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Tag Archives: Love

A Yorkshire Retreat

I don’t think many hen nights turn into a knitting retreat, but it’s the logical solution when every participant is a knitter. One of my best friends is getting married later this year and we all met up in Yorkshire for a weekend of knitting and relaxation. I had been to Yorkshire before for work, but I had never had a chance to spend time in a stunning landscape filled with textile heritage.

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We took the train from Carlisle to Settle – to our great surprise (and delight) the train journey turned out to be spectacular. It runs past the Pennines and through the Yorkshire Dales.

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Every station was a Victorian delight with ornate architecture and beautiful details. I can only recommend taking the train journey – it is absolutely stunning and I feel fortunate to have experienced it.

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May 2015 227And there are sheep everywhere. I was particularly interested in seeing the varieties of sheep in the fields we passed. The Swaledale sheep is the official ‘face’ of the Yorkshire dales and I spotted a few on my train journey. I am not Deb Robson, so I could not identify all the little dots scampering around the fells but it was still great seeing so many varieties.

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We had rented a house a few miles outside Settle. It was pretty much my dream house: Georgian proportions, a country kitchen (though I found cooking on an AGA fairly intimidating), a small conservatory with built-in book shelves and open fires in each of the living rooms. Did I mention the views?

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This was the view from my bedroom (where I sat in the window seat as I took this picture). It looked like merino sheep in the cow-parsley/buttercup field. They fled as soon as I tried getting closer for a better view. Roses in the front garden and a beautiful back garden with views across the dale.

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It was a bit too cold for me to sit outside and knit, but I was tempted! Once inside, the house offered many temptations..

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.. but I stuck to my knitting mostly. I currently have three projects on the go – one that requires a lot of maths, one that requires a lot of concentration and, er, one that’s 1 ply lace. I mainly worked on the latter as it seemed more straightforward given the high level of hilarity.

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I did not move from my comfy chair most of the weekend, though I discovered just how bad I am at playing pool. The adjacent house had a ruby spaniel that loved cuddles, so time was spent doing that too. And copious amounts of tea, tea and tea. Cake was had from the interestingly-named local pub/bakery.

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It was a lovely weekend. We took the train back to Carlisle yesterday.

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And then a rail-replacement bus back to Glasgow (when I fell asleep – all that fresh country air!). I’m having the day off today as I’m oddly exhausted after my relaxing weekend away. While it was fun waltzing around a 19th country house for a few days, it’s rather lovely to be home in my humble abode again. I’m down to London next week – when I pass Carlisle on my way down, I’ll think fondly of this trip.

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Earlier this month the great-grandson of Post-impressionist painter Paul Gauguin passed away. It did not make headline news anywhere and I only found out via social media. The news upset me greatly.

I grew up in a very rural part of Denmark. Prime farm country, most of life revolved around agricultural shows, travelling circuses coming to town, and the occasional dance at the local community hall. I was a bookish child and was a regular visitor to the local library. Books became my solace as I felt out of place – I read a lot of historical fiction and I made fanciful, historical outfits for my dolls. I was a lonely child.

When I started 5th grade, Mr Clovis Gauguin was assigned as our art teacher. He had a large, unruly beard and wore colourful scarves. I had never seen anyone like him and his name was hard to pronounce. He began by declaring art classes should have soundtracks and for the next few years he played us everything from 1950s jazz to 1970s prog rock while we painted. Occasionally he’d urge us to bring our own tapes to class.

And he’d show us art.

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Mont Sainte Victoire by Paul Cezanne

His family connections made Post-impressionism the obvious place to start. We sat copying paintings by Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, and (my favourite) Paul Cezanne as well as Gramps Gauguin. Then Mr Gauguin asked us to paint in the styles of the painters we had studied and the paintings were displayed at school. My mum later told me that Mr Gauguin had pulled her aside to talk to her about me. I was going to stretch my wings one day, he told her.

I did stretch my wings. I left my childhood community when I was 18 and moved to big cities doing things I could not have imagined as a lonely child stuck in the middle of nowhere. Thanks to social media, I reconnected with Mr Clovis Gauguin a few years ago and we had some fantastic conversations about art and music. I told him how much his encouragement had meant to me and he was delighted to hear that he had made a difference.

The difference was this: Mr Gauguin showed me there was a world out there filled with art, beauty and truth. He taught me to express myself, to trust in myself and that life could be very different. While many of my passions can be traced back to the Friday afternoons we spent with Mr Gauguin (late 19th century art and early 20th century culture in particular – but also poetry, abstract art and cool jazz), it is very possible I would have discovered these things in my library books. But I would not have known that I had colours and words inside me. Another way of life was suddenly possible thanks to my art teacher.

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Nave Nave Moe by Paul Gauguin

On the day of his funeral, Mr Gauguin’s Facebook feed was filled with stories shared by people all over the world. Unsurprisingly I was not the only one who had benefited from his joie de vivre, his passion, and his encouragement. Concert videos from a restaurateur in the Southern United States who had once hosted Mr Gauguin’s jazz band; Tahitian relatives sharing memories of drinking beer with Mr Gauguin outside a memorial service for his great-grandfather (“Paul hated the church, so in his honour..”); but mostly stories similar to mine. So many people writing about discovering a big, big world – both within and outwith themselves.

I cried when I heard Mr Gauguin had passed away, but he left his mark on the world by inspiring and nurturing people whenever and wherever. Sometimes you do not need to generate headlines to be a big, important person. And he really was such a person to me.

A Library of Byatts

I am really enjoying all the Byatts popping up both on Ravelry and at the events I attend. While my own group’s KAL officially ended at the end of March, several other KALs have strung up. It’s such a marvellous thing to see all the colour combinations and personal touches out there. As I enjoy looking through all the project photos, I thought I’d share a couple of the finished Byatts with you.

First up is JessieMcKitrick who chose to combine a rich red-purple with a stunning gold colour. This warm colour combination is rich and sumptuous – and it reminds me quite a bit of the Game of Thrones series wherein crimson and gold are the colours of the royal house of Lannister. Hey, I happen to live with someone who has read all the books..

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Continuing on with the gold theme, I gasped when I first saw the colour combination that CountrySinger had chosen for her version. I have mild synaesthesia and those two colours vibrate when I look at the photos. I especially love how it’s miles outside my own comfortzone and yet I’d wear it in a heartbeat. Now that is colour appreciation for you!

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Whitehart, aka Sadie, chose to stash-dive for her Byatt. I chose this photo because I think the blue-turquoise looks so stunning on Sadie and works incredibly well with her skin tone. I know many people have been focused on getting the contrast colour right, but here Sadie shows why it’s even more important to get the main colour right. This colour combination suits her so well.

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I have seen the next Byatt in person and it looks so delicate. EllaSkye ran into the problem of not having enough yardage to complete the pattern as written. Her solution was to add a third colour that was a slightly darker shade of her original main colour and she opted to do the cast-off in the darker colour too so the shawl had a strong sense of continuity. It looks amazing and even prettier when you get to see it and squish it in person, I can tell you that.

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Another Byatt I have seen in person: Helen of RipplesCraft. Helen chose a very contemporary colour combination of a neutral slate gray (she calls it ‘peat’ – who am I to debate colour with a dyer?!) and a zingy lime green. I love how this makes the stripe section sing.

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Finally, Noirem’s Byatt. I will confess that this photo stopped me in the tracks. A beautiful combination of subtle blue-teal with a silvery contrast colour and then the stunning shawl pin that echoes the cast-off edge. I knitted my original Byatt in a warm teal with a bronze-like edging. Jennifer has somehow made a cool, elegant twin version of that shawl.

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A lot of other Byatts out there – I’ve seen gradient versions, glittery versions, and variegated versions. I have somehow managed to design a shawl that lends itself to a lot of experimentation with yarns and I’m really proud of that. Keep uploading those photos. I adore seeing every single one.

(Photos all used with permission – thank you so much!)

PS. I cannot resist linking to this thoughtful post about knitting Byatt. It really stopped me in my tracks.

So, a Few Words About Ball Bands

I have had a couple of conversations lately about gauge and yarn subs, so I thought I’d write briefly about how to read ball band labels.

First, though, two things.

1) The Seaforth hat is now free to download from Ravelry. Go on! One skein of kettle-dyed loveliness will net you a fabulous hat for Spring (or Autumn if you’re on the other side of the world to me). This one’s on me.

2) I’ve updated the workshop page with the last few workshops of Spring 2015. I’m currently developing new classes, so this will be your last chance for some of these. I think that’s a fair warning!

Now about those ball bands.

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A snapshot of what’s on my table this afternoon! I also liked the array of languages. from L to R: Danish sock yarn (or at least a Danish ball-band), British Black Yarns Classic DK, Faroese Sirri Art Yarn, and Malabrigo Rios from Uruguay. Knitting is a global language.

Firstly, you need to understand that the ball band gauge is more a guideline than anything.

Suggested gauge on the ball band works to categorise yarns: this is double-knitting, this is a worsted-weight yarn and so forth. It is helpful for yarn companies as it’s easier to sell a line of yarn if it falls into a category than if it’s an outlier (many LYSs have sections based on yarn weights: “this is the lace section and here are the 4ply/fingering-weight yarns”). This way of categorising yarns makes sense for LYSs – quite simply, categories helps if you stock more than 10 different yarns. Not only can LYS employees confidently recommend yarn substitutions (“Oh, this hat is knitted in Unicorn Yarn DK? We don’t stock that yarn, but you could try this DK from Glitter Kitten Yarns”) but it makes life easier for everybody to agree on what a DK is and how it’s different from a lace-weight yarn.

So there is a definite interest in having standard weights with standard gauges.

However, one thing is what we can all agree upon and another thing is reality. I am not saying this happens but yarn companies may sometimes “force” a yarn into a category even it is actually just a smidgen too fine or heavy to fall into a category. When I worked with LYSs here in the UK, I recommended they always swatched their yarns to learn the handle of the yarn and also (coughs) if a yarn actually worked up nicely at a certain gauge. I am not naming actual examples but there is one UK DK yarn with a recommended gauge of 23-22 sts that I always felt belonged to the sport category with a gauge of 25-24sts.

So, you have a ball band gauge that is a ballpark figure and occasionally a marketing tool. Keep that in mind. The stated ballband gauge does not always spell the truth and should be considered a guideline more than anything else.

Secondly, in a pattern you should always pay attention to a designer’s gauge

Every designer has different gauge and the knitter should try to get gauge (esp. something like clothing, oh my). I often liken knitting to handwriting: we can all agree on what a handwritten R looks like, but it’ll always look slightly different from person to person. Designers are individuals too and as such their knitting gauge is also slightly different from designer to designer.

My favourite example is a Rowan magazine. I knitted two fair isle cardigans out of Rowan Felted Tweed. One cardigan used 3.25mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4” – the other cardigan used 4mm to get a gauge of 25 sts over 4”. Same company, same magazine, same yarn, two different designers. The ball band says a third thing, by the way.

Sometimes a designer may also deliberately play around with a yarn to get a completely different fabric than a ‘standard’ stocking stitch (whatever the agreed standard is, of course!). These days I think the most common deviation from recommended gauge is 4ply/fingering weight which many people are now happy to knit on 4mm needles at a gauge miles away from 28-30 sts over 4″. On the flipside of the coin I had a pattern where I used a yarn I’d normally knit at 16-15 sts over 4” where I took it down to something ridiculous like 28 sts – it was dense. I explained in the notes that I wanted a very firm fabric and people were generally really happy. For me, it was about communicating why I had chosen such a dense fabric and not followed the ball band gauge.

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So, how to decode a ball band – in brief

Another yarn from the pile on the table is the Rowan Creative Focus Worsted. I thought it made a good little intro to ball bands (especially if you are not a confident knitter).

  • product code: this one always baffles people. When you work with masses of yarn (say, as a buyer or as a LYS owner), you need product codes so you can keep track of stock, do orders, and track best-sellers. Most shade cards also have corresponding product codes.
  • recommended gauge: CFW comes in at 20 sts and 24 rows over 4″/10 cm. That’s pretty much standard for a worsted-weight yarn which is slightly heavier than a DK (which is 22 sts) and an Aran (which is typically 18 sts). Interestingly I get 21sts across 4″ when I knit with CFW. One stitch out over 4″ doesn’t sound like much but it does actually matter when you are working with hundreds of stitches – then that one stitch can mean the difference between a well-fitting cardigan and a sad-looking thing at the back of the wardrobe.
  • recommended needles: guideline, folks, guideline. If you are a loose knitter, you go down a needle size and if you are a tight knitter, you go up a needle size .. after you have looked at the designer’s chosen needle size and swatched.
  • product name: sometimes the actual name of the yarn gives you a clue as to the weight of the beastie. Creative Focus Worsted. Classic DK. Snowflake Chunky. Sometimes you have to look closer, though: Baby Cashmerino? Cocoon? Cascade 220?

If you are unsure about the various weights, the Craft Council of America has a great page about the North American system. The UK system is different (as is the Australian method, the Scandinavian system etc). The best person to ask about the yarn you are contemplating buying will always be your LYS employee (because they should know their stock better than anyone!) and I also recommend asking at your knitting group and, obviously, the designer!

Ah, my few words about ball bands turned out to be 1000+ words. So it goes.

Have a great weekend, folks!

Let It Go, Let It Go – On Stash Accumulation & Destashing

Disclaimer: I’ve not seen Disney’s Frozen but my local coffee pusher wears a necklace saying “Let It Go”, so I am sure that counts as pop-cultural immersion.

I opened the door to my stash cupboard this morning and my stomach clenched. I was looking at boxes upon boxes of yarn – and then various plastic bags stacked on top of the boxes or squished between them. I watched a loose ball from goodness-know-where slip down and head towards my feet. I was looking for a particular yarn but I did not know where to start – and I also realised that if I pulled out a box, the whole system* would collapse on top of my head.

(* I use this word loosely)

Yarn is all about beauty and story-telling for me. One of the many pleasure of my life in knitting is that I get to work with yarn that feels alive in my hands and connects me to its place of origin. But when I look at all the boxes, I don’t see stories waiting to be written or items waiting to get worn – I see fragments of who I used to be as a knitter.

Most of my yarn stash stems from when I rediscovered knitting. I would hit the sales with friends, score bargains on the internet, and pick up random balls of yarn whenever I visited a new LYS. Then I began working for a yarn company and I accumulated so much yarn – far more than I could actually managed to knit. I was lucky to have access to yarn – but I also ended up with a lot of summer yarns that don’t lend themselves to my lifestyle. I live in Scotland and, crucially, I am always cold. Even though that cotton/silk yarn looks and feels amazing, I think it’s time I admitted to myself that I’m probably never going to make that casual summer cardigan.

Nowadays I work as an independent knitting designer. This change in environment means that I no longer think of yarn as something to be stashed: I have work yarn and work yarn makes me happy. I am lucky enough to work with yarns that I feel truly passionate about and I do not put those yarns into my yarn stash. Work yarn goes into the box next to my favourite arm chair and each yarn is assigned to a specific project. When I work on future projects, I derive great pleasure from researching yarns and finding the right one for the specific job. Occasionally I will have the right yarn in the stash – but I will know exactly where to find it because it was always destined for one specific design.

I’ve changed the way I think about yarn, in other words. It is time for a destash and luckily this urge coincides with my knitting group’s annual destash evening. I think I am about to shock my friends. Let it go, let it goooo…

Spring Yarns & Colours, Oh My

Jamiesons at Queen of Purls

Earlier today I was having a long conversation with Jo of the Shinybees podcast, and I know you’ll be shocked to hear that we lapsed into a long conversation about yarn. It wasn’t a big, clever discussion about the economics of the yarn industry or an in-depth analysis of current hand-dyeing trends. We just had a full-on yarn love discussion. This is what I love about my life in knitting: people understand you when you lapse into a long, rapturous monologue about Yarns That You Love. I don’t do small-talk very well, but I can talk about yarn at great length. And sometimes you just need pictures to go along with the full-on yarn love. Look at the WALL of Jamieson’s – I took the photo at The Queen of Purls this past weekend when I ran a class there. I could just bury myself in that WALL OF COLOUR.

This is very much the Week After the Week After Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I have finally caught up on sleep and I feel back in sync once more. The organisers of EYF have announced they will be back next year – I am simultaneously excited and ‘but I have only just recovered from the last one’. As you may remember, I was too busy to do any shopping during EYF so I allowed myself a small post-EYF treat. Ms Knit British alerted me to a new yarn base/colour combo from Skein QueenGotland Rustic in Emerald City. In SQ’s own words:

This rustic Gotland Wool comes from Swedish Gotland sheep and is spun in Denmark. This traditional Scandinavian wool is somewhat hairy yet has the typical silky lustre of the Gotland sheep, and drapes very well. It’s warm and hard-wearing. Gotland sheep are naturally grey, so hand-dyed colourways obtain an extra depth and richness. Emerald green on the grey base.

In other words, that yarn had my name all over it and I know exactly what I will be doing with it (an Authors & Artists design).

Skein Queen Gotland loveliness

 

But first I need to finish a commissioned design that I am knitting out of a GLORIOUS shade of Malabrigo Rios. I cannot say much beyond that (because, you know, commissions) so I’m just going to talk briefly about Japanese short rows that I’ve been using a lot recently and which look amazing in garter stitch.

malabrigo rios & short rows

I often find standard wrap-and-turn short rows really cumbersome and annoying to work. Standard w&t became especially annoying when I worked short row “set-in” sleeves for my recent Hetty cardigan, so I knew I wanted to explore other techniques with this new design. Japanese short rows turned out to be exactly what I needed – they were quick to work, super-intuitive and worked a treat both worked flat and in the round (if you are unfamiliar with this method, Carol Feller has a great tutorial).

Ah, soul feasting on colours and textures and all the beautiful sunshine here in Glasgow. Spring is here. What are you knitting?

 

Oh My Darling EYF2015

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The past weekend saw the second Edinburgh Yarn Festival happen. Just like the first EYF, it was absolutely brilliant. I don’t have many photos to show you. I was too busy to take photos and, while appreciative, David does not feel like taking 9500 photos of yarn stalls. I don’t quite know why.

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Old Maiden Aunt

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Baa Ram Ewe

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Podcaster Plutonium Muffin was drop-spindling this beauty

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The Evening Ca-BAA-Ret with the dream team, KNITSONIK and Ms Y.

March 2015 142Helene Magnusson had an exquisite stall

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Lovely to see rustic Scandinavian yarns in the UK

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This photo cracks me up because it makes me look like a photo-bomber.

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Weaving is the new spinning is the new knitting is the new yoga

Because I was so incredibly busy, I did not have time to make any purchases and I also missed out on seeing many, many friends (you know who you are). However, I did meet an incredible amount of amazing people and I had some really thought-provoking conversations. I honestly never knew so many of you read this blog and I am blown away by some of the insightful comments you made to me. It really made me think about big, hard things and on my way home on Sunday night, I wrote the first draft of the preface to my next big, big collection.

EYF 2015 was incredible. I have already thanked the organisers profusely, but I also want to thank Louise Scollay who really came through for me when I hit my Wall of Stress. The Podcast Lounge was a sanctuary for many people and I loved hearing all the small conversations between total strangers. EYF also had a very strong community feel with an emphasis on smart, bold people who march to a different beat. It was inclusive and positive – and it felt very personal and warm despite its size. I took a lot from it (not least hugs and chocolate).

Over the weekend I worked 35 hours, slept for seven hours, and travelled for six hours – and I would happily do it all over again. Just give me a week to recover from this one.

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Loved this bridge right by the EYF venue. Look at it!

An Edinburgh Yarn Festival Surprise!

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Pattern: Proserpine (An Autobiographical Note)

Growing up I was a bit of an odd child. I preferred reading to playing with the neighbours’ kids, and I had strong imaginative/romantic streak which manifested itself in archaeological digs in the backyard and an unhealthy obsession with medieval architecture. As a teenager, I became even more of a bookworm and, thanks to my school’s eclectic library, I fell in love with Rupert Brooke (hot; dead; wrote poetry) and Lord Byron (hot; dead; wrote poetry).

On a trip to Copenhagen, I bought a slim volume of love poetry which turned out to be one of the key book purchases of my life. The slim volume introduced me to a wealth of poetry beyond the “hot & dead” category. One of my new discoveries was Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a 19th century English poet and artist. I never imagined that years later I’d be designing knitting patterns inspired by his work.

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Proserpine is a half-circle shawl inspired by Rossetti’s painting by the same name (and also a tiny bit by the Daydream painting). Both feature contemplative women dressed in blue-green drapes surrounded by nature. I wanted to capture the drape and flow in my shawl design, and also introduce a leaf motif in a way that was subtle. As I was originally commissioned to design this pattern for Knit Now‘s Arts & Crafts issue, I also wanted my design to reflect the Arts & Crafts Movement’s ‘truth to materials’ tenet – I needed the shawl to show off the quality and beauty inherent in hand-dyed yarn.

The pattern is now available in general release. It uses roughly 850 yrds of 4-ply/fingering-weight yarn (this equates to 2 skeins of hand-dyed gorgeousness) and is knitted on 4.5mm needles to ensure drape. The pattern is both charted and contains full written instructions (because that is how I roll). Most of the pattern uses soothing stocking stitch, and the increases are worked EZ-style, though the lace cleverly disguises this. I know I go on about my patterns being relaxed knits, but this is another one of those (sorry folks).

Some of you have asked if this is the next instalment in Authors & Artists? I suppose I could easily have added Proserpine to the series, but I have decided that Authors & Artists will be featuring women writers and authors. I may have grown up being enamoured by hot, dead poet guys but now I find strong, smart women far more cool. If you are going to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival, I will be talking to Louise Scollay in the Podcast Lounge about Authors & Artists, you’ll be able to see the Proserpine shawl sample at the Old Maiden Aunt stall, and I’ll be wearing the original magazine sample too.

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Ingenious Impressions at Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery

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Glasgow Hunterian Museum is currently hosting an exhibition on pre-1500 printed books, known as incunabula. In my previous academic incarnation, I used to work on the transition from manuscripts to printed books, so I was obviously thrilled to see this exhibition open in a local museum.  On Thursday I was lucky enough to catch a preview before going to a workshop the very next day. It is fair to say that the workshop turned out to be some of the best and most memorable hours of my life. I cannot thank Martin Andrews and Alan May enough for their generous sharing of all their knowledge and expertise.

Not only did I get to have a go at printing a page from the famous 42-line Gutenberg Bible, but I used a replica 15th C printing press built by Alan May for BBC’s Stephen Fry & The Gutenberg Press programme (I recommend this programme – it was very well researched). May used several near-contemporary etchings and woodblock prints to reconstruct the press as no printing presses from the time has survived. I was very interested in an Albrecht Dürer etching showing a modified two-pull press which Alan May described as fundamentally flawed, yet utterly precise. Dürer is a fascinating figure, anyway, and I like the idea of him having fingers in a lot of pies!

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Another highlight was getting to cast my own type(!) under careful supervision. May & Andrews went through the entire process of carving out a prototype (the very name!), showing us how to develop a matrix from a prototype, before starting to cast types. It was absolutely fantastic.

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And dare I whisper that my next big collection actually has something to do with knowledge-making in Early Modern Europe? Much more on that when the time comes, but it’s a huge thrill that this exhibition has opened up in Glasgow just as the next stage of research begins.

Ingenious Impressions at  Glasgow Hunterian Art Gallery runs from February 27 until June 21, 2015. Free Admission.