Walking

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Over the summer walking our dogs has been squeezed in between assignments, often at the end of the day as a bit of a chore.

Today I needed to find some inspiration so after I had dropped Reef off at school I took the dogs up to our local wood.   Ours is a busy town with lots of commuters heading in to London and more coming in to WGC to work at places like Tesco’s HQ or Roche pharma.  It is too easy to forget how close we actually are to nature.

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Sherrard’s Wood is located alongisde the A1 and is a real haven as well as being a wood of special scientific interest.  With the recent rain you can smell the dank earth that will soon be sprouting all kinds of mushrooms.  The leaves haven’t really started falling yet so it is lovely and green with the sun streaming through. There are scots pines, beech, birch, oak, sweet chestnut, hornbeam and other trees I don’t know.  We often meet other dog owners we know and do that oh so British thing – comment on the weather.

Walking helps me to think, to set my day in order and focus my mind.  Sometimes I find myself drafting a tricky sentence in my head and it’s often when I get my mad ideas. The dogs quite like it too.

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Harris Tweed

 

My DH and I spent a glorious 2 weeks on the Isles of Lewis and Harris with our dogs (but no kids) about a month or so ago.  This post is giving me a wonderful opportunity to mull over our experience and the wonderful things we saw and did. The people are so friendly and welcoming and the scenery is something I will always remember and visit again, and again. I had a wonderful chance to catch up with design guru, Alice Starmore, and meet her highland cattle, and our dogs even won prizes at the local agricultural show!

We stayed in Lochside House overlooking the loch at Tosta Chaolais (pronounced Hoolish with a guttural H), a wonderful village on the west side of Lewis.  We couldn’t quite believe the view when we arrived – it was the highlight of each and every day.

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The second day, when we walked through the village we heard the sounds of a weaving loom working, a sound you hear all over the island.  Being a bit of a textile nut I was determined to find out more about the legendary Harris Tweed.

We were lucky enough to be shown round Harris Tweed Hebrides, a relatively new company in Shawbost.  The mill spins the tweed yarn and designs the fabrics but the actual weaving, as determined by an act of Parliament, must be woven by crofters in their homes.  Just think about that for a moment.  Somewhere around 180 weavers, contracted and independent, weave the Harris Tweed in sheds and back rooms that is then exported as a much-prized fabric around the world.

Now I’ve seen a fair bit of spinning over the years but I have never seen a blow room where the fibres are literally blown together to begin the blending process before carding and spinning.  It takes a while to get your head round that the bunch of fibre on the left becomes the roving on the right.

The yarn is then wound onto a warping beam as per the fabric’s design and is then wound off on to the weaver’s beam before being delivered to the weaver with all the weft yarn they need to complete the fabric.  When I visited a weaver a few days after the trip to the factory, there was the beam ready to be woven, which really tickled me.

Each length of fabric is carefully finished and then authenticated by someone from the Harris Tweed Authority with a special iron stamp.  I think I actually squealed when I was allowed to iron the stamp on myself.

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Lorna Macaulay, Chief Executive of the Authority was very generous with her time and I spent a fascinating morning hearing about the history and how the industry has changed.  In the 1960s over 7 million yards of Harris Tweed were produced each year.  In 2009 this had fallen to around 400,000 metres – a catastrophic decline.  But thanks to the Authority’s hard work and the emergence of Harris Tweed Hebrides, the industry now produces 1.2 million metres a year, which makes it sustainable and allows the crofters a regular income.  This growth is also encouraging younger people to move in to every aspect of the Harris Tweed process through a very well thought out programme which embeds vocational qualifications into the curriculum of the islands.

I came away with an even greater respect for Harris Tweed and all the wonderful people involved in its regeneration. They were all an inspiration and I really valued the time they gave me to share their passion.

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Pretty Knitted Hands

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From autumn to spring I always have a pair of fingerless mitts close at hand for chilly days, walking the dogs but mainly because I like them.  I tend to wear mainly black and grey so they are a great way to introduce a bit of colour. If I’m experimenting with a new pattern or yarn, I’ll often knit up a pair.  I would rarely splurge on something like cashmere for a garment but when it comes to mitts…..

Well this year I’m not going to have any problem finding patterns – my worry is whther I have enough scrumptious yarn – because of a great new book that arrived in the post called Pretty Knitted Hands by Clara Falk and Kamilla Svanlund.

The 27 patterns have been broken down into seasons and although some of the designs are definitely not my taste, there is enough variety for everyone. The techniques such as Latvian braid are explained clearly, and there is a nice mix of cables, lace and colour work, wrist warmers and full mittens.

To my mind this is a book to buy now for all that christmas gift knitting I’m sure you have already started planning.

Hello again

It has been a month since I last posted.  I had every intention of writing while I was away with work and on holiday, but dodgy internet connections put paid to that.  I think I also just needed a break, sitting and knitting while overlooking a beautiful loch on the Outer Hebrides.

But I am back and wanted to share a bit about where I have been. The first week was spent in the Faroe Islands with a group of knitters on an Arena Travel holiday.  We had such fun and learned a huge amount about the islands; they have a population of 50,000 and 75,000 sheep; they  wear their national dress at any opportunity; they like to eat a stew made from ‘fermented’ lamb’s meat; they learned how to cut peat and line fish from the Shetland islanders many hundreds of years ago; many houses have grass on the roof to help protect against the storm; they love to knit.

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We had a fantastic guide who took us to several museums, a walking tour of Torshavn (the capital) and to meet the producers of Snaeldan and Navia wool.  The historical knitted items were fascinating.

He was just so knowledgeable and happy to share the history of the islands.  I loved the lovely little churches dotted around the coast, two of which you can see here.

The ladies I was teaching came from all over the world and learned continental knitting, two-handed Fair Isle and steeking as well as a basic tutorial in Dorset buttons.

We packed so much in to our week on these amazing islands and I would love to go back.  If you want to read more I am currently writing an article for The Knitter

Holiday Dilemmas

As the holiday season approaches I am getting more and more stressed.  Not only will I be taking a break with DH (our first grown-up holiday in more than 20 years), but I am also travelling with Arena Travel to the Faroe Islands to teach.  It’s not the packing and remembering to pack the travel plug and ALL the chargers I need.  IT’s choosing which knitting and crochet projects to take with me.Of course I do have a list, but narrowing it down is giving me sleepless nights.

Here is the long, un-edited version.

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I am a huge fan of Sofie Digard and have been crocheting different sizes of granny squares in Noro Sekku lace (now discontinued).  This project is crocheted on a 2.5mm hook and is very fine and portable.

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I have cast on Stripes Gone Crazy by Atelier Alfa in Gomitoli’s 4 ply Lambswool (grey) and Lambswool Cashmere in a lovely light green.  This is a top down cardi and so far a very satisfying knit.

My relatively new sock addiction offers me lots of possibilities and I have a pair on the go in Zauberball.  It’s my own design incorporating a strong heel – kind of mindless knitting that I can remember off by heart and can pick up and put down without losing my place.

Gallret_20rott_small2Bohus Stickning’s Red Grillwork was a pressie to myself earlier in the year and I have wanted to get this started for a while.  I need to read the pattern thoroughly before I go to make sure I know what I am doing.

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The Knitter have commissioned a wrap in Kauni Effektgarn lace featuring Transylvanian cross stitch designs, re-interpretated as Fair Isle.  It will have a very long steek so I can fringe it once it is cut.  This is a big knit and I really need to get on with it.

Then there’s a cushion I want to knit from Jamieson’s of Shetland to use up some stash, some socks for my neighbours little boy, a crocheted moebius wrap for the winter…… I could go on and on.

So my question to you is how many and which projects should I take?  I will undoubtedly knit less than I expect and I do want to finish something.

Ho hum, back to the list.

On Creativity

chair 3My eldest son is home from Uni where he is studying 3-D design.  After 2 years it looks like what he most wants to do is design furniture, working with wood and metal. This is his stool based on an Egyptian throne. In fact since he’s been home he’s decided to make himself a new bed so our alleyway is littered with wood and the whole house smells of varnish.

While he was sanding the wood I found him watching one of my favourite TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson. If you have never come across this amazing man I encourage you to view the talks here.

He is described as an educationalist but is so much more than that. A professor of education, he also led the UK commission on creativity, education and the economy in 1998.  These days he is an internationally recognised leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business.

For me, his championing of creativity in education is what resonates the most with me . Broadly he argues that if children aren’t allowed to develop their creativity, they may not be able to unlock their problem solving abilities and that is crucial.  It’s not just crafts people that need to be creative.  Everyone from scientists to entrepreneurs, from doctors to care workers need to be able to problem solve, to make decisions about a situation and move it forward. Without imagination, and the ability to see a situation in 360 degrees rather than in a linear way, our world just wouldn’t progress. And it has been this way for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  How do you think man invented the wheel?  How did Sir Isaac Newton make that quantum leap from a falling apple to uncovering the secrets of gravity?  How did we get to the moon?

Yet our children are tested and examined like never before.  I understand that government needs to know our future generations are able to read and write, but what about the qualitative side of education.  Children are all unique and develop at completely different rates.  They need to have the room to breathe instead of worrying about the next exam.  They need to be allowed to be creative and express themselves in whichever way they are comfortable with.  As anxiety among young people increases in such a stellar way, surely there is a better way to nurture them? I firmly believe that putting creativity at the heart of our education system is not only fundamental but just plain exciting.

Oh yes, and Sir Ken is pretty funny as well.

 

The Big Sock Yarn Review

groupI have been knitting socks, lots of them.

Ever since the maths of socks suddenly made sense to me I have become slightly obsessed with their anatomy, the different heels and toes, the way patterning moves across the structure and all the amazing yarns out there.

I put a call out a while ago to review some of the sock yarns because I wanted to know if there was much difference between the different products on offer. I didn’t want to knit too many pairs so I scaled down a basic sock with a heel flap and tried each yarn by knitting a mini sock to give me a feel for the yarns.  I have had way too much fun putting this review together as you can see.

I tried Regia 4 ply, Bergere De France Goomy 50, Artesano Definition Sock Yarn, Coop Knits Sock YeahKnittinginFrance Sparkles, John Arbon Alpaca Sock and Debbie Bliss Rialto Luxury Sock.

sock lengthAs you can see from this picture each yarn knitted up slightly differently.  I used the same 24st pattern for each on 2.25mm needles, but some yarns give a ‘longer’ result so I would suggest a tension square is a definite must if you aren’t using the yarn specified in your pattern.

Regia 4 ply 100gm ball – 75% Wool, 25% Polyamide

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This is a nice even yarn with a bit of bounce .  I would categorise it as a good quailty staple yarn for your everyday sock.  Given the excellent stitch definition I think it would do well with cable designs.

 

Bergere De France Goomy 50 – 75% Wool, 25% Polyamide

This was the only variegated yarn I tried and I loved the colours and how they knitted up.  When you knit with Goomy it has a nice bit of life in it making it a pleasure to work with.  In fact I enjoyed knitting with this yarn so much I am making socks for myself out of this one.

Artesano Definition Sock Yarn – 75% Wool, 25% Polyamide

While the colour palette for this yarn isn’t huge it is very well balanced so there is something for every knitter. It has a very nice and even stitch texture and the yarn itself is satisfyingly full. It would be ideal for Fair Isle socks.

Coop Knits Sock Yeah yarn – 75% Superwash Merino, 25% Nylon

This yarn is a little thinner and finer spun than the others that I tried so I would consider socks with 2mm needles to give a denser fabric or socks that feature lace to bring out it’s real beauty.  It does have a lovely drape to it so might be worth trying in shawls as well.

KnittinginFrance Sparkles – 75% Superwash Merino, 2o% Nylon, 5% Silver Stellina

This was my absolute favourite yarn of all the samples I knitted.  The stitch definition was superb and the semi solid colour looks fantastic.  I can’t wait to choose a pattern for it.  The Silver Stellina gives a subtle sparkle which I really like

John Arbon Alpaca Sock – 60% Alpaca, 20% Exmoor Blueface, 20% Nylon

Because of the high proportion of Alpaca blended with the delicious Exmoor Blueface fleece, this yarn it is quite hairy as you can see so I’m not sure whether you would lose detail on cable and lace.  But for Fair Isle and rugged walking socks I think it would be ideal.

Debbie Bliss Rialto Luxury Sock – 75% Wool, 25% Polyamide

I loved the colours in Debbie’s new yarn – she is such a master at putting shades together.  My only concern, because this is more of a roving yarn, is that it might pill, but you can always use a different yarn for heels and toes so that you can indulge yourself in the lovely hues.

I have learned so much from trying all of these yarns so a huge thanks to everyone who sent me samples.

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