerd, I fell in love with those bobbly berries and thought they were a great use of the bobbles that so many of us love to hate (and, using it for the first time, discovered that they also made for a great foot massage!).

Now, a yarn with a 50% alpaca content is not the obvious choice for a project that needs to keep its shape because alpaca has little memory and so is very prone to stretching! But I worked it quite tightly on small needles, anticipating that it would grow… which it did. On blocking, the FO went from very tight and stiff to soft with a bit of give and I slid it onto my hottie (filled with hot water) when it was still damp so that it would mould perfectly to the shape and size of the bottle.

Over the last eighteen months since I finished it, I’ve used it all the time! Despite the feet rubs and having been taken camping and all over Scotland, it looks like it was made yesterday. Although the alpaca gives it a halo, the stitch definition is definitely good enough to show up both the rib and the bobbles clearly. The odd pill forms every now and then but they are those lovely, discrete balls that pull off cleanly. Even with a 50% alpaca content, because it was knitted firmly, it hasn’t stretched out of shape at all.

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

Winterberry in Blacker Alpaca/ Shetland

There is just no way that a merino yarn or anything in the soft end of the range would stand up to this wear and use and still look this good! Well, unless perhaps it was processed beyond recognition but that is something I choose not to use. And who needs a hottie cover to be that soft anyway?

So I’m really excited that Louise from Knit British has kicked off the Breed Swatchalong, a community project that encapsulates so much of this- embracing the different strengths and virtues of the many sheep breed fibres, being creative in finding uses for a them and documenting thoughts and experiences with them, thus enabling the trackability of yarn (or fibre). Joining in involves the simple process of comprehensive swatching with British (or local-to-you) breed yarns and then documenting and sharing your experience and thoughts on that yarn.

All contributors will create a Ravelry project page for each swatch, outlining source, preparation method and other vital stats and, more importantly, their thoughts on its life, longevity and use, including possible applications (stitch patterns and projects) and any changes on blocking (and how it was done) and wearing (next to the skin for the day).

Some swatches and summaries will also be featured on Wovember as part of the movement’s goal to build a deeper understanding of what British and local breed yarns are like to work with, hopefully encouraging other knitters to give them a try. And, once the KAL is finished (there is no end date as yet, due to the huge number of yarns out there to try!), Louise will make summary reviews of all British breed wools available on KnitBritish so that anyone searching for information on breed wool can find thorough reviews in one place.

So what am I going to swatch with? One of the stipulations is that yarns used are undyed and I have so much undyed in my stash that it was really hard to choose a yarn to start with! But I’m going with a ball of white Isle Yarns (the sister yarn to the Hole and Sons yarns that were the viral hit of the northern summer), a beautiful, small-batch yarn from Sue Hole of Purbeck, made from her son’s flock of Poll Dorset sheep and spun by the Natural Fibre Company in Cornwall.

Isle Yarns

Isle Yarns

Isle Yarns

Isle Yarns

I’ve never knitted with Poll Dorset but I know it has a beautiful bounce to it, which Sue and Sue (from the Natural Fibre Company) have enhanced by woollen-spinning it. More thoughts on it over the next week or two, plus some other other yarns I’m planning to document.

So… will you be joining in?! You can find all the details over at KnitBritish and join in on Instagram and Twitter with the tag #breedswatchalong.

cowl collaboration

Hello! I’m back from six weeks of travelling and all I can say this morning is phew! The last six weeks have been a whirlwind, mostly full of really wonderful stuff but also some that was challenging- I’ll share more of what I got up to as I download over the next week but I’m just so pleased to be home with Scotto… and am looking forward to a quiet late autumn and winter here, getting to know the winter face of this city, walking (and hopefully camping!) in snowy woods, making stock for some lovely spring festivals, working on a couple of knitting patterns….

But today I’m preparing for a shop update with a new cowl design inspired by conversations with Kate from A Playful Day. Kate and I met at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival and immediately connected over our love for plants and adventures in nature and the conversations that stemmed from that meeting led to the idea of creating a colourwork pattern from cow parsley, a favourite spring wildflower.

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

This lovely plant is part of the Apiaceae family, a large group of plants that includes many culinary and medicinal species, such as carrot, celery, parsnip, fennel, anise, lovage, parsley, coriander, caraway, centella, angelica and hogweed, as well as the deadly hemlock. The family is characterised by umbelliferous flowers- inflorescences consisting of a series of short flower stalks- and a distinctive scent from the presence of volatile oils. And a bonus- many of them are also dye plants, including cow parsley!

Cow Parsley is traditionally found as part of roadside hedgerows and is commonly seen in large swathes, such as in this inner-Edinburgh gardens:

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, downtown Edinburgh

Meadow of cow parsley, Edinburgh

But, as always, I’m always interested in what it looks like close up…

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

Cow Parsley

So I started looking at the form of the umbel flower and wondered how to capture both its curves and geometry, something that was not immediately easy since colourwork lends itself better to linear forms. But the little clusters of flowers enabled me to get around that by using them to create a curve and, after a series of false starts, I ended up with a umbel motif in six colourways that should evoke the Scottish landscape in all its beauty…

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Straw

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Willow/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

Cow Parsley Cowl in Sage Blue/ Bleached White

They’ll be up for sale in my shop at 8pm Glasgow time this evening but you can see a preview of them there in the meantime, in case you’re keen to look at the colours and have a think!

And you can find out more about Kate and her ace podcast covering creativity, community and a whole lot about things happening in the British knitting scene (including an interview with me as part of her month theme of Sustain) at A Playful Day. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Kate!

vintage shetland blog tour

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If you are a knitter (or are in any way interested in the history of fashion and knitwear), you really need to know about the Vintage Shetland Project, the culmination of several years of research by knitting anthropologist Susan Crawford, who, with the help and support of Carol Christiansen, textile curator at the Shetland Museum, has been researching hand-knitted garments and accessories made in Shetland in the 20th century.

For the past four years, Susan has made the trip to Shetland twice a year to take a selection of knits from the museum’s archives through a rigorous process of analysis, with the goal of writing up and publishing them as a beautiful hardcover book on vintage Shetland knitting- what a labour of love!

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan Crawford in the Shetland Museum archives

Susan has worked to create garments as close as possible to the shapes, textures and colours of the originals; every stitch was transcribed, each garment carefully measured and Fenella, a 2ply that knits to a vintage 3ply weight and comes in 25 shades matched to the museum garments, was developed specifically for the project. The result is a collection that feels just like what I think of as Shetland knitting but that encompasses a huge variety of different styles, time periods and construction methods, including lace, menswear, accessories and, of course, Fair Isle techniques. Susan says that she struggled to narrow down the vast number of designs on offer to twenty-five as there were so many beauties in the archives and we agreed that one look at the museum’s collection blows out of the water the idea that Shetland knitters were traditional- there is just so much variety in their output!

All of the items in the archives have been donated to the museum and are largely the products of creative knitting minds, rather than from commercial patterns.  To me, this beautiful piece from Susan’s collection demonstrates that…

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

While the motifs and shades used in this pullover from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s are traditional, the way they are used is anything but! The way the allover checkerboard pattern is broken up and inserted into geometric panels reminds me very much of the pieced satin evening dresses of the time. And yet the way the designer (who was most probably also the knitter) has continued the background colours under the lice or birds eye stitch in traditional style and used corrugated ribbing and modified drop shoulders shows that the piece is still very much of Shetland. This illustrates beautifully the innovative nature of Shetland’s knitters and their desire to move with and respond to ever-changing trends in fashion.

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

My favourite piece from the collection

A favourite piece from the collection

With the research completed, patterns in the process of being written and final photography shoots happening in Shetland in July, the project is nearing completion and Susan has launched a Pubslush crowdfunder campaign to create the Vintage Shetland Project book. Needless to say, there has been overwhelming support for the project and she reached her goal in just over 24 hours, but you can still support the project, with additional funds going to support a wide range of extras- and you get the added bonus of getting your hands on a copy of The Vintage Shetland Project before Christmas and general release in 2016 (or a series of other enticing rewards)…

Congratulations on a wonderful project and a hugely successful community undertaking, Susan!

This post is part of The Vintage Shetland Project blog tour and Helene Magnusson is hosting the next instalment tomorrow. You can find out more about Susan’s journey at susancrawfordvintage.