Saturday Giveaway: Ostara sock yarn

I promise that one day soon I will start writing blog posts that aren’t just about prize draws; I really will!

In the meantime, though, the latest shipment of yarn and fibre for the Wheel of the Year club has gone out – and I have a spare skein of sock yarn!  This is a special, bittersweet shipment for me: it is the last shipment of the first six months of my very first club.  If that sounds a little bit convoluted, it is!  But in summary, it means that this is the last skein that some of my first club members will receive.  Others, of course, signed up for the full year, and have four more to come!  (And still others have signed up for the next six months – some new, some returnees!  I am sorry the first six months is over – it went so fast! – but I’m really looking forwards to the months to come!)

Anyway, if you feel like getting in on a little bit of the yarn club action, comment on this post before noon UK time on Monday 26th, and you will be in with a chance of winning a really rather lovely (if I do say so myself!) skein.

 

Sweet winnings

OK!  I had 21 entries in the book draw for Sweet Shawlettes – and random.org says the lucky winner is…

Congratulations, Sparkleduck!!  You get the book.  Everyone else – thanks for playing!  Please come back next week when I’ll have a Wheel of the Year sock yarn skein to give away to one lucky winner.

Myself?  I think I’ll be casting on arabesque.  Just as soon as I have some needles free…

Knit or purl your yarn overs? The difference of direction

I mentioned last Wednesday that I’ve been playing with an ‘extended swatch’ in some of my handspun.  I’ve been trying to come up with a reversible stitch pattern to use as part of a moebius cowl design.  (I feel that ‘reversible’ is very desirable in a scarf, and absolutely necessary in a moebius: by definition, both sides will show when you wear it – or does it only have one side?!)

Anyway, I want a nice, warm cowl, but not something so warm that it’s only suitable for polar expeditions.  Since the yarn is thick-ish, and contains silk, that probably meant that cables were rules out from the start!  Also, I wanted something with a noticeable texture, that would be able to look good when scrunched around someone’s neck.  I came up with a simple, reversible lace motif that could be scaled over pretty much any number of stitches, and swatched it in several sizes.  And I found something interesting.

Here is the motif, worked as a six-stitch repeat:

The effect is of slightly distorted parallelograms – some in stockinette, some in reverse stockinette – bounded on one side by yarn-overs and on the other by decrease stitches.  I’m particularly pleased with the nice, smooth line of the decrease stitches where they change direction!  Now, compare that with this:

(I’m sorry; this would have been a much better demonstration in light coloured yarn.  But I didn’t know I was going to be making this discovery when I started swatching!)

Anyway, can you see a difference?  Where the decrease stitches change direction, the ‘corner’ stitch won’t lie flat.  It wants to kink up a bit, causing an interruption to the smooth flow of the line.  The impact of this effect is much greater if the motif is smaller – work it over 7 or 8 stitches, and it becomes almost unnoticeable, unless you’re being hyper-analytical about some design or other (ahem!).  But work it over 5 stitches, and the ‘kink’ completely hides the pattern:

The only difference?  In the ‘kinked’ version I purled into the yarn overs on the return row.  In the smooth version, I knitted into the YO.  I would never, ever have expected such a small difference to have such a dramatic effect in the finished piece.  Sure, I know that the difference between stocking stitch and garter stitch is huge, but one stitch in a motif?  Worked into a yarn-over?  Yarn-overs are, I would have thought, open and flexible enough to accommodate the difference without affecting the surrounding stitches – but apparently not.

The version I’m going with for the cowl?  Smoothed, over 7 stitches:

I think this is going to be a pretty quick knit: I finished about 1/3 of it yesterday!

The Sweetest Thing (Book review and giveaway)

A few months ago, Jean Moss contacted me to ask if I’d like to be part of the *international* blog tour for her upcoming book release.  Well, sure!  I’m honoured!

In the best Saturday Giveaway tradition, I have one copy of ‘Sweet Shawlettes’ to give away – full details are at the end of this post.

Jean’s opening comment in the introduction to this elegant book of accessories is, “I’ve always been a doer.  I need to make things with my hands,” – a comment that resonates so strongly with me, and I know with a lot of other people who read this blog.  I’m convinced that the world is enriched by making, not just in a material way, but by awakening people to the joys of creativity, by keeping traditional skills alive, by reminding us (in this age of rapidly accessibly and easily disposable consumer goods) that really great things often take time, energy and thought to achieve, and are worth holding on to.

Despite the title of the book (‘Sweet Shawlettes’), it contains far, far more than just shawlettes.  All the projects are neckwear – sure – but they range from full-size shawls to cowls; capelets to innovative scarves; natty little neckwarmers to knitted necklaces.  Some of the projects are small, and could be whipped up in an evening or two.  Others are larger, and would provide a nice challenge over a longer time period.  As Jean herself points out, the neck is a very sensual part of the body, so neckwear is a perfect opportunity to grab a special skein or two – hand dyed, hand spun, or a precious souvenir, perhaps – to fashion yourself a little bit of luxury that can be kept – quite literally – close to your heart.

In addition, a lot of the projects in this book would be a great way to learn a new skill.  In this treasure-trove of a book you can find patterns featuring lace, intarsia, entrelac, Fair Isle, cables, short row shaping and knitting in the round!

The book is divided into four sections: Country, Couture, Folk and Vintage.  I admit that I expected to find my favourite pieces in the ‘Country’ and ‘Folk’ sections – couture and high fashion don’t have much place in the life of a dyer living in the country, who shares her life with two hairy, enthusiastic dogs!  And ‘vintage’ too often conjures up kitschy, 50s inspired pieces in today’s lexicon: great for those that can wear them, but not my thing.  However, I was delighted to find favourites in all four sections!  My very-most favourite is ‘Arabesque’ – pictured above – which is indeed from the Folk section.  What can I say: it caught me the very first time I opened the book, and has yet to be surpassed.  But I also love the clean simplicity and graphic appeal of Penumbra, from the Couture section.  Penumbra looks like a simple black-and-white stripe – but there’s a secret.  Look along, rather than directly at, the fabric, and you get dynamic zig-zags, thanks to the magic of shadow-knitting!

Moving away from the stark black-and-white, I think that Madame Alfred, who joins us from the Country section, has to have the next mention!  The first pattern in the book, this is also one of the larger projects, and combines lace techniques and intarsia – and a frill! – in rich, saturated, full-colour design that I would love to have on hand for cooler moments in the summer.  (My summer fantasies often include drinking tea in an immaculate garden.  The reality tends to include mud, weeds and dogs, not necessarily in that order.  But I can still have a bit of handknit elegance around, right?)

I found this to be a very well-designed and structured book, with impeccable attention to detail.  The photography is beautiful, and there is lots of additional information in the appendices, which include a pictorial index of projects (yes!  One of my favourite features in a book or magazine!), a list of the yarns used, their fibre content and CYCA size rating (plus a handy copy of the CYCA information itself, right there in the book).  Other sections introduce techniques used in the book, discuss trimmings and buttons, and there is a lovely section on colour choice, hidden away next to the ‘Vamp’ pattern (a sweet and versatile boa-style scarf from the ‘Vintage section – you didn’t think I was going to leave a section out, did you?)

So, you’d like to enter the giveaway?

Hurray!!  Come and join the fun!

All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post before noon (UK time) next Saturday (the 17th).  Let me know what your favourite project in the book is (you can see them all here, on Jean’s site) – or, if you can’t pick, what your favourite section is!  I’ll select the winner by random draw, and post the results on Saturday evening.

Follow the rest of the tour!

Be a groupie!  There is lots more of the tour still to go; here’s the schedule!

Stash down status

Nope, I haven’t forgotten about my pledge to stash down and track it.  Unfortunately, even with a ‘buy (almost) nothing’ pledge, the totals somehow still seem to creep upwards.  January looked like this:

  • Knitted: 543m/510 g
  • Spun up: 695m/200g
  • Yarn in: acquired via yarn club (allowed): 400m/100g
  • Fibre in: acquired for spinning group project (wildcard): 400g

Net changes, yarn: 552m/110g increase
Net changes, fibre: 200g increase
Total weight change: 10g increase

February was even worse:

  • Knitted: 0
  • Spun up: 343m/138g
  • Yarn in: acquired via yarn club (allowed): 400m/100g
  • Fibre in: gift (spun up this month!): 42g

Net changes, yarn: 743m/238g increase
Net changes, fibre: break even
Total weight change: 142g increase

I think the problem is that I just don’t have time to knit very much of my stash!  I have been knitting, but a lot of it is swatching, or designing, or sample making.  There is a difference between ‘work’ yarn and ‘stash’ yarn, but only the same amount of knitting time, whatever I do.  I love working with my own, hand-dyed yarns, but my stash feels very, very neglected, and I do need new designs, shop samples and FOs to show off at shows.

What’s a busy knitter to do?!

Soft batter

Cooking inspiration has been a bit thin on the ground around here of late – busy work schedules and a lack of energy have conspired to put us into a bit of a food-rut, with one high wall built of things that J doesn’t like, and another built of things that I object to eating, usually on ethical or nutritional grounds.

We have been experimenting a bit, though, with deep-frying (only a bit: see above statement on ‘nutritional grounds).  My parents visited a couple of months ago, and Dad gave us a masterclass on making chips his way (in lard!)  Since then, we’ve tried Heston’s chips (cooked three times!), an attempt at sweet and sour chicken that turned out more like chicken nuggets, and, last night, some fish (pollock) ‘goujons’.

I wanted to find a good soft batter recipe – not what you usually associate with goujons, perhaps – but pollock was what I had to cook, and I was thinking back to that sweet & sour attempt.  I used the batter from this tempura shrimp recipe (be aware: website launches advertising video without asking), reproduced below:

Ingredients

 1/2 cup all purpose flour
 1/4 cup corn starch
 2 teaspoons double acting baking powder
 A pinch of salt
 1 teaspoon sugar
 1 egg
 1/2 cup water

Directions

  • Combine the flour, corn starch baking powder,sugar and salt in a 2 quart bowl and mix to combine.
  • In a separate small bowl, vigorously beat the egg for at least 30 seconds.
  • Add it to the dry mix along with most of the water. Stir to incorporate all the ingredients. Add more water if necessary until you get the mixture to break into a liquid state, barely. Not too thin.
  • Let the mixture [rest] for 15 minutes.

I coated the fish in flour, then dipped it in the batter, allowing the excess to drip off (ideally into the bowl!)  I fried each batch for 2-3 minutes at 175C/350F, which barely coloured the batter.  It was a messy procedure, with batter and lard spatters *everywhere*, and I found it was important to hold each strip in the oil for a couple of seconds before letting it go (use tongs!).  This allows the outside of the batter to ‘set’ a bit before it comes in contact with the basket.  If I didn’t do this, each strip dropped quickly to the bottom, where the batter wrapped around the wires of the basket quite thoroughly before setting.  Not ideal.

I have to say, the batter didn’t turn out very tempura-like.  I realised just now that I forgot the baking powder (not that double-acting is very easily found in the UK), which would have made a *big* difference, and perhaps I should have beaten the egg more.  I suppose it depends on what you use to beat the egg with: 30 seconds with a fork is very different to 30 seconds with an electric beater.

Anyway, I’d use it again for sweet and sour!  And I’d be interested to try it with baking powder, too.  (But J thinks sweet and sour should have a crunchy batter.  Bah!)

WIP Wednesday and a few announcements…

First off, a quick WIP tour.  I did indeed fall for blue, and have my alpaca/silk batts on the wheel:

These are from the midwinter installment of the Yarnscape Wheel of the Year club – which is now accepting sign-ups for the next six months!  I kept two batts back for myself, and I am enjoying the spin.  They are 50% alpaca/50% silk, and I’m spinning worsted for a high-twist thickish lace weight.  One batt is all spun up, and I’m about half done with the second one.  Since my local spinning group meets this Saturday (not *last* Saturday, as I found out when I turned up with a car full of kit and a packed lunch!), I expect to have this one done and possibly even on the needles very soon – I have an Idea for it!

I also got a weaving project up and going!  This is on the rigid heddle loom, and I will admit to mixed feelings about it.  I loved the warp as I was winding it:

but couldn’t find a weft I really, really liked and which didn’t alter the original warp colours.  It would be easier if I was using my Klik loom, or hadn’t accepted a one-heddle-only constraint for this project, but… well.  I *do* like the way it’s turning out – it’s just different to how I envisaged it when warping! (both warp and weft are Yarnscape Footsie – warp is an experimental colourway, weft is Velvet)

As for knitting – I’ve been working on the same swatch for weeks now.  Weeks.

Really, this is all variations on the same stitch pattern, which I want to use for a moebius cowl.  It’s amazing how different it can look, just by changing the scale (and one other teensy factor, which I would never have expected to be so significant).  More on this later as I think it deserves a blog post all of its own.  This yarn is my handspun from this post.  I’m enjoying knitting it – which is just as well, as I’ve actually knit 65g out of 100 as a swatch, and will get to knit it all again!

Right, onto the announcements!

  • Firstly, I did mention that the Wheel of the Year club is open again, right?  Sign-ups for the next six months are open until May 1, or until spaces run out!  A six month subscription includes four shipments, spaced about 6 weeks apart, and you can choose to sign up for sock yarn, lace yarn or spinning fibre.  You can choose to pay for everything up front (which gets you a nice little discount), or you can pay by installments through PayPal.
  • There’s an awesome project up on Kickstarter (and Kickstarter is pretty awesome in its own right).  These guys are looking to make spindles by 3D printing!  They’re concentrating on Turkish style spindles right now, with a few very cool design elements.  For instance, their base model is actually just the arms of the spindle – because it’s designed to work with a standard chopstick as the shaft!  Their reasoning is that the shaft is the part most likely to get broken – so why not make it easy to replace?  Another model uses holes in the arms of the spindle to take stacks of US nickels, allowing you to change the weight of your spindle as desired.  (They’re producing adapter inserts for other currency options, too).  They’ve actually reached their funding goal, but there’s a few more hours to go – a great opportunity to be in at the beginning and to get one of the very first off the print bed.
  • Thirdly, today marks the start of the Sweet Shawlettes blog tour.  This awesome book by Jean Moss is officially released today (though those on Amazon may have been able to buy it already – lucky you, bad amazon!) and Jean and Philip have put together a really fun looking line-up of bloggers running interviews, previews and giveaways to promote the book.  I’m there, on the roster, but we start today with Jen!  The full lineup is as follows – do have fun following along, and be sure to come here on the 12th for my contribution to the tour…

Wed 7 Mar        Jen_Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Jen Arnall-Culliford 
Thurs 8 Mar      Needled  Kate Davies
Fri 9 Mar           Rock and Purl Ruth Garcia-Alcantud
Sat 10 Mar        Woolly Wormhead Woolly Wormhead
Mon 12 Mar      Yarnscape  Alison Barker
Tues 13 Mar     Confessions of a Yarn Addict Anniken Allis
Wed 14 Mar     Joli House  Amanda France
Thurs 15 Mar   This Is Knit  Lisa & Siobhan
Fri 16 Mar        The Knitting Institute  Knitting Magazine
Sat 17 Mar        Life’n Knitting  Carla Meijsen
Sun 18 Mar      ConnieLene  Connie
Mon 19 Mar      Just Call Me Ruby  Susan Crawford
Tues 20 Mar     Tiny Owl Knits  Stephanie Dosen
Wed 21 Mar     Ulla-Bella  Anita Tørmoen
Thurs 22 Mar   Heike Knits Heike Gittins

Winner!

Congratulations to Rhian of The Crafty Geek – the winner of my surprise leap day draw! Rhian is another UK-based knitter and blogger (go check out her latest post – I think I might need some of those socks!) and although I’ve never met her – to the best of my knowledge, anyway – I can’t have been too far away, as she was at Knit Nation last year.  Kind of strange to think we might have sat next to each other in the cafe, and not known it!

This week’s competition took a bit longer to sort out than most: tracking down Facebook, Twitter and blog activity, putting it all into one place and then picking a random winner…   I really wish I had a few honourable mention prizes to give out this time; some people (Janet, I’m looking at you!) went to great lengths to take every single entry advantage they could, giving me great amusement in the process.  Better luck next time, eh?

 

This week’s competition took a bit longer to sort out than most: tracking down Facebook, Twitter and blog activity, putting it all into one place and then picking a random winner…

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