Friday, 12 January 2018

This Thing of Paper, This Thing of Beauty. . .

"As a knitter, I find the connections and parallels between knitting and books compelling. The move from something handmade to machine-made is one which is perhaps most poignant to us knitters as the world keeps reminding us it would be quicker (and probably cheaper) if we bought a machine-knitted garment rather than insisted on making it ourselves. And yet we persist."

These wise words are from the introduction to Karie Westermann's new book This Thing of Paper, which explores these connections between knitting and the early production of books. It rings a bell on so many levels for me.  I started my career over twenty years ago as a bookseller in an independent bookstore.  A bookworm since seven, I absolutely loved my job.  Then came the rise of the chain stores with their unfair discounts and competitive advantages. And then Amazon came along. And then pallets of cheap mass market books stacked high in Costco and Walmart.  It was all about the price, not the experience and not the knowledge and passion of the staff. I got tired of people wandering in, asking for recommendations, browsing carefully curated displays, then writing down titles and ordering online. In short, it was no longer any fun.  I then moved to publishing and found a whole tribe of dedicated people in the indie presses who were as enthusiastic about good writing, creativity and undiscovered talent as I was.  But they were just a small part of the huge publishing conglomerate that I worked for and frequently never given the respect and resources they deserved. When my bosses started regularly referring to books as units, then publishing was no longer fun, particularly when social media was in its early stages and it was more important to get "likes" of books than to actually read or talk about them.

What has all this got to do with knitting?

Well, since I moved to the UK and started going to wool shows around the country, meeting knitters in person and through ravelry,  I have definitely found my tribe again (and it's no coincidence that knitters are often huge readers too). An appreciation of the physical object, of the time and talent that it takes to produce something of beauty, either in text or texture, unites us all.  I will admit that when self-publishing first started to make inroads into the industry, I was skeptical.  But for knitting and other craft books, it's been a revelation; authors and makers have really been able to take a theme close to their heart and produce gorgeous and authentic books that reflect their vision and passion. Would a mainstream publisher have taken a chance on Kate Davies' earliest books ( I think they would now, but I'm glad she has retained all the creative control and is continuing to self-publish).  Would they have looked twice at something like Anna Maltz's quirky and fabulous  Penguin:  A Knit Collection?  Probably not.  And these are only two examples of the many wonderful and original self-published craft books I have added to my collection over the years, and keep on appearing. Long may it last!

And This Thing of Paper is another incredible example.  The book itself is a joy to hold; as much thought has gone into the production values as the patterns. The paper, font, photography are all beautiful and Karie has written short essays on the various aspects and components involved in creating medieval manuscripts and early printed books.  A bit of book history and part of it too - a copy is going to be held in the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, such an incredible honour.

I was one of the Kickstarter backers for this project and thus lucky enough to test knit one of the patterns - the Rubrication Shawl - back in June.  It is a stunning pattern, which as Karie writes, was designed to resemble "nibs spilling ink across a surface and droplets becoming leaves (we often refer to a leaf of paper, of course). It is a pattern which is both text and texture."

I used Countess Ablaze's English Gentleman Fingering in one of my favourite wool blends, BFL and Masham, and I love the vibrant colour and soft and cozy feel of this shawl. It shows off the intricate stitch patterns perfectly.

There are eleven patterns in total - two cardigans, one jumper, four shawls (a Karie specialty), one cowl, a pair of mittens and a hat and fingerless mitts set. Reading through the essays and seeing the inspiration behind the designs has also inspired me to pay tribute to the innovation and creativity that has personally touched me, as a reader, as a bookseller, as a publishing sales rep and marketer, and as an appreciator and collector of the printed word.  The history of the book is ongoing. The indies are holding on and in some cases making a comeback.  There is every reason to be positive and celebratory. Print is definitely not dead.  We can read. We can knit. Sometimes I wish I could do both simultaneously. We can persist.

I've already knit one other project in the book, inspired by one of my favourite small presses, but I will leave that for another post. There is a KAL starting up in Karie's Ravelry group on Monday, January 15th and running through to March. Pop in and join us!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

A Productive January So Far. . .

There's a wonderful sense of well-being when all your knitting projects are going well and working out as you'd hoped. I finished my Stevenson Sweater, by Kate Davies, using all twelve colours of her new Milarrochy yarn and I am in love. It fits perfectly and I can now be a walking shade card, whenever I want to choose colours for another project.

Here they are in bright sunshine - the yarn bloomed beautifully and while there is a bit a of prickle factor, I'm not terribly sensitive so am happy to wear this against bare skin.  It will be a great piece to wear in warmer weather as is, and I'll layer it over a long-sleeved shirt in the cooler months.

Kate's new West Highland Way club released its first pattern - the Craigallian hat and mittens - yesterday and I've already cast on for the hat.  I only used about two-thirds of the yarn to make the sweater - below are my left-overs and there is plenty to pop into future designs.

While getting ready for the club pattern releases, Kate also published Carbeth, a very quick and quirky jumper, knit in bulky yarn.  It's such a quick knit that I managed it in four days.  I think it probably does look best in a single colour, but I was good and used up stash.

The brown/olive is some Cascade Eco that I've had for years. The variegated is a skein and half of Fleece Artist Back Country. Last year was the 150th anniversary of Canada's National Parks and this Nova Scotian dyer created special colourways for each of the province's parks. This green is celebrating Gros Morne in Newfoundland. I loved the idea behind the colours and ordered two skeins each of five colourways. When the box arrived, I got a bit of a shock - I had been so focused on ordering the right park, that I failed to notice the weight. I thought I was getting fingering; instead, I got chunky! Since then, I've been looking for suitable patterns to use some of it up, so am thrilled this came along and the colours remind me, appropriately enough,  of a Canadian pine forest.  I made a few mods - added some inches to the cropped length and changed the collar. The original has a rolled up collar, but I can never get them to behave properly.  I have to block this, but it's the perfect jumper to throw over a pair of jeans.

I seem to be a bit obsessed with green and brown at the moment. To match my Elska hat, I've also cast on some mittens in mostly the same colours.  These are the Shaila Mittens by Ella Gordon and it's really nice to have a smaller colourwork project on the go.

I love it when the year gets off to a great start.  So much fun knitting ahead. . .

Friday, 5 January 2018

Knit to the End of the Year and Turn. . .

2017 will be a hard year to beat.  I had two absolutely marvellous and unforgettable trips to Shetland and the Hebrides, with lots of lovely weekends away to parts of the UK that were new to me. And this really was the year that I had loads of fun with my knitting.  Back in January, I decided my word for the year would be colour - I really wanted to cast on more colourwork and to really think about picking colours that would work well together.  Looking back at my projects, I'm really happy and also surprised at what I came up with.

It started with my Lausavisa jumper, designed by Karie Westermann.  This is one of my favourite knits of the year and I wear this a lot. I definitely need more yoked sweaters in my closet.

I played with colour, not just on yokes but sleeves, the body and even as a single contrast row. 

My Kildalton cardigan, designed by Kate Davies was my most complicated knit of 2017 and continued the trend of knitting a lot of blue, which I hadn't really registered until I brought all these photos together.  

And here are the rest of the tops I knit. I was really chuffed to get to my goal of twelve garments in one year. I got so many comments on my teal Carpino, designed by Carol Feller (second on the top row ), saying that the colour really suited me, so maybe I need to further explore the blue family.  Mind you, I'd also really like more reds in my wardrobe too.  And then purple is this year's  Pantone colour . . 

My favourite knit of the year - and the most colourful - was my Next Year in Lerwick sweater (bottom right), designed by Tori Seierstad.  I learned so much from this project, and while I may be reluctant to embark on another with quite so many colours (and thus ends to weave in), it has cemented a love of fair isle for me.

I also knit quite a few cowls and shawls, again experimenting with how different coloured yarns could be combined, whether through intarsia as in my Harewood Hap by Bristol Ivy, inspired by Mondrian, or my Marled Magic Shawl by Stephen West, which taught me tons about mixing yarns together for texture and shading, or my Strandwanderer by Lea Viktoria which cleverly made the most of a variegated yarn.

With every project you gain in knowledge and confidence and I'm excited to see where my knitting takes me in 2018.

It's already off to a colourful start.  I subscribed to Kate Davies' West Highland Way yarn club at the end of last year. She has developed her own line of 4ply yarn, called Milarrochy Tweed and there are twelve patterns to come over the next few weeks, using both Milarrochy and Buachaille, and Cumulus, a wispy silk/mohair blend - I'm very curious to see what she comes up with for that!  As part of the yarn club, we received a 25g ball of each of the twelve Milarrochy colours.   Those 1200 metres whispered "sweater quantity" to me and I was quite impatient to start knitting with this gorgeous yarn. I searched around Kate's previous patterns and settled on the Stevenson Sweater, which I had actually been wanting to make before my Shetland trip, but just never got around to it.

I've managed to use all twelve of the colours (sorry, the light isn't great in this photo and thus the vibrancy of all these shades doesn't really come through).  You can read all about Kate's development of the yarn in these posts on her blog, here and here, and the inspiration behind her palette here.

It's fascinating reading and the yarn is lovely to knit with. With a little care, as it is only a 1ply,  it spit-splices successfully and so I don't have too many ends to weave in. I should be able to finish this over the weekend and I'm looking forward to seeing how the yarn blocks and blooms.

I have two words that I will be chanting to myself throughout 2018 -  especially at wool shows. They are STASH and WIPs.  I have far too many of both and really need to make a dent in the former and get the latter off the needles.   I did get as far as listing and organizing the lot over the holidays, so there is really no excuse - I just need some self-discipline!

Let's see where this year takes us. . .

Friday, 29 December 2017

All the Angles Covered: A Winter Walk in the Lakes. . .

We had a very green Christmas in Liverpool this year so it was lovely to get up to the Lake District yesterday for a winter walk.  The weather conditions could not have been better - clear and sunny, with the temperature hovering around the zero mark.

After carefully driving along the Kirkstone Pass (fortunately it's been gritted), we parked at Hartsop and did an eight mile circular, first heading towards Ullswater which you can just see peeking out in this photo, taken as we were climbing up towards the crossroads of Boredale Hause.

We then turned east but I couldn't resist looking backwards at Place Fell, looking rather majestic with its snow covered top.  We last did a walk there three years ago.

I don't think I've ever seen the mountains looking more beautiful.

I had asked the Liverpud to devise a route that would specifically go past Angle Tarn, one of my favourite places in the Lakes.  It was part of one of the very first walks we ever did together in this region and we also took part of this route on our memorable Coast to Coast holiday.  So this was our main destination, but we decided to climb both of the nearby Angle Tarn peaks because neither of us had done it before.  Here is the view from the first one, looking west.

And here is the view from the top of peak number two, where you can clearly see the first one.  While I was initially a bit trepidatious about winter walking (we didn't have crampons with us), the snow was really powdery and easy on the feet. It helped that the ground was frozen beneath (no mud!) and though you did need to be careful to watch out for icy patches, the paths were quite easy to walk on with just our hiking boots.  I was definitely thankful I'd brought my poles though.

And from the second Angle Tarn peak, our first glimpse of Angle Tarn proper.

It was a good day to wear my new hat too - this is Elska, designed by Ysolda Teague, knit in Jamieson and Smith's Heritage yarn and it definitely kept me warm and cozy.

The following are some shots down by Angle Tarn itself, and as we were leaving after a lunch break. The wind had died down and it was so quiet and peaceful; all you could hear was the lapping of the water against the shore.  Bliss.

We then continued towards The Knott.  There were plenty of clear pools of water along the route which were just stunning.


The Knott, which was our next and final ascent, is that little bump, lying just to the left of Hayeswater Reservoir.

Here's the view from the top.

And then we descended, walking down to Hayeswater and then down the valley back to Hartsop.

Back in the village we looked behind us and saw the moon had appeared above The Knott.

As the late afternoon sunshine was settling on the fells around Brotherswater.

It was a fantastic walk - a great way to end a year of more spectacular walking.

Friday, 15 December 2017

An AddiCrasyTrio Review or What Might Finally Turn Me into a Sock Knitter. . .

Last month there was a bit of a buzz in the knitting world as Addi released these new bendy sock needles.  I'm not a big sock knitter, mostly because I find knitting socks with dpns quite fiddly - I am always dropping stitches off them -  and I get bored with magic loop for small circumferences.  However, since they come in needle sizes up to 5mm and I was about to start on the sleeves of my Carpino jumper, I thought I would give these a try.  I have always enjoyed knitting with Addi needles, especially the lace ones, so was happy to make the investment. You can never have too many tools, can you?

In each package  you get three needles - you divide your stitches evenly between two of them and then knit with the third.  In the photo below, I am using 3.5mm needles.

I initially found them a bit awkward until I'd knit a few rounds and found a way of holding them that felt comfortable in my hands.  When switching needles, I found it worked best if I held the new left hand needle behind the needle I had just finished knitting, and straightened out the bendy bit of the needle so that I was knitting straight.  I found the transition between one needle and another quite smooth - there were no visible ladders as long as I gave the first two stitches a nice tug. My only reservation about using these for sleeves is that the length is just a wee bit small and I did accidentally drop a few stitches, particularly at the beginning (I was knitting the sleeves top down). Fortunately it was very easy to pick them up in stocking stitch.  As I did my decreases and got used to the needles, it wasn't as much of a problem.  My advice for the larger circumferences is definitely to have a few needle point protectors on hand, especially when putting the knitting aside, or shoving it into a project bag. And I probably wouldn't use them on sleeves with a lace or cable pattern. They are definitely more user friendly (for me at least) than dpns, and much faster than magic loop, which is usually my preferred method of knitting sleeves.

I had purchased needles in two sizes, so I next decided to try them on mini-socks.  I've been participating in The Loveliest Yarn Company's Sockvent 2017 KAL.  Michelle has designed 25 mini-sock patterns and I get one delivered to my inbox every day. They can be used as decorations or strung together as festive bunting. There is no way I will get them all done by Christmas, but will work on them over the next twelve months in smug preparation for next year. It is definitely getting me interested in casting on more sock knitting.

For these tiny socks, I've really enjoyed using the AddiCrasyTrio.  No worries with dropped stitches and I don't even need stitch markers. They also fold up nicely in a project bag and don't pierce the fabric as my sharper dpns used to do.  Here are three of my finished mini-socks. 

And my finished Carpino, designed by Carol Feller and knit in Baa Ram Ewe's Titus 4ply in the delicious Eccup colourway.  I think I need more teal in my wardrobe.  Excuse the wrinkles, but I do think it came out rather nice.

I really love the fit, especially around the shoulders.

So far, given the projects I have used them for, I would definitely recommend the AddiCrasyTrio needles but I suppose the ultimate test would be to actually use them for wearable socks. To be continued. . .

Friday, 1 December 2017

Finding Inspiration From Books and Books That Inspire. . .

Last weekend I traveled to Harrogate for their annual Knitting and Stitching Show. It's a different type of experience in that the proportion of yarn vendors is much less than the usual shows I attend and they are spread out among fabric and embroidery booths (which is not to say that I didn't buy any yarn as one of the booths was Jamieson and Smith, but that wasn't my prime reason for going).  There are lots of displays by talented textile artists which I really enjoy seeing.  Two in particular caught my eye.

Hue is a collective of textile artists working in Hertfordshire, in the south of England. They got together to read Robert Macfarlane's book The Old Ways, about all the paths made by nature, the weather, history and folklore, that one can find - hidden and visible - across the U.K.  While I still haven't read it, I do own a copy and this exhibit has really inspired me to crack it open.

The artists decided to create works out of fabric and stitching in response to the parts of the book that really resonated with their reading experience.  In the photo below, are a number of works in the same size as the paperback copy, re-imagining the cover. These were sold in aid of charity.

This was my favourite with its 3D effect.  I'm sorry I don't have the artist's name - I couldn't see it listed with the work.

Other works in the room included Landmarks; Green Hollow by Elisabeth Rutt. She hand stitched over old maps and felt.

She also created these "Pebblescapes".  Above is Coast and below is Gneiss, with their "darned" pebbles.

This piece is titled An Unquiet Sea by Carola Garvie.  She drew an outline of the Shetland islands on linen and then embellished the sea around it with wool and silk.

This was also this stunning 3D piece  - Where Are the Crickets? by Janette Day-Brown. The bark is created with machine embroidery. 

The second room that really caught my eye was an exhibit by Amy Twigger Holroyd.  One wall was dedicated to showing how to re-fashion or repair a basic child's sweater.  

She also had some amazing embellished knitwear inspired by English cathedrals.  Her approach to sustainable fashion was so creative and interesting that I had to pick up her recent book which will no doubt make for some fascinating and thought provoking reading alongside The Old Ways. Meg, aka Mrs M's Curiosity Cabinet reviewed the book on her latest podcast here.

Speaking of projects inspired by books and books that will definitely inspire, I should be getting my copy of Karie Westermann's This Thing of Paper any day now.  This is a collection of eleven knitting patterns, all inspired by the love of books - their history, their construction, the pure physicality of this most beautiful and powerful object. 

Books and knitting - is there a better combination?  I got to test knit the Rubrication Shawl for Karie and will do a separate post on that shortly, but this book has really inspired me to go to my bookshelves, delve into my stash and celebrate both.  I'll be casting on the Psalter Shawl first and I have chosen colours that reflect my love of Persephone Books.  They are the most gorgeous books I own with their classic grey and cream covers and then that unexpected burst of colour inside as their endpapers reproduce fabrics from the era in which either the book is set or was published.  I shall be using some Titus 4ply and Lichen and Lace in the pewter colourway.  And then adding a third colour - Ripple Crafts' Assynt Storms 4ply which is just a riotous explosion of colour. 


I can't wait to cast on.