MS3 is finally blocking!

The knitting on this beast has actually been finished for ages, but pinning something like this out to block takes forever – and I couldn’t decide whether to buy any blocking wires, and the studio was a mess (i.e. the floor was not available) and so on…  And frankly, I’ve fallen well and truly out of love with this project, which is a shame.  I think it’s the first real project knit with my handspun, and it’s certainly the first time I’ve spun yarn specifically for a certain project.

It’s the risk of the ‘mystery’ aspect, of course – and I knew what I was signing up for when I started (except, of course, I didn’t – that’s rather the point).  That is, I knew that I didn’t know, and that there was a chance I wouldn’t like the pattern when all was said and done.  And now it is finished – it’s certainly not one I would buy in a fit of bouncing enthusiasm, wishing everything else was finished right now so I could cast on.

Is it the asymmetry?  Possibly.  But then, I like both ends of the stole, and asymmetry doesn’t normally bother me too much (I’m noticeably asymmetrical myself).

Maybe it’s the join; I love the border of the first half of the stole, and it does seem, well, rather ungraceful to have it stop so abruptly for the wing to start.

But I finally sucked it up and did it – put away all the yarn boxes, hoovered (you wouldn’t want to block laceweight wool on the amount of mud that the pup had tracked across the carpet), found pins, measuring tape and a camera, gave the stole a bath and went for it.  I do apologise for photographing a cream stole on a cream carpet; I appreciate this is not the optimum arrangement for contrast, but, well, it’s the only carpet I had available.  I will try and plan my knitting more photo-congenially in the future.   However, I will say that there really *is* a lot more detail available in the larger versions (click for bigger..)

Before blocking:

18" wide

wing section 24" long:

‘other’ section 39" long:

After blocking:

21" wide, wing section 32" long:

‘Other’ section 49" long:

It most certainly doesn’t have ‘laying flat appeal’ – the blocking equivalent to ‘hanger appeal’.  There are clothes that can only be effectively sold if displayed modelled; on a hanger, they just don’t ‘work’ for a shopper’s eye.  I think the same applies to this thing, laid flat.  But some of the modelled shots I’ve seen have been stunning; I can only hope the same will happen here (and that I can persuade J to do an official photo-shoot once it’s dry).

Please vote! And prize draw

OK – after much wracking of the Internet, I think I’ve come up with an alternative sweater for my Dad’s Christmas gift.  This one, from Drops:


It’s very much his style, the gauge matches the Soft Shetland (or close enough, anyway) and there are enough colours involved that I will definitely have enough yarn to complete it.  One catch – I have no black, and no grey.  Perhaps that’s two catches.  So I need a new colourway.

I have lots of brown/orange/yellow colours, plus a selection of colours from the blue/purple side of the colourwheel and a hard, biting red available.  My Dad will wear browns, definitely – probably more than the original, and definitely more than a generally blue colour scheme – but I think we need a colour for the ‘red triangles’ in the original design that will provide a bit of contrast, a bit of ‘zip’ to the overall colourway.  So, thanks to the magic of Excel, we have the following five options:

I think this keeps the colourway too much in the ‘all-brown’ arena.  It’s nice to look at, but I’m not feeling the love.




Eww.  Not keen on this at all.



Surprisingly workable.  Despite being another ‘warm’ colour, I think the harshness of the red is sufficiently removed from the earthiness of the browns to give a bit of bite to the overall look.  Or is it?



I can’t make up my mind about this one.  Sometimes I think it’s the best of the lot; others I think the value of the purple is too close to that of the darker brown.  Overall, I don’t think there’s enough contrast for the design to work, though the colours in the skein all look very pretty together.



Quite a powdery blue, the contrast is definitely there, but I can’t help feeling that a girly, almost baby, blue is a bit out of place, overall.

For comparison, here’s the chart worked up in the original colourway:


I have to say, I really like the original, but again, I ain’t buying yarn for this project.  I only just have enough storage room as it is (and that’s not counting Rod, Jane and Freddy, who are currently residing in the garage.  Mostly.)

So, please, leave a comment and let me know your views.  Let me know which of the above you prefer; offer alternate pattern suggestions if you wish, or tell me what a dreadful, ingrate daughter I am to insist on knitting from stash for the dear man’s Christmas gift.

Each person who comments (in a relevant fashion!  Thanks, Simon!) will be entered into a prize draw; I have something deliciously fibrey up my sleeve as a prize, and alternatives for any non-fibrey types who win.

I will be swatching in the meantime, and of course, reserve all rights not to go with the majority vote if whimsy takes me that way – but please, opinions!

Rod, Jane and Freddy

Actually, I don’t know what their names are, but there are three of them, and I have their fleece.

They are three sheep rescued from the last journey by a friend-of-a-friend.  She has no need for sheep, or their fleece, but is a real soft touch and ends up taking in waifs and strays of all species.  I sympathise greatly with this outlook, but having no spare fields, have not acquired any sheep of my own yet.

I’ve never seen these sheep, and have no idea what breed they are.  On enquiring, I got a perplexed stare and the simple answer, "Sheep!".

Anyway, their fleece as shorn this year has arrived, in all its rich, stinky, greasy glory, at my home.  J has banished it from the house, and even from being washed in the bath tub.  Despite knowing all three of these sheep are in fact ewes, I have designated the three fleeces Rod, Jane and Freddy.  (The one ram, Rambo, that was also rescued has since been further re-homed.  His soft-hearted rescuer was alarmed to discover that he was all too keen to ply his one real skill continuously and with great abandon, irrespective of shape, size and, um, species.)

Kita was particularly excited to welcome all three into the house:


Of course, despite having other plans for the day, I could not resist diving in and having a good look-see.  I figured I could at *least* decide whether the fleeces were worth any of my time (being complete unknowns) and in the end, I unrolled each, ‘skirted’ them (or at least pulled off the really manky bits) and put each into their own bag.  So now, without any further ado, may I present:


Easily the largest of the three fleeces, this one has that ‘pretty orange colour’ that has seduced so many novice fleece buyers.  I am well aware that it will all wash out.  I am less aware of what it actually *is*, but (and be aware that I spent *significant* amounts of my youth on a farm that most *definitely* included sheep in its stock) that’s by dint of an extreme effort of will, so please don’t feel obliged to tell me.

Like all the fleeces, the apparent staple length varies hugely.  I have no idea who sheared this sheep or how the sheep has been kept, though I am certain it won’t have been coated/jacketed.  I am sure that there are huge differences in technique between someone who shears a sheep just to keep it comfortable and healthy, and someone who shears a sheep for maximum wool yield, by getting right down to the skin.  The wool appears particularly short on the back of the sheep, and much longer around the legs/belly/neck regions (where all the muck is, of course).  These are the first entire fleeces I have dealt with, so I don’t know how typical this is in general.

One of the more average locks pulled out of the fleece shows that lovely orange colour, and a fair crimp to the fibres (or at least it would if I had managed to focus the camera – you might have to use your imagination a bit here):


The wool isn’t particularly fine but isn’t ‘kempy’ at all, and feels strong and bouncy.  When washed, as predicted, the sample lock has come up lovely and white, though with a bit of staining.

Staple length is approximately 4-5" and the crimp is still visible:



Jane is a smaller fleece, again with that ‘lovely orange colour’.  I think she was slightly less mucky than Freddie, and a staple pulled from her feels softer and has much less obvious crimp:


And washed:


About 2" staple, little obvious crimp

Freddie seems to be somewhere between Jane and Rod.  Another smaller fleece, and soft and dense, with some crimp, but not so pronounced as Rod’s.  Freddie also seems to be the cleanest of the bunch; the fleece spread out looks grey rather than orange and there was relatively little that was destined straight for the bin.  I forgot to photograph the whole fleece, though, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Lock before washing:


And after:


About 3" staple, little crimp

All three, bagged up and awaiting further attention:


How much??

I’ve decided to be very sensible this year; only one Christmas knitting project.  My Dad deserves a great big sweater; he’s a dream to knit for (very appreciative; wears his socks all the time) and has witnessed handknitting all his life so truly understands what a knit sweater *means*.  He also loves his big sweaters.  One of my earliest memories is of him wearing a lovely, cream Aran sweater.  OK, I *mostly* remember being sick down the back of it (he was carrying me over his shoulder, taking me upstairs to bed), but I remember it *very* clearly.

So a really lovely Aran sweater would seem appropriate.  Not even a stash problem; I have oceans of wonderful Jamieson’s Soft Shetland, just waiting for this kind of project.  Actually, there’s a bit of an embarrassment of riches of JSS here.  You see, there was this sale, and discontinued colours, and an extra discount for buying it in packs of 20 skeins.  (Everyone sees where this is going, don’t they?).  Anyway, I have bulk packs of 12 colours, and odd balls (7 in one case) of a further 3 colours.  That’s an embarrassing -mumble- 27,280 -mumble- metres of JSS.  Over 27 kilometers.  Nearly a third of my stash, by length, at any rate.  Probably more, by weight.  So, loads of yarn.

But of course, I can’t just pick up any Aran sweater pattern off the shelf and start knitting, right?  This is for my Dad.  It has to be special.  Extra-special.  Unique, even.  So I measure an existing jumper of his, buy a couple of great books, start thinking, sketching, pondering.  Swatching.  Proof:


To start swatching, of course, I have to retrieve yarn (no longer stored in the loft, due to the great studio move) and wind it.  I have two cream-y colours; one brownish – oatmeal would be a good description – and one a bit pinkish.  Brownish it is, then.  And as I’m hauling the bag of 20 skeins out of the box, I say "Seems odd that this is enough to make a sweater for my Dad, right?"  And J says "Nah.  Looks about right."  (Foreshadowing.)

So swatching ensues.  And a little worm moth is gnawing away at the back of my brain, laying the eggs of doubt.  Ignore the little moth.  The piece of paper in the pack *assures* me there is enough yarn to make a sweater up to 50" chest.  No worries.  That’s *huge*.  Moth keeps gnawing.  And gnawing.  And – oh, shit.  A sweater up to 50" chest.  Not a sweater to fit someone up to 50" chest.  Dad’s sweater measures 27" across the front, so has a 54" chest.  And Aran sweaters take more yarn than flat knit.

I don’t have enough, do I?

I can’t work out whether it is worth continuing with the painstaking swatching, designing, reswatching, swatch-weighing and maths to work out whether there might just be enough here to make my Dad his Christmas sweater, or whether I should can the idea right now.  I really can’t see that I’ll get a 54" Aran sweater out of ‘enough to knit a sweater up to 50" chest’.

Of course, under the rules of my destash pledge, I could buy more yarn to make Dad his sweater.  But I really, really don’t want to.  I really, really want less stash, not more.  Or I can come up with a different design for his sweater – not an Aran.  Something else.  But what??  Anyone got any suggestions for a really, truly excellent Dad-sweater design that I can knit him in time for Christmas?

That tang in the air…

When I woke up on Monday morning, I automatically reached for my socks.

Yesterday morning, the air was definitely brisk as I took the hound round the village on her morning constitutional.

Right now, it feels like autumn has arrived.  We may yet get a few laggard summer days, straggling in late to the party, but we have definitely had the first taste of the changing seasons already.

   Blue morning skies and golden leaves.
   Seeing your breath in the air over your first cup of coffee.
   Wrapping up warm and feeling the chill on your fingers as you step outside.
   The anticipation of the first light frost on the lawn.
   Warming stews, and even more warming ale.

I feel it’s time to put away the as-yet unstarted summer projects, and break out the wool.



OK, perhaps bordering on the obsessional now.

This is my lunch of a few days ago:


Not the most appetising to look at, I know, and I’m not going to win prizes for food photography any time soon, but…  See how pink the rice is?  It turned that colour after being introduced to some kale that had been cooked with some very, very tangy yoghurt.  I don’t remember buttered kale being pink.

So maybe, kale is another one of those things that produces surprising dye-colours in the presence of acid?  I may have to test this theory next time the veggie box includes kale…

New Knitty!

And it’s a corker.

I’ve been disappointed with the last few; nothing has made me go "Oooh!"  There seems to have been a profusion of patterns by people trying to be a bit too clever – a bit too original – rather than well designed patterns that update the classics with a few thoughtful details.  For my money, it’s the interesing nearly-classics that get worn as well as knitted, but maybe that’s just me.  I would also add the caveat that what I think of as a ‘classic’ may well be a million miles from everyone else.  The exception, of course,  has been the sock patterns, but I dont’ knit socks fast enough to do them justice.

But anyway, back to this issue and its patterns.  The cover project is beautiful, grabbing me as soon as I walked in. 

There is a really wonderful scarf – yes, a scarf! – that barely looks knit at all.  It is easily the most sophisticated knit scarf I’ve seen in a very long time.  Perhaps forever.  I want to know how well it drapes in the hand.

I think the hoodie might be the best of the bunch – proving yet again that seed stitch can tame variegated yarn even in a garment, it is fitted, cute and a very, very wearable ‘basic’.

Think you can’t make a wearable garment from bulky yarn?  Well, someone begs to differ.  Wow!!

Not the kind of thing I normally wear, I am strangely drawn to Nieman.  And Boxed, though I’d love to see a few more photos of that one first, before leaping in with yarn and needles – especially handspun.

In the hat department, we have a couple of very winning berets – one for finer yarns (relatively speaking), one for weirder yarns.  Now, that might get some of my handspun interested.

Not a baby-knitter myself, this still caught my attention.  Fabulous!  And even the model’s a cutie.

The sock department has once more come through well,with one very intricate sock, one plainer but interesting sock, one ‘back to basics’ (or so the designer tells us), and one larger gauge, squooshy house sock – just in case you get bored of all those tiny needles. 

And the Woodins have me flashing back to Princess Mononoke.  Anyone else?  Oh – yes.  Apparently the creator was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s work when she was knitting them.  Ha!

Anyway, great job, Knitty authors!  I’m all inspired again now..

Canning season

Yarn canning, that is!  I’m using Kilner jars for various stages in some yarn dyeing experiments using natural dyes.  This is something I’ve never done before, but I’ve been meaning to do for *ages*.  Seriously ages – and then, the Online Guild had a workshop on natural dyeing in June, which I all but missed1, and I’ve just about gotten around to it now.


All the yarn I’m using in the above photo is undyed Opal superwash wool sock yarn, and has been mordanted with 10% alum and 5% cream of tartar.  From left to right, we have:

  • Day-lily with no additions
  • Elder leaf with no additions
  • Elder leaf with added iron (after simmering)
  • Cherry laurel berries with added vinegar
  • Cherry laurel berries without vinegar

The day lily I think will fail; I might get a very soft peachy colour out of it, but I have no idea if it will be fast or not, and it will not be very much darker than the original yarn.  I’m not bothered; this was pure experiment and the yarn can always be dyed again.

The elder leaf batches are the only ones which have actually been simmered in the dye bath.  Both were dyed in the same bath and, once cooled, transfered to the jars to keep for a while.  In the third jar, I added the iron to the dye liquor and dissolved it, then added the yarn to the pot.  The colour change from yellow to green was very impressive, and immediate.

I decided to experiment with the cherry laurel berries after the daft dog tried to eat one (they’re poisonous), and in retrieving it, it left a wonderful red stain on my fingers that turned to blue.  The leaves and the berries of this plant contain cyanide, so I am unwilling to simmer them indoors.  I just crushed the berries (with my hands, wearing gloves) and poured boiling water over them and left them.  When I opened the jar again today, there was a very noticeable (and worryingly delicious) almond smell, so I think my caution is worthwhile.  When dyeing with berries, vinegar is supposed to accentuate the ‘red’ tones and minimise the ‘blue’.  In this photo, the blue/red balance appears to be the other way around, but it is definitely noticeable that the dye take-up is much, much greater in the bath with the vinegar added.  If I can rig up an outdoor heating area in the next week or so, I will give both of these batches a proper simmer for maximum dye extraction/transfer.

I think I have some very colourful socks on the horizon.  But not poisonous.  I hope.



1 I did get around to doing a *little* dyeing for the June workshop, though mostly in July.  I must blog about that sometime.  It was very smelly.

Off the needles!

Finally – after starting in late June, spinning up a storm and knitting for what feels like *forever*, Mystery Stole 3, aka ‘Swan Lake’, is off the needles:


J says it looks like I knitted a slug.  I say, it needs blocking.  And then modelling.


Quite possibly the quickest project I’ve ever blogged about, and as you can see, I’m quite happy with the results!


In the end, I finished the necklace in the evening after my last post.  Including putting the bits away, it probably took even *less* than half an hour.  But then, I’ve been wrapping wire ends and fastening jump rings for years.  And years.

A better shot, with focus and details and everything:


See those three larger, pear shaped beads in the middle at the front?  Those are the only three beads like that in the whole necklace.  It is sheer happenstance that they grouped themselves together like that.  I’m pleased they did; they are some of my favourite beads in this piece, and I’m *very* glad they didn’t form a cluster sort of off-centre-round-the-side-ish.  That would have *sucked*.

Arty shot…


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