Knit British – and win patterns!

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So yous all know about my wool obsession. Uh-huh. And it’s probably clear that my preference is for British wool, with all its textures and colours and history… what if I told you I’m not alone? That there’s an entire community of knitters and crocheters and weavers (not to mention spinners!) out there who all feel the same way about wool, and in particular the wool of these islands? Meet the Wovember team.

Some of the team are probably more familiar than others, but the person I really want to shine the spotlight on today is Louise Scollay. A knitter in Shetland who realised one day that her stash had become remarkably detached from the sheep she saw grazing nearby, Louise has radically reformed her wool-buying ways and now passionately advocates British wool through her blog and podcast series: Knit British.

SheepKnitBritishI love Louise’s enthusiasm for the array of wools we have available in the British Isles, her open-mindedness towards their range of softnesses, and of course her commitment to promoting designers who share her love for homegrown wool.

This fortnight, Louise is running a competition to win copies of Khumbu and Amina. Head over to her blog to enter the competition (and get stuck there for a while, exploring and discovering more than you thought existed on the subject). Be sure to check out her gift-knitting suggestions, if only to decide what your next selfish project will be, and follow her links to other UK-based designers and yarnies continuing the islands’ long traditions of wool production and knitting.

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Tick tock

Well, Wovember is nearly over and I’m not yet casting off my November jumper. I’m in the throes of a big change in my life and have lost out on valued knitting time in the process. It’s making headway, though, and I think I’ll be able to blog about it in a couple of days… No promises!

Until then, I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how time passes just so fast now compared to my vivid memories of being a child and every day being soooo lonnnng; watching the hour hands slowly creeping around clocks on classroom walls, and the neverending evenings (although my bedtime was always surprisingly early). Maybe it’s the change of the seasons? I know for sure that this time of year makes me lethargic and nostalgic all at the same time. The flip-flopping of long days and short nights into short days and long nights slows me down and winds me back.

I’ve realised there’s something about wool, too, as I sort through my precious stash and heritage knitting books. I’ve been a fan of traditional knitting since I picked up the sticks 5 years ago, and both my library and stash reflect my adoration of Northern European folk knitting. Somehow that feels like just the right resonance for wool, with its timelessness and always-having-been-there-ness. And I feel completely at home immersed in this essential quality of it – I knit things, with yarn bought decades before my birth, which will hopefully out-survive me. And so wool bookends my life and those of people who have lived before me, truly a thread of time.

So then I saw this on the Guardian and it just dovetailed so nicely with all this world-weariness I was feeling on the subject of time. We have a lot of nineties pop love in this home (Blur and Radiohead are perennial favourites, never to be usurped) and I for one was a mixtape teen with a vengeance, as my long-suffering parents will testify! (I know they read this, and will be nodding their heads…) This micro play really captures the essence of making mixtapes: the awkward cellophane wrappers C-90 tapes came in, the cunning timing and clunky combinations of button presses, and the careful crafting of the inlays and tracklistings. When my friends finally moved onto CDs, they were enticed by the enhanced surface area for artwork, but the necessity of using computers to burn the CDs soon led to the temptation to shortcut with word-processed tracklistings (made worse when iTunes offered to do it for you!). All the art was lost.

But any old mixtape friends who might be reading this, do not fear! Although my tapes are long gone, I still keep your tracklistings:

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• Steve’s Kings of Aerosol • Jan’s Internationale Superhits • Kathy’s twee compilations • Sam’s 26 Reasons – and his anachronistic word-processed tracklisting for a taped compilation Home Taping Is Killing Music • Gareth’s undeniably-hasty and crap listing for 90 Minute Party People • Jamie’s similarly underwhelming effort for a mixtape he couldn’t even be arsed to name

… Admittedly at this point I run out of actual crafted tracklistings and just have a pile of those standard TDK inlay cards or crappy pieces of paper with hastily scrawled track info, but the named and shamed mixtapes are cherished artifacts of my music biography – one shared by an entire generation of music fans, but sadly consigned to the history hard drives of many more to come.

And so time passes, and changes. If we’re lucky we might change with it, although not so much that we can’t recognise our former selves.

Sorry for all the navel-gazing. I promise that’s it for this week…

 

Just in time!

I know I’ve not blogged about knitting for a while. For some reason, I feel as though I’m constantly knitting, but often have nothing to show for it. I can’t really understand this! Anyway, I finally have some finished projects to show off, and just in time, as Wovember has begun!

For those unfamiliar with this annual event, it’s a month-long celebration of everything woolly. This year, lovely Louise from KnitBritish has joined the team, so look forward to more words on British wool in particular. On that note:

YellowJumperYokeEarlier this year, my friend Julia made this wicked jumper from a chart she’s drawn based on this jumper (it’s convoluted, sorry!) – and she shared the chart with me so I could make a jumper of my own with the same design but completely different colours. I decided I wanted a cosy sweatshirt style of jumper rather than a vintage-style fitted one, so went for a slightly bigger size than usual. I made the sleeves and body longer than I normally do so I could pull the sleeves down over my hands and wear low-rise baggy jeans without getting a cold back.

Then I took a photo of myself looking very disheveled as if to prove the “casual” point a little too well!

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There are other photos, but I like how crappy I look in this one! Otherwise I just end up choosing silly photos of me dancing or gurning… Like:

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The yellow yarn is Rennie Supersoft which is spun in Aberdeenshire. However, from what I’ve gathered, the lambswool used for this yarn is actually from Australia and New Zealand. I would love for that to be different, but these are the facts as I’m told them.

The other yarns are a mixture of Knoll Supersoft (spun in Yorkshire, although I suspect the provenance is similar to Rennie’s) and New Lanark (spun in South Lanarkshire, this is a one-off Shetland 4-ply that I picked up at a knitting show and quizzed the stallholders about for quite a long time – they believed it’s a Shetland-sourced Shetland wool that they spun as a special order, and I still regret not picking up a cone each of the navy and brown versions as I’ve never found it for sale anywhere else).

So, it’s actually a bit of a distillation of the British wool industry in one jumper (including the part where most of the wool sourced for yarn is from former colonies)!

I also photographed the grey Laddow I finished in June but haven’t been able to wear for months due to the incredible summer we’ve had (that doesn’t quite seem to be able to let go yet!).

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It has been my most-worn jumper in October, but has competition from the yellow jumper now it’s Wovember… It makes a great dancing jumper:

YellowJumperDancingOk, too many photos now!

Mee in Mokum

Tour of Amsterdam, anyone?

Quintessential copyLast week, I popped over to see some friends in The Netherlands and have a wee break in the city I’ve loved since I was a child. The first football shirt I ever owned was an Ajax one (which I still wear sometimes as it was that big to begin with!) and I’ve always loved returning to Amsterdam and seeing it again with my older eyes.

BoatName copySome things never change; other are constantly in transformation. It’s a thrillingly beautiful place, steeped in monumental history, and I discover new things each time as well as revisiting beloved memories.

WonkyHousesBridge copyThere’s a timelessness about the streets around the Oud-West that I can’t get enough of. It’s not ye-olde in a persistent, irritating way, but instead a feeling of having got it just right enough that things don’t have to change too much to keep up to date. Of course the bicycles are a big part of this.

BikeSign copyIt’s hard to know why I love bicycles so much. Is it in the Dutch genes? What about the Chinese ones? My parents’ stories of their childhoods spent on bicycles in their respective countries? Is it the freedom I experienced as a tween when I first learned to tune the brakes of my fuchsia Peugeot Monaco and fix my punctures so I could zip effortlessly out of the city, through the suburbs into the countryside beyond? Whatever it is, when I’m in a cycling city like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, it’s a happy occasion.

Rustic copyCycling transforms cities into places people really want to live. Traffic is lower, slower, and less entitled to space, people walk more and talk more. Cycling through town allows the cyclist to stop and chat to people they recognise; driving only allows a passing beep. There’s a fluidity to cycling cities that exists nowhere else, as people appear to float along the roads to their destinations, eating as they cycle wearing everyday clothes and shoes with their luggage stowed behind them in panniers. It’s my single greatest source of envy. I want that life.

CafeCulture copyA life spent hanging out in cafés is also deeply desirable, but admittedly more income-dependent, so I’ll just dream about living in a cycling city and treat myself to a coffee every once in a while to taste just a hint of the dream come true…

Westerkirk copyAs well as bicycles, coffee, and canals, this trip found me completely rapt by the rooftops. Growing up in a migrant family meant a house full of trinkets that represented aspects of “home” to my parents, and one of many Dutch mementoes was a row of plaster grachtenpanden (canal-side townhouses) on a high shelf. You could buy each one individually in order to create your own gracht (canal street) in your home, and each year my grandparents would give my dad another one to add to our family’s street. We would choose where to add it into the row, maybe moving around some of the others so it would fit better. The grachten still look like grown-up’s toys to me…

LinedUpInARow copyI’ve been swatching and grading a new design for a couple of months now, and have planned every aspect of the sweater except its name, but wandering the grachten during this trip to Amsterdam named the pattern for me. I guess I should have visited sooner… And no, it’s not in the next photo, which I’ve simply included for its stylishness (such that I struggled to contain visible displays of glee when I spotted it).

StylishType copyI also went to lots of excellent museums, ate fantastic food, and found some good bargains at the markets. But I was too busy doing to photograph any of those things… Sorry.

Stash-isfaction

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I had a busy busy weekend, with an overnight trip to Glasgow’s TCA for The Women’s Climbing Symposium on Saturday, followed by a day trip across the Pennines to Skipton for Yarndale. Photos in this post will be crap (thank you, HTC) and front-loaded, as I spanked my phone’s batter in Glasgow and couldn’t take any rubbish photos of Yarndale on it!

Glasgow was stunning and fantastic as always, and the early morning walk to TCA saw me in one of my favourite spots in the city at one of my favourite times of day.

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The Symposium’s theme this year was Be Bold Be Brave, and the release of the programme only a week before the event meant I had no idea what that would become on the day. Turns out it was a mixed offering, with some excellent speakers and workshops who I felt completely nailed the theme for me, as well as some others that I found frustrating – mostly because their interpretation of the theme seemed to be “women are scared of climbing” and their content seemed fixated on normalising self-consciousness and self-doubt rather than actively rejecting it.

However, one of my favourite things in the world is people excelling and pushing themselves to be better, and for sure there was no shortage of that at WCS. Being around so many world-class women climbers who shared some insight into their training regimes was inspiring in a “I want to go home and do pushups until my face smashes to the floor in exhaustion” way. So I did.

I also met so many fierce women committed to pushing themselves harder, to challenge themselves, set ambitious goals and train to achieve them, and step outside of those comfort zones it is so easy to cosy down into. So, shout out to the amazing climbers who organised, travelled to, participated in, and made the event what it was. I came away with a lot to work on. Cheers!

I always leave Glasgow with a mixture of sadness and relief, and Saturday was much of the same. I’d have loved to stay longer, but I needed a good night’s sleep before a long day in a Yorkshire shed.

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Last year’s Yarndale was a surprise hit with a wide range of fibre fanatics, and it’s no secret that there were a few aspects of the show that didn’t run so smoothly. Credit where it’s due, the organisers took the feedback on board in a receptive and positive manner, and outdid themselves this year, addressing almost every complaint. The event was organised, well-signposted, capacious, and successful.

I hadn’t really gone with anything in mind that I really wanted to buy, and my yarn purchases for the day were testament to how much the ubiquitous hand-dyed merino appeals to me (i.e. not at all), but in keeping with the theme of people being really good at what they do, I did get sucked into some fibre purchases.

My experience of Teeswater looks something like this:

See the long, straigh-ish fibres all aligned neatly with each other to create a slightly shiny yarn? This is what I’ve always understood Teeswater to be, so I was a bit confused to handle a cloud of crimpy grey fluff at Wingham’s stall labeled “Teeswater Grey”. I had to ask if it was a cross, or a breed I’d not heard of, and got such an interesting insight into sheep genetics and fibre supply chains that I ended up buying it (#3 in the photo below), as well as some Romney-Merino cross from the Haunui flock (#1).

Yarndale2014Fibre#2 in the above photo is one of those story-telling things that I love so much. Katie from HilltopCloud lives in the middle of Wales, a country and landscape that she loves so much she has created a fibre lovesong for in the form of her Hiraeth series. Ynys Môn is the Welsh language name for Anglesey, the island that sits on the other side of the Menai Strait from Bangor, on the edge of Snowdonia in North Wales.

Purchases #4 and #5 were entirely facilitated by a pair of understated, friendly women named Audrey and Josie. While Josie was extolling the joys of her Gotland sheep, Audrey asked if I’d ever spun from fleece, and I shared my story of the neverending Zwartbles that I’d given up on a while back. She told me I’d bought the wrong fleece and might have put myself off for life, but kindly took it upon herself to educate me in the ways of buying the correct fleece and preparing it for spinning without the use of any specialist tools. Hence my half-kilo bag of Mule fleece (#4) that I intend to soak later today.

GotlandPileHaving had quite a lot of success with Gotland and Shetland and blends thereof, I took a chance on Josie’s Gotland-Shetland cross roving. I’ve got as far as unravelling it and then rolling it back into a big ball, but it doesn’t feel surprising nor obvious as a Gotland-Shetland cross. I’m really curious to see how it spins up.

What I realised walking around Yarndale yesterday is that I really love my stash. I wasn’t very interested in other yarns, but that wasn’t because I don’t love yarn, I just kept thinking, “I have something better at home… Now I think of it, I can’t wait to knit with that yarn!”. If anyone has seen my stash, they’ll know that I have enough yarn to knit jumpers for a small army, but the point really is not that I have “too much” yarn, but that I have all the types and colours of yarn that I really want to have available to me right now. I feel that I could dive into my stash and dig up the perfect yarn for any project I’d personally want to make. And I’m really looking forward to the next project, and the one after that, and the one after that…

It’s a funny place to get to as a knitter, especially given the Ravelry culture of constant shopping, stashing and yarn-coveting. It definitely wasn’t an sudden thing, as I’ve been losing interest in hand-dyed yarns for a while now, and my yarn purchasing has generally become a far smaller part of my non-essential expenditure, but I suppose it took being surrounded by so many yarny possibilities and not feeling turned on by any of them to realise how complete this feeling is.

I had to mull on it overnight before it really sank in, but I honestly think I’ve reached a point of Stash-isfaction. And it feels good.