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!


Yarn Quest

Advent Wreath

Well, this has been a busy and productive week, hurray! How do you like my budget Advent wreath? Ingredients: one basic wreath acquired last January in the sales for 2.08Euros (90% off), some poinsettias and Christmas roses made using patterns from Lesley Stanfield’s lovely books, some ribbon from the local supermarket, et voila! A bit fiddly, but worth the effort- for once I hope to be ready in time for the holidays. Mind you, if I manage that, it’ll be because my present-knitting is going to be severely rationed this year- I need to be concentrating on designing.

And now, I have a confession to make. Look at this:

Coolree Yarn

Sumptuous hand-dyed alpaca-silk-cashmere lace yarn: Reader, I bought it! Remember I mentioned that my LYS This is Knit showcases the best in indie-Irish yarns? Well, a few months ago I wandered in there to drool and dream, as is my wont, and there, seductively coiled and gleaming, were a collection of delicious Coolree yarns pleading to come home with me. Now I have years of practice at resisting the siren call of such goodies, which is why I allow myself near TIK in the first place, but this time I was lost. Do you know how difficult it is to find the perfect shade of teal? Well then, I rest my case! I decided that “early Christmas present” was sufficient justification ( it was July at the time), and decided to find out who was responsible for making my resistance crumble.

The culprit turned out to be a young Wexford man, Alex Mc Leod, who learned to knit last year, graduated to spinning and dyeing this year, and is now producing subtly coloured masterpieces for sale. This I had to see, so this Thursday I went on a fieldtrip to Wexford (SE corner of Ireland), a combined mineralogical and yarn quest. They go very well together, honest. The mineral in question was lithium-bearing spodumene (for e.g. energy-saving lightbulbs), I’ll have some photos for you next week, ok?

Wait ’til you see where the yarn is dyed, it’s hard to imagine that something so delicate comes from a centuries old outhouse without electricity or running water (except for the rain coming through parts of the roof….). Here’s Alex, warmly wrapped up to prevent his turning into an icicle, in his workplace:


Alex's Logo

He and his new sign share the space with kayaking gear.

The Beginning

The first skeins were produced using pretty basic equipment…..

Work in Progress

…..but now, with the addition of slow cookers, the process continues to be refined. I particularly liked the concern Alex shows for the environment: note the white vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, which he has chosen to use as being by far the most environmentally friendly way of fixing the dyes.

Teal Yarn

I think this kind of subtle colour blending is just perfect for lace, because it gives an extra liveliness to the stitches without distracting from the pattern- some hand-dyed yarns completely overwhelm anything more complicated than stocking stitch!

Silky Green Yarn

Here are a few colourways, drying in the conservatory, alongside the geraniums:

Skeins Drying

and just one more close-up, ‘cos the colours are so cheerful:

Skein Rainbow

Now, I know my photos aren’t doing the yarn justice, so if by now you’re thinking “early Xmas present” too, have a gander here.

And bye for now to Alex, relaxing at his spinning wheel (and before you ask, only very lucky family and friends receive the results, which are predictably rare but stunning!). I for one did not want to leave, I was having such a good time.

Alex Spinning

Nevertheless, back in Dublin, progress has been made. I’ve tried out some new ideas, like this teal sock-yarn shawlette based on an Estonian lace stitch pattern, a variation of Lily-of-the-Valley.

Teal Lillies Shawlette

The edging still needs tweaking though, before I’ll be pleased with it!

Teal Lillies Detail

The Waterlilies stitch pattern below is also Estonian, and I’m experimenting with a Faroese- style shape, which is why the shawl is being blocked doubled (shoulder shaping so it doesn’t slip off ). I used a single 1000m/100g skein of hand-dyed Fyberspates merino(55%)-silk(45%) -blend lace, from my yarn diet/bargain stash (all but approx. 5m- that was an exciting finish!).

Waterlillies Shawl Blocking

I’ll have to steampress the sides of the shawl once I’ve unpinned it tomorrow morning, but I’ve no idea if this is going to work, never having attempted a shape like this before. Wish me luck!

Waterlillies neck blocking detail

You must be sick of the sight of these by now, but this time I have really, truly finished testing my Gothic baubles, and will get that pattern published in time for Xmas, I promise, regardless of health or domestic crises.

Gothic Bauble Finale

Yes, THIS Xmas!

Yarn diet: progress!

Hah! You thought I was joking, when I said I was going to acquire yarn instead of junk food, in an attempt to unearth my waist, didn’t you? Well, I’ll have you know I’ve lost half a stone of the blubber that accreted onto me when I was immobile with my banjaxed back and hip (and comforting myself with crisps and biccies -yes, I admit it, chocolate ones), so there! How it works (I still have a way to go before I get back from the “overweight” to the “healthy weight” range): any time I’m tempted to buy tasty rubbish in the supermarket I repeat my mantra of “you could get half a ball of alpaca for that” or “that’s worth 200m of silk”, and there’s my instant incentive to resist. Well, it works for me, and the proof of the pudding is that I have a waist again, or at least an indentation at the appropriate site!

The hand-dyed beauties above (Oliver Twists) represent my accumulated “resistance rewards” since I last splurged, plus a little extra on account (so I can’t afford biccies even if I weaken…). I was invited along to the Knitting and Stitching Show in the RDS, where I made a beeline for the O.T. stand, as they are a small British business and that was the only chance to see their hand-dyed goodies in Ireland until next year. Irresistible- it’s true, I lost the run of myself, but look at those colours! I rest my case.

I already have the perfect designs for two of them mapped out, but I’ve reached the stage where I can’t knit fast enough to keep up with all the ideas. I’m developing the knack of actually making one project while my head’s away with the fairies designing the next one, though my wires sometimes get crossed, with dubious results. No wonder many established designers farm out their designs to professional knitters to actually knit up, though I believe that a lot of inspiration gets lost if the design is only done on paper/screen, in two dimensions. Not to mention the sheer enjoyment of making whatever it is (and having it morph into something unexpected but even better as you go)! It seems to me a bit like having babies, handing them over to be reared elsewhere, then collecting them when they’re 18.

Speaking of which, I recently was informed by my son that I’m considered by (at least) some of his peers to be a cool parent. Pleased but mystified, I asked why, and am now in a position to reveal for your delectation, if not your emulation, some key attributes:

  1. Be a geologist (I suspect that anyone who’s really handy with a hammer can tick this box)
  2. Detect camoflaged Airforce hangars built into the Swiss Alps.  2 a. Get away unscathed (it’s a long story..)
  3. Do an all-nighter helping to get an architectural model finished for a deadline the following, without homilies on time management
  4. Watch the entire series of Black Books with sprog when exam nerves threaten
  5. Watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer with sprog (it’s a great opportunity to have That Talk about the Birds and the Bees in Practice (don’t leave it too late), and squabble over which of you has the better chance with Spike (I’m not giving in on this one, I saw him first!)

There was nothing quite like this in any of the parenting books I read- and believe you me, as a lone parent I have done my fair share of consulting the oracles- but actually, apart from the choice of profession, when I boil it down a bit, it seems to amount to nothing more complex than finding or developing interests in common and spending time doing them together- can it be that simple?

So what else have I been doing this week, apart from winding lots of very fine yarn by hand? It’s time to start saving up for a yarn-winder, my wrist is falling off. Well, the Library Knitting group has almost finished the knitted Nativity (pattern by Jean Greenhowe) we’re planning to raffle in aid of a local charity. Each of us did a figure, and very fiddly work it was too. The knitting took very little time, but putting the bits together- well, “never again” is the polite way of expressing our consensus! Mind you, the result is rather sweet, and the kiddies love it, so we’ll chalk it up to experience…..

I’ve also been working on my Lace Sampler Baubles, these are the Gothic versions for those who want to decorate a vampire’s bedchamber or celebrate the Winter Solstice! Please note that they are resting on a platter of stone, made up of fossilised skeletons- I’m proud of that touch. P.S. Belemnites, not humans.

And this is a preview of a shawlette I’m designing, using an Estonian Lily-of-the-Valley lace stitch and a single hank of Bluefaced Leicester Sock Yarn (Fyberspates), acquired at the beginning of my yarn diet- see, I’m not just hoarding the stuff!

So, short’n’sweet this week. I’m hoping to get some (dry) fresh air next week and take some outdoor photos-cross your fingers!

A Diversion

I got bitten by the inspiration bug a few days ago and have been designing, of all things, Christmas tree ornaments. Maybe because the weather’s been more like November than July: shades of grey and soggy! Anyway, I needed a quick and colourful project to cheer myself up, so I dug out some fine yarn I acquired in Thailand a few years ago and started playing with it. It’s used for crochet in Thailand ‘cos knitting never caught on there, I’m told.  You know those Norwegian patterned ornaments by Arne & Carlos (see e.g. Ravelry)? Well I like them well enough, but I’m not a big fan of that style of colourwork. However, I do love lace, so here’s the kind of thing I’ve been coming up with:

The idea is to have a lace ‘jacket’ over a bog standard Xmas ball, letting the original colour shine through. For my prototypes I’m using some polystyrene balls found on sale in a local stationery shop. They’re about 7cm/2.75 inches in diameter, so they’ll do for practice.

I’m doing some in in crochet cotton no. 10 (below left, 565m/613yds per 100g), and some in the acrylic (below right, ~700m/100g). Figuring out the right no. of stitches and repeats for each thickness certainly has distracted me from the rain!

Last Christmas was my baby niece’s first, and my sister decorated the tree entirely in pink and silver to celebrate. I wish I’d thought of this one in time:

Instead, my niece, aka the Princess, received my version of the sleepy bunny from Knitted Nursery by Nancy Atkinson and Sarah Jane Tavner. Snoozy Susie (below right) is so well-loved that a boyfriend was requested for the Princess’ recent first birthday. How could I resist such a compliment? Enter Dozy Dave…

Pleasant surprise: although Susie’s been through 7 months of chewing and teething, she’s not showing the mileage (I brought my darning gear to the party, just in case)!