Eclipse

Were you aware of the partial solar eclipse over the UK last week? I get ridiculously excited about things like this; the last one visible from here was a very long time ago (1999 to be exact), so before everyone had cameras on their phones and long before social media allowed us to see everyone’s photos right away. This eclipse was about 95% total here so there was plenty to see. Unfortunately, despite teasing me with glorious sunshine when I woke up, the weather was mostly very cloudy. However, us scientists are usually wildly optimistic about whether something will work, and undeterred, I headed outside with my camera and appropriate eye protection! Eye protection, as it turned out, that was rarely required…

This is the best that was visible for the whole time approaching the maximum point of the eclipse:
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Can you see it there? That tiny, faint crescent right in the middle? Eclipse with a large helping of Scottish weather! And then, less than a minute after maximum, a few thinner spots in the clouds started to move rapidly over, with some of them giving me just enough time to focus my camera.
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Not just a view of the eclipse but photos too. There are very few occasions when you can really see that the solar system is full of planets and moons in a dance with our star, but this is one. A very happy science geek here!

Pyjama Day

I’ve been neglecting this blog terribly for the last few weeks – redecorating had taken up much more time than I anticipated! However, my living room is pretty much returned to a liveable state now and I have a couple of days off work, so I decided that today should be a pyjama day rather than spent visiting Ikea and hardware/homeware shops! I’ve finally managed to block shawls I finished in January and February and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them finished.

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My first attempt at vertical blocking (due to lack of space); even with some tape holding them up, I’m not sure if this will work!

Despite the busy decorating, I’ve been able to indulge in one yarny adventure recently: a visit to Edinburgh Yarn Festival! This is a relatively new event, with this year’s Festival the second time it’s been put on; I was at the first EYF two years ago and loved it. It was so popular that when the organisers decided to stage it again this year, they needed a much larger venue, so last Saturday I made the fairly short journey by train and bus to Edinburgh Corn Exchange. One large hall filled with SO MUCH yarny goodness! And another filled with tables and chairs and a podcast lounge for relaxing and knitting. There was so much to look at (and, I admit, much, much yarn squishing to do!) and such a wonderful line-up of workshops to attend that I couldn’t possibly mention more than a fraction here.

I came across quite a few yarn dyers/sellers I’d not previously heard of, as well as some favourites. Despite my innate love of variegated yarn, I was determined to buy plain (or at least semi-solid) yarn for some patterns that really need a relatively plain tone to show up the texture. It was very difficult to ignore all the lovely variegated yarns but I found many lovely plain yarns. Ripples Crafts and Easyknits I’ve bought from before, but I also found Hedgehog Fibres (sold by La Maison Tricot√©e), Dublin Dye and Shamu Makes. I had a lovely chat with Karie Westermann about her Byatt shawl design – it’s been extremely popular and I saw at least a dozen different versions of it while wandering round the Festival, in a huge variety of colour combinations. It’s high on my to-do list but I’m struggling to decide which colours to use – it works in so many different combinations.

I only had one day to spend at the festival, so I signed up to only one workshop (though there was many others I would have loved to do). This was the late addition of a Stephen West class on use of colour. If you’re not familiar with his work, he designs mainly shawls, with some quite eye-popping colours and textures, and it quite a character. He wanted to push us out of our colour comfort zones, and the lime-green mohair I ended up using certainly fit the bill! Although I often use bright colours, I’ve never been adventurous in combining brights, and the class has made me more confident it trying that. And Stephen himself was very entertaining – I’d highly recommend one of his classes. As well as taking a class, he also had a stall in the marketplace, shared with Ysolda Teague, and they turned it into a “shawl cathedral” – very eye catching as I walked into the hall!

Foolishly, I took very few pictures while I was at the Festival (too distracted by the yarn!), but you can see lots at the EYF website, and they’ve just announced EYF2016, so maybe I’ll be more organised next time!

A last picture of my EYF stash. I’ve already started knitting socks from my new Rachel Coopey book, in very summery colours. More about them next time!
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Celtic Shawls

Have you ever come across Celtic knotwork designs? If not, you can find out more about them here. I’ve been a fan of these intricate, endless knots for a number of years, and in my cross stitch days I stitched a couple of knotwork designs. However, although they would seem to lend themselves perfectly to knitted cable designs, I was never able to imagine how cables could be persuaded to go in the appropriate directions and close themselves off when necessary. This was before I came across Lucy Hague’s patterns – including a family of celtic shawls containing all the impossible knotwork cables. I’ve mentioned them before, as I bought the patterns directly from Lucy at the Glasgow School of Yarn last autumn and some yarn from Ginger Twist Studios to make the first shawl, but I’ve been very neglectful and forgotten to mention them further.

Kyna is the first of Lucy’s shawls that I knitted. It was specifically chosen because it looked by far the most straightforward of the designs!
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This shawl is worked sideways, and has a much simpler cable design, running along the side of the work (along the bottom of the finished shawl).
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The yarn turned out to be slightly too variegated to show the cables to full effect, but it was such a lovely colour and so soft that I couldn’t resist it!

I’ve also just finished a second of Lucy’s shawls: Nine Maidens, again in a Ginger Twist yarn (Bleating Velvet 4 ply in Grey Gardens). Unfortunately I won’t be able to block it for a while (starting to redecorate, so no space to lay out my foam mats for a while!), so there’ll be no pictures of the finished object for a few weeks, but I thought some progress pictures might give an idea of what it’s like:
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This is a bit more difficult than Kyna, as you may be able to tell! I realised as I got to the end of the most intricate bit of the cables that I had made a mistake 8 rows back – frogging 8 rows of 450+ stitches having forgotten to put in a lifeline isn’t my favourite way to spend a couple of evenings, but better than seeing a mistake in each of the nine pattern repeats every time I looked at the shawl. On the second attempt I managed to keep to the pattern – or at least I didn’t make any mistakes that I’ve found yet! Here’s a picture of one of the completed motifs (unblocked, obviously), showing the closed loop cables and the beautiful yarn:
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I’ve come to love Lucy’s designs and I’ve been stashing some yarn that I think will be suitable for some of the other shawls. More of that another time!

And relax….

It’s that strange time of the year between Christmas and New Year where (for those of us lucky enough to get the time off) there’s no pressure to go out and do things; it’s perfectly acceptable to sit with your feet up watching TV, knitting and eating your own body weight in chocolate. So as long as I remember those last two must be separated in both time and physical space to prevent choco-yarn disasters, I find it almost the perfect time of the year. Much knitting has been accomplished (how can I de-stash if I don’t spend most of every day knitting?) and I even went out and got some fresh air today. Admittedly, the fresh air was a side-effect of a trip to the Mill Shop at New Lanark World Heritage Site as a result of having mis-read the yarn requirements for my current project, but it absolutely counts as a healthy activity.

I realised I’ve not yet posted my finished Christmas Socks ta-da, so here it is:
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I apologise for the pictures not showing the colours too well; finding daylight suitable for photos was an impossible task the week I finished them.

I’m extremely pleased with the end result, especially as there was a point where I almost gave up on them: my stranded knitting technique is clearly not suited to sock knitting as, no matter how loosely I stranded, the leg section of the sock never had enough stretch to go over my heel. I ended up knitting the background colours and Swiss darning the details, which was much more straightforward and has worked fairly well. They ended up being just about Christmassy enough for me – I decided that bells and pom-poms were perhaps a bit too impractical for socks!

I’ve also finished a hat, cowl and another pair of socks that are all currently blocking; once I get some pictures I’ll give them their own ta-da. Isn’t it amazing how much knitting can be done when you don’t have to go in to work every day?!

Now that Ysolda Teague’s Cadeautje (nope, no idea at all how to pronounce it!) slipper pattern is available to buy separately I’ve got started on that. Don’t they look so cosy? I bought the yarn and fibre a couple of months ago and this is the project for which I miscalculated the yarn. Luckily I don’t live too far from the manufacturer and their shop even had the same dye lot so disaster was averted! Soon I will have no excuse for cold feet, and I anticipate at least a couple of requests to make more!

The Importance of Being Christmassy

It’s nearly Christmas! I have Strong Views about the timing of the celebration of Christmas: specifically to do with when shops should start pushing their Christmassy merchandise (not before Hallowe’en is over) and when it’s appropriate for decorations go up (not before December 1st; public Christmas carols are also allowed from this date). When I rule the world, these views will be law (along with compulsory yarn shops in every street). However, once December starts, the more over the top the better! Thus, I require Christmassy Knitting.

This year’s first item of Christmassy knitting was a tree from the Twisted Yarn blog. (In case you’re wondering, in My World Christmas knitting is allowed in November, especially if it’s as good as this!) I fell in love with these trees as soon as I saw them; so far I have one completed (but not decorated) tree, with the yarn to make some more in slightly different shades of green. Once I have cleared some suitable space in the bookcase, I’ll have a small forest of trees that I will undoubtedly feature in many pictures posted here!

My second Christmassy WIP is a pair of socks, to be garish enough to be worn with my (non-knitted) Christmas jumper. Unfortunately I couldn’t find an existing pattern that fit my requirements, so I’ve had to exercise my (very limited!) creative talents and design my own. Although I pretty much had the look I wanted already in mind, this process has been delayed somewhat: I discovered that, while I can do stranded knitting fairly well, I’m completely incapable of doing so while leaving enough stretch in the knitting to get the resulting sock over my foot. Three frogs later, I decided to cheat by knitting the background colours but Swiss darning the details on at the end. So most of the knitting is done and I’ll leave you with this tease of the lovely Christmassy (Drops Karisma) colours. Hopefully I’ll manage to finish them without too many more problems!

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Enjoy your own knitty Christmas preparations!

Woolly Wormhead MKAL reveal!

The hat MKAL I’ve been taking part in finished a few days ago, with the final version of the pattern being called Sophora. Isn’t it beautiful? Woolly is such a talented designer, with a knack of making her patterns accessible to practically all knitters.

I’ve had the chance to wear my Sophora a couple of times (it’s unlike me to hope for cold weather but I had a good incentive this time!) and it’s already had several compliments. Here is my finished version:

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It’s in Old Maiden Aunt 100% merino in Jaded, a great yarn to work with, and a colour I adore. The gauge for the hat was very tight so I had to work on 2.25mm needles; these aren’t my favourite but worked really well for this design, giving it a dense structure but leaving it lightweight.

Some WIP pictures:

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Doubled brim.

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Detail of the mock cables.

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Finished (but unblocked) crown detail.

Definitely a successful MKAL from my point of view, and a pattern I’d recommend to anyone.

Current WIPs are a couple of pairs of socks. My excuse for having two pairs on the go at the same time is that Rachel Coopey’s lovely Saxifrage socks require quite a lot of attention, so it’s good to have a plain pair on the needles for when I can’t concentrate sufficiently for them. That’s a perfectly acceptable reason for multiple WIPs isn’t it? And therefore it’s an excuse that will easily extend to hats now I’ve bought more of Woolly’s hat patterns!

Stirling Castle Tapestries Project

Goodness, it’s been a busy couple of weeks! However, I’ve managed to catch up on something of particular interest to me: the Tapestries Project at Stirling Castle. The castle isn’t too far from my home and has been undergoing a long-term restoration; as part of that, they commissioned a series of tapestries to be woven to decorate the walls of the restored Royal Palace in the castle. Some of the tapestries are being woven in a specially-built studio within the castle and visitors are encouraged to watch the weavers at work. It’s a fascinating process (photos aren’t allowed in the studio but you can see a webcam of the weavers here; requires Flash) and I have huge admiration for both the skill and the patience of the weavers.

The project has been going on for over a decade and is due to be completed later this year and I’ll be quite sad to not have the opportunity to go along and watch these professional weavers at work. However, the tapestries that have been already finished are now being displayed in the Queen’s Rooms in the palace and are wonderful. They’ve been made using traditional techniques, but unlike original, 500-year-old tapestries, the colours are intense and show up so much detail.

They’re based on an original series of tapestries showing the hunting of a unicorn; my photos of them aren’t perfect but I think they give an idea of the effort that has gone into the weaving. It’s much more effective to see them in real life, so if you get the chance to visit you really should go!

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I particularly like the two suspicious-looking men in the background if that last picture!

While not visiting castles I’ve been working very hard on my Woolly Wormhead Mystery KAL on Ravelry and I finished last night! It’s a beautiful design and if you’ve been considering taking part I’d highly recommend it – there’s still time! I’ll post some pictures as soon as the MKAL is over, but if you can’t wait to see how everyone’s hats look, you could always sneak a peek at the spoiler thread on Woolly’s Ravelry group discussion board

Mystery Knit-Along

Cast-on day!

Have you ever taken part in a mystery KAL? The concept is quite straightforward: a designer posts a new pattern in instalments over a few weeks with no pictures and only a minimal description of the finished article. Woolly Wormhead runs a hat MKAL every November and this is the second time I’ve participated. On buying the pattern, I got an introductory instalment telling me yarn weight/quantities, gauge and that the hat came in two design options, a beret or a slouchy style. As I like most WW designs I can be confident I’ll get something I’ll wear at the end, and it’s fun to see everyone else’s progress pictures on the spoiler thread in the WW group on Ravelry. Pictures should only be posted in the Ravelry spoiler thread so I’ll restrain myself and only show this year’s yarn (Old Maiden Aunt 100% merino 4ply in Jaded) and last year’s finished WW MKAL:

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Hopefully this year’s finished hat will look as good and be as cosy!

Glasgow School of Yarn

Compared with other many other yarn festivals, Glasgow School of Yarn is small – but perfectly formed! Now in its fourth year, GSoY combines a small (but very high quality) marketplace with lots of workshops and shorter classes. It’s held in the Mackintosh Church, which is a beautiful venue and provides lots of space to sit and chat and knit.

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This year, I booked Rachel Coopey‘s Sock Design workshop, as well as two mini- tutorials on two-at-a-time socks and darning.

Rachel’s workshop was great: lots of theory but also the chance to do some design with expert advice. And I loved the chance to rummage through all the sock samples Rachel had brought along to use as examples of different techniques, construction and ways to avoid pitfalls.

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The hour-long mini-tutorials on Saturday were very useful. I’ve attempted to knit two-at-a-time socks before, but never managed to quite grasp it, no natter how many video or photo tutorials I looked at. Having someone there to explain things and answer questions was obviously what I needed. The same can’t be said for the darning class! Although Maria (who taught both classes) explained the theory very clearly, my ability to put that into practice was sorely lacking! However, I tell myself that it was an educational experience and that I now recognise quite a number of mistakes that I’ll be able to avoid in future…

And the shopping… ūüėÄ I over-indulged slightly, but everything¬†was so lovely¬†that it was very difficult to exercise self-restraint. The designer Lucy Hague was there selling her stunning Celtic Knotwork Shawl patterns. I’ve loved these designs for a while but struggled to decide which to start on. I solved that problem by buying all the patterns!

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They were on special offer if you bought them all, so I was really saving money, wasn’t I? I eventually made the decision to start with the Kyna Shawl (on the right in the picture) as it looked the simplest, and bought some yarn from Jess at Ginger Twist Studios for that. Jess’s stall was full of the most beautiful colours.

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Easy Knits¬†also had a very colourful stall, but more brights compared with¬†Jess’s subtle shades. In different moods I love both!

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Isn’t that an amazing selection? I bought three different yarns from them (two 100% merino 4-ply and a BFL 4-ply) and was very taken with the names given to the colourways: from the left, Aquillian, Killer Queen and Last Days of Summer, with Jess’s merino/cashmere/nylon mix for my Kyna shawl on the right.

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I needed a new project bag, and I got this one from a lovely selection by A Peppermint Penguin.DSCF4372

She was also selling some Tattysquawk shawl pins and as I actually needed a shawl pin, it was the ideal opportunity to pick one up.

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All in all, it was a great couple of days and if you get the chance to go to a future GSoY, I highly recommend it. But you should take along either a large budget or a lot of will-power!

Sacrificial sock knitting

How can you not love a hand-knitted sock? Especially a cute baby-sized sock?

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A small but anatomically perfect sock, created for the sole purpose of DESTRUCTION!! Mwahahaha!!!

OK, maybe that’s enough of the multiple exclamation marks, though I reserve the right to re-use the evil laugh. But I exaggerated only slightly: this weekend I’ll be at¬†Glasgow School of Yarn¬†in the Mackintosh Church in Glasgow and I’ll be taking a short class in darning. So as my beloved, full-size hand knitted socks are thankfully still intact, I need a sacrificial sock in which I can create a hole and then learn to repair it. I’ve not yet been able to bring myself to damage my cute little mini-sock but its time will come…

If you’ve not heard of Glasgow School of Yarn, it’s an event created by The Yarn Cake, a local yarn and cake shop (that combination works even better than you can¬†imagine!) and is now, I think, in its fourth year. It combines classes in various yarn crafts and techniques with a small but gradually expanding marketplace and is held in a local church that was designed by the Glasgow Art Nouveau designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It’s a beautiful venue and a real inspiration. I’ll be attending a class in sock design by Rachel Coopey¬†and a couple of mini-tutorials, including the darning class. And I’m sure that when I visit the marketplace and I’m confronted with beautiful yarns, project bags and notions I’ll be able to easily restrain myself from spending any money. And as I return home afterwards, I’ll be able to watch squadrons of winged pigs wheeling around the sky!

Of course, once the weekend is over and I am able to competently darn any damage to my knitted projects, I’ll need much less new yarn as my old finishes will last longer and won’t need replaced. Hmmm, maybe learning to darn has a downside that I’m only just beginning to see!