News from the coalface

Pensieve Shawl before blocking

Oh Lord, what a week! It is so much easier to think up designs and knit them than to write them down understandably- I am frazzled! Only doing a round or two inbetween times on the Pensieve Shawl kept me sane, I’m sure of it (above, whee!).

It started last Sunday evening, when I finally sent a draft pattern out into the world to be judged, having screwed my courage to the sticking point after months of – let’s face it- being plain scared. I really thought I’d made a fair fist of it, that it was at least intelligible, but unfortunately, in my desperation to finally just get something Out There, my first draft was a disaster area. I knew what I meant, but nobody else did. Monday was a deluge of messages on the testing thread on Ravelry, as private messages on Ravelry, and even emails! All – appropriately- filled with news of problems, errata, confusion and so on. Throw in back pain, a sick DS and very limited access to the Internet, and honest to goodness I was ready to run – or hobble- away from home and change my name.

(Just out of interest, completely out of context, anybody out there open to the concept of couch surfing?)

Where was I? Oh yes, feeling sorry for myself. Well, years of training as a Mammy stood me in good stead, and I’m still here, struggling up my latest steep learning curve – no Alzheimer’s for this woman, if we can believe popular science.

Of course, part of the problem is that I started with one of my more complex designs- Strawberry Beds is not easy, even without the shoulder shaping (and with it , it takes no prisoners). But it’s the one I knit with Alex’s Coolree Lace, and I want him to have a pattern to illustrate his lovely yarn “in action” at the Knitting and Stitching Show in London next month, as most potential customers like to see an example. So there I was with a deadline and a dilemma, until my Inner Adventurer surfaced, roared “Carpe Diem!” and jumped into the deep end. And I’ve been doggy-paddling around ever since….

Centre of Pensieve Shawl

Meet the sanity-saving project: believe it or not, this central spiral of the Pensieve Shawl was very easy and soothing to knit. I love patterns that appear so much more difficult than they are!

Edge of Pensieve Shawl

The border requires more attention, and has to be worked from a chart, but is quite straightforward. I used approx. 85g of Yeoman Cigno (70% mohair, 30% acrylic, 933m/100g) for the border; I knit the centre using 3 balls of pure mohair (total: 75g/675m) until I ran out- it’s a very stash-friendly pattern, or will be when I write it!

Yes, I did not go through this pretty horrible week just to withdraw back into my shell- I’m out now, and if I start chickening out again and not publishing, I hereby by give you permission to nag me.

I mean gently remind me.

Soft encouragement should do it actually, for the moment……

But the next pattern is going to be a much easier one! The Mockingjay will have to wait ’til I’ve completely bounced back.

Pensieve Shawl wide Border

This border represents the carved edge of the Pensieve basin. I had great fun checking out runes on the Internet, because the books refer to runic carvings, but in the end I decided not to over-complicate the design (not to mention run the risk of employing a rude word or two! – have you ever wondered about the random Asian symbols scattered over some T-shirts, what they might actually mean as opposed to just looking cool? I mean, it would be hard to resist adding the occasional cheeky message. Hard for me, anyway… It’d be like telling tourists that “pog mo thoin” means ” gimme a kiss” in Irish, which in a way it does, but neglecting to mention where the kiss is to be planted… )

I’m rambling again, the stress is showing.

2 Cushendale Cushions with Fabeel sockyarn

GF fed me lunch in Winnie’s Craft Cafe on Friday (yummy, as usual), because I couldn’t eat for a few days and he decided that I needed Care in the Community. For dessert, to cheer me up, I received a copy of Knit Red, the knitting book that is part of the American campaign to raise awareness of heart disease in women, and its prevention. Lots of lovely patterns that I don’t have to proofread- bliss! He’s a clever man, our GF. One funny thing I noticed: there are 13 patterns in the book with chest measurements (cardi and suchlike) but only 6 of them are sized/designed for people with size X or larger. Now, no offense, but aren’t those the very sizes that just might be in need of the useful diet advice in the book? Or are they meant to knit skinny things in advance as a form of motivation? I must say, I prefer my YarnDiet – have I mentioned that as of last Tuesday I am only 3kg away from my healthy weight? Yippee, and after this week I’m probably down another kg without even trying!

Marina had also ordered in all sorts of goodies, including the sockyarn above (and below) from Drops. Thinking of my promise of a really straightforward beginners shawl, I got 3 balls (50g/1.76 oz; 205m/224yds each). Thank you for the excuse!

Cushendale Cushion with Fabel sock yarn

Those are Cushendale cushions in the background by the way, aren’t the colours great?

Now before anybody panics at the sight of the skinny yarn (I’m looking at you, Ms S, with the Mammy Eye at the back of my head!),  the pattern will be designed in such a way that you can use whatever weight of yarn you want, even super-double bulky if you want to knit with broomsticks. Yes, some people do that, and enjoy it- my wrists ache just thinking of it, but if it makes them happy….

Mini bottom-up Shawl

This is your absolutely basic bottom-up triangular shawl pattern:

Cast on 1 st, knit into the front and back of it to make 2 sts.

Next row: Yo, k2.

Starting with a yo may seem strange at first, but it’s no different to a yo in the middle of the row- just keep it nice and loose. This is what gives the loopy finish along the sides).

Next row: Yo, k3 (the third k is knit into the yo of the previous row)

Next row: Yo, k4

Next and all following rows: Yo, k to end.

Continue until you reach the desired size, until you run out of yarn, or get bored.

Cast off/bind off loosely (using a larger size needle for this helps keep the looser new sts nice and even).

This basic pattern can be decorated with lace or colour motifs, wherever your imagination takes you…

Girlie Bunting free knit pattern

I made the little shawl model while I was doodling some bunting- this week wasn’t all bad. My library knitting group has been asked to do another yarnstorming to decorate the library, because the Sabina Higgins, the wife of Michael D. Higgins, our President, is coming on a visit in a couple of weeks to give a poetry reading. She’s very well-known in her own right as an important and effective promoter and protector of the Arts in Ireland, and for major contributions to the educational system. I suppose in the States she’d be known as the First Lady, and their children as First Daughter and First, Second and Third Sons, but here in Ireland it would be considered in bad taste to invade their privacy by drawing any sort of attention to them, unless they perform a public function, as Ms Higgins has done throughout her career. Anyway they have twins- would that make them Joint-First Son and Other Joint-First Son?

Be that as it may, the lady has great charm and presence, and we’re all thrilled, hence the girlie bunting and whatever else occurs to me in the next 2 weeks- a welcome counterpoint to my poor little beleageured pattern. I’ll chip away at the coalface for another week, and knit another little flag whenever I need a quick pick-me-up. Or sneak another look at my new book- it’s even more fun now that I fit comfortably into the medium size category once more!


Testing, testing…

Remember this?

Strawberry Faroese shawl in Coolree lace

My Strawberry Beds Coolree lace design? Well, I have finally got my act together and written it up sufficiently well to submit it for testing, and I have found several helpers already! There was a huge psychological barrier there which I finally managed to break through- handing my “baby” over to experts to dissect and examine for flaws is really scary for a perfectionist like me. You’d think I’d have grown out of it after years of professional scientific writing and translation, but this is the first pattern I’m putting up for sale, and I’ve reverted to adolescent pangs! Still, it’s out there amongst strangers now, and I’m feeling relief, too.

It’s an incredible amount of work, and it’s not over yet- I’ll be at the receiving end of a lot of feedback from my testers, so I’ll be spending a lot more time on the internet (DS will hate that, but tough!). Plus, after setting ball ball rolling last night (yes, finally, I know I’ve been procrastinating..), I woke up at 5,30am, worrying that no one would want to knit it and am consequently wrecked. But happy- I did it, I did it, I did it!

So what did I do all week, apart from everyday stuff? Actually, spare moments were gobbled up by the design. I taught a couple more kiddies to knit, both of whom caught on very quickly and were delighted with themselves- and so was I!

I’ve worked on the Pensieve Shawl, cos the centre is a really easy knit, very relaxing.

St st in fine mohair unblocked

See how irregular the stocking stitch is before blocking? It looks sloppy, but I blame the contrary pure mohair.

Carved Rim of Pensieve Shawl

In this pic I blocked the centre before I started adding the “basin rim” in Cigno by Yeoman (70% mohair, 30% synthetic), and the unblocked rim sts in the mohair blend look better than the blocked pure mohair in the centre! It’s the iron for this one-it can’t say it hasn’t been warned.

New Estonian shawl design

I tried out a swatch of a new design with my alpaca fine lace- never did get around to using it for a crochet shawl- but the Estonian st patt required too much concentration for the week that was in it. I’t have to wait- also because I’ll have to buy new, super-pointy needles for it. I consider myself reasonably well equipped with needles at this stage, but hit a wall here. See the crossed-over X-shape just above the centre of the photo? Well, that involves making 5 sts out of 7 sts, which are first knit together. Now that’s challenging, at the best of times, but I definitely need the assistance of sharper points. I did manage it a few times (obviously, says you), but it was not fun! This has nothing to do with my wanting to treat myself.

Well, hardly anything.

Distraction time:

Memorial Quilt for Dad

This is Exhibit A from my patchwork phase. I made it as a kind of memory quilt after my Dad died suddenly, using shirts he had never got the chance to unpack, and a collection of madly colourful and flamboyant ties he had collected on his holidays. He used to tease us that he would wear them in public someday, maybe in front of one of our new boyfriends  for maximum mortification (4 daughters, therefore lots of boyfriends), but he never did.

Stained glass Cathedral Window Patchwork

I dyed white shirts terracotta in the machine- they came out different shades, although the labels promised the same composition. The ties work well as stained glass, I think. I was going for the look of a beam of light through an otherwise dark window.

Patchwork Cathedral Window Corner

That’s why I put the cooler, darker colours at the corners.

This quilt lives on the back of of my favourite couch. You can see the back of it below (machine stitched), and I couldn’t resist showing you an old Donegal Tweed design in lace:

Donegal Tweed crescent scarf

Now that I’ve broken through the psychological barrier, maybe I should publish this, too?

By the way, I’ve been playing with the idea of designing e.g. a very, very simple beginner’s shawl and starting a Knitalong (KAL) on Ravelry to make sure that everyone can get the support they might need to knit it- anyone interested?

I’m off now to look after my testers; more news next week, I hope!
















Good quality yarns

Coolree Shoulder Flashlight

This has been another week of tidying up loose ends and finishing off miscellaneous tasks. Remember the luscious Coolree alpaca-silk-cashmere lace I turned into the Strawberry Beds shawlette  (called after an area on the left bank of the River Liffey)? Well, I had to block it while folded, because of the built-in Faroese shoulder shaping (see above, moulded around the end of the ironing board). This left a bumpy crease down either side- not a good look- so I had to bend my cardinal rule of never letting an iron anywhere near one of my knitting projects.

Puckers in Faroese Strawberry Beds

See that line of puckers? Sorry about the photo, it was much worse than it looks here, honest! so I dug out the ironing board, dusted off the iron- that’s right, I don’t iron, life’s too short- and I soaked a little towel to protect my delicate creation from the worst of the dragon’s steamy breath. Seriously, it’s so easy to spoil textures, never mind ruin weeks worth of work with an iron- I am definitely not a gambler. As you can see, simply holding a warm iron in the general vicinity of the fabric did the trick nicely, and my nerves have almost completely settled down again, thank you very much, though I still haven’t managed to capture all the glorious shades of colour in this yarn….

Strawberry Beds Shoulder shaping

..and the strawberries are standing on their heads. But they’re the right way round when worn, so that’s all right. By the way, if any of you are going to the Knitting & Stitching Show in London next month (14-17th March), keep your eyes peeled for the Coolree stand- Alex will be there with a selection of his latest goodies.

Orchid Thief Isolda Teague

I finally blocked The Orchid Thief (Isolda Teague), which I knit up using a (100g) ball of Jawoll Magic sockyarn (Lang). This is very soft to the touch, and the colour transitions are long and subtle, which I like, but I don’t think this yarn would wear well as a sock, despite its 25% synthetics. I had to rip some of it, and afterwards it looked the worse for wear, which shouldn’t happen, if this was actually meant for socks. I think it was designed for lace that would be treated very gently, and was only called sockyarn because of its weight.

If you’re thinking that it looks crooked, that’s because it is- I was away with the fairies while I was knitting the body of this (diamonds are boooooring), so the fronts ended up different shapes and I can’t have you thinking Ms Teague is the root of the problem. If it was my own design, mind, I wouldn’t let on (design feature, challenging orthodoxy, blah, thinking outside the box, blah, you know the guff..).

Orchid Thief Lang Jawoll Sockyarn

I obviously wasn’t at my best while blocking  either, was I?

But I didn’t manage to banjax the neck:

Orchid Thief shawlette neck detail

Alright, I’ll admit it, I’ve had other things on my mind- my DS is not at all well, and there’s no end in sight, so while knitting is a very therapeutic help at the moment, the finished product is definitely showing signs of fluctuating concentration.

Part of the time I’m fixing stuff: a quick boost to morale is guaranteed!

Darned glove in Woven stitch

I made a pair of fingerless gloves for my DS years ago- this one has been worn while cycling approx 10,000 miles, and this is the first time it needed darning! Now that’s good quality yarn. It’s 100% merino 4ply by Yeoman and I heartily recommend it (even though they’ve never given me any freebies). The other glove of this pair got lost, and I offered to knit an exact replica (no, I don’t spoil my DS, but he’s usually really careful with things I make him, so I couldn’t be cross). DS asked for the exact same pattern (woven st), but different colours; the chartreuse and purple are from Yeoman too, but the grey is a different brand, and within one week of wear it looked like this:

Poor quality grey wool

While knitting the grey appeared just the same as the Yeoman yarn, but after a little bit of friction it fuzzed and pilled as if it were felting wool- I was disgusted!

Wool Quality contrast

You can tell the glove on the left has been using the expensive revitalising serum, can’t you?

Japanese laceweight Mohair

In order to cheer myself up, I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books, and of course new designs have been popping into my head. I decided to start a nice’n’easy project, using 75g of pure mohair from Japan – part of my yarn-diet stash from the sale in aid of the Dublin Society for prevention of cruelty to animals. You can tell that pure mohair yarn is made from goats: it’s got a mind of its own and is willfully contrary. See how smooth, sleek and well-behaved it sits there in its ball? Well, no sooner is it on the needles than it starts to fight back, doing its best to unravel itself and kinking at every opportunity. My stocking stitch generally looks fairly neat, not in need of much blocking, but this may be the one project I’ll happily take an iron to- I haven’t produced such irregular-looking stitches since I was five!

Pensieve shawl in progress

And this tangled web is supposed to turn into a Pensieve shawl- uh oh!

Mind you, one project did eventually go right this week, though I had to rip back a good 50% first. This is called Martina, after the dear German girl in my knitting group, who not only recommended this excellent sockyarn ( Aktiv silk, from but also carried bushels of it back from Germany for us to save costs (Danke, Martina!).

Martina Sockyarn Shawlette

I was playing around with a motif from an old doily, and an Estonian lace stitch (Tower pattern), and some graph paper, and here we are:

Martina Shawlette Edging

This one turned out much better than I’d dared think- let’s hope it’s a sign….

One of those weeks

Irish-Japanese Fusion Blanket

Did you ever have one of those weeks, that feel really busy and tiring, on the go the whole time, yet feel at the end of it that nothing much has been accomplished? Well then, you know what this week has been like. It wasn’t bad, I got all sort of fiddly little tasks done, but it was somehow unsatisfactory, full of minor irritations. For example, my stashbuster Applecore Blanket (Frankie Brown), combining the best of Noro and Donegal Yarns (54 patches of each), is now in one piece. I had 2 balls of ancient single ply tweed in dark brown, one of which I used to crochet strips together and the other earmarked for the edging. The joining up went more smoothly than I’d dared hope: on wrong side ( slip st joining the thread between 2 garter st ridges on one patch and its equivalent on the other patch, chain 1), repeat all along the strip- it’s really quick and neat.

Strips of patches joined with crochet, Applecore Blanket

See those wiggly seams on the wrong side? Much more fun than sewing!

But then, just as I was feeling satisfied with what has been a really all-round enjoyable knit – frustration!  – that 2nd ball of dark brown has disappeared. Now I know this apartment is in a state of creative chaos (oh alright, pretty messy), but it’s also very small, and I’ve been searching to no avail, so that I’m beginning to consider hallucinations or early- onset Alzheimers’.

Noro and Donegal Yarns harmonising

I can still snuggle up and enjoy the colours without an edging, but I wanted to get just one project done and dusted! I’ve several others on the needles which need revision, or a very clear head, or lots more time, and this is the one  that was meant to be for pure straightforward enjoyment…. Aaargh, don’t mind me, I’m just cranky! I’m just going to fondle the original a bit more…

Stashbusting Apple core Blanket (Frankie Brown)

….mmmm, that’s better! The colours are even richer in real life, too. The sun actually shone for a while yesterday, so I nipped outside to take photos for you, but the sunlight had a slightly bleached effect on my woolly stained glass-style creation, so you’re not getting the full benefit. I think the Donegal and Noro yarns go so well together because the are each adventurous with colours- unexpected contrasts and combinations make them particularly lively and distinctive. You can always tell imitation Donegal tweed by the boring flecks that are added- a green yarn will have a light green and a dark green fleck, with maybe a bit of brown thrown in-ooh, how daring! My original green here has pink, purple, and turquoise, and is very pleasing to the eye without dazzling it…

By the way, I deliberately haven’t blocked or pressed this, cos I like the 3D undulations. I think they go well with the rugged outdoorsy texture. See the way some of the patches are stripey, cos they are made up of the last remnants of different balls (just like original patchwork quilts, where every scrap of precious fabric was used up)?

Close-up of crochet seams on WS of Donegal Tweed-Noro afghan

I like the “wrong ” side too. FYI, I wove in the ends of the knitted-together short seams as I went along, and I crocheted over the remaining yarn tails in the long crocheted seams, so that was pretty painless!

Now I’ve seen on my blog stats that quite a few people have been googling Dublin suppliers of Donegal Yarns/ Soft/Tweed/Studio Donegal/Kilcarra, so I thought I’d introduce one more source. This is Knit, The Constant Knitter and Winnie’s all have a selection, but Springwools also has cones for (very) large projects.

Springwools premises, Ballymount Road Lower, Dublin 12

Springwools is to be found on the edge of an industrial estate ( Lower Ballymount Road), near Walkinstown Roundabout (handy for buses from the city centre), in a modified warehouse.

Springwools entrance

It’s a lot roomier than it looks on the outside, and there is a lot of space inside for essentially a bit of everything…

Springwools Open sign

I really like this sign.

Large assortment of yarn on cones, Springwools

I really caught them at a bad time: to be fair, the shelves are usually a lot more orderly, but on Saturdays the ravening hordes generally descend on the place and stir it up quite a bit, as you can see. This is where I acquired the cone of fine mohair blend for my Froth cape, and some excellent quality Yeoman 4-ply (stunning colours!) for assorted hard-wearing garments for my DS.

Donegal tweed (original), Aran and sportweight, Springwools

And here there is space to stock a selection of Donegal (tweed) Yarns on the cone, which work out at good value if you’re planning a big project, or sharing with a friend.

Donegal Yarns, 2kg Aran weight

For example, I got one of these 2kg Aran weight cones in purple for 80 Euros, which was enough for my version of the Susie Hoodie (Mandy Moore, More Big Girl Knits) and for a goodly part of my Windmill Blanket (Curve of Pursuit, Susan Ashforth), both of which I’ve already shown you.

Donegal Tweed single ply, 1kg cones, Springwools

Then there are the 1kg single-ply cones (100% merino), for 50 Euros: one of these (the silver grey) was enough for my welted coat, a shawl, and I still have some in my stash for a rainy day, so that was a good investment. This stuff is “in oil”- I think that makes it suitable for machine knitting, too, but don’t quote me- that is definitely not my area of expertise (imagine letting a machine have all the fun)! Anyway, it smells “sheepy”, which takes me straight back to childhood summer holidays in Donegal and adds an extra dimension of enjoyment to knitting for me. The smell disappears after soaking or washing, though. This yarn (washed) is also marketed in balls as Lang Yarns “Donegal”- I’ve no idea who supplies it though.

Remember my “Little’n’Large” versions of Yuko Nakamura’s slippers? Well, I have been wearing mine almost non-stop since I finished them, even to bed on cold nights, so they were in need of some TLC, even though I’d mixed a synthetic -mix yarn into the soles. I was invited to lunch in Winnie’s on Friday by GF, so I knit little synthetic-only patches during the bus journey, and sewed them on when I got home.

Patched slippers (Patt Yuko Nakamura)

GF, by the way, stands either for GodFather ( he’s DS’s) or Good Friend (to both of us)- he’s the one who gave me access to the Moon rocks (lecturer at UCD). He likes to take me out to lunch and catch up on his godson’s progress, and supports my yarn diet by treating me to a zero-calorie, high-in-fibre woolly “dessert”- this time it was some more Drops Delight for my Happy Blanket (Camilla Gugenheim), which is growing slowly but surely:

Happy Blanket, Camilla Gugenheim

I started into the other Donegal stashbuster blanket I’ve dreamed up, but it turns out I haven’t got enough of some of the colours to do  it the way I’d planned, so that has to be ripped back and started again. Like I said, it’s been one of those weeks….

Mind you, knitting in the school is starting to gather momentum, as at least some parents are quite supportive. The “boys don’t knit” attitude is stamped into some of the kids though, it’s sad that such limitations are being placed on them at such an early age by their upbringing. However, their class teacher is very keen on equal opportunities for all her students, too, so we’re soldiering on!

It’s a sure sign that it’s time to stop and take a deep breath, when I unearth an old project that I’ve never found time to block- the Orchid Thief shawlette (Ysolda Teague). This turned up when I was searching for that runaway?/imagined? ball of dark brown tweed. At the moment it’s a perfect example of how most lace looks like a dog’s dinner before it’s blocked, but it’s a pretty little pattern and the Lang sock yarn is very soft, so I’ll block it as soon as I can find/uncover enough clear floorspace.

Orchid Thief pre-blocking (Ysolde Teague), Lang sock yarn

But don’t hold your breath!