Friday, October 31, 2008

Manly lace socks

Knitting the Undulating Rib (Ravelry link) socks for my son taught me a lesson. It is not enough for me just to smash my way through the stash, ticking off a few Christmas stockings on the way. I need something more. Either the yarn or the pattern (preferably both) need to inspire me, and this just didn’t happen with this project. They will fit and he will wear them but I won’t be insulted if he doesn’t, and that’s just not good enough!

So my next project required more thought. It had to be socks for FL… because there has been an outbreak of holes in every single pair of pure wool socks I have knitted him. Huge holes that defeated even the champion darner himself! This has left him with only two pairs of St Ives socks (Lozenges and Golf Stockings), the hopelessly baggy Fluted Bannister Ribs (the first socks I ever knitted for him, in Lang Jawoll Cotton), and the recent Crosswalkers (Online Supersocke 100).

He has a definite preference for long socks. I bought two balls of Austermann Step to make him some knee-highs, but have been putting this project off for about two years – oops! So it was time to commit. I thought about adapting the Railway Pattern (Ravelry link) socks from "Knitting Vintage Socks" to make a slightly longer version, but I was unsure about this pairing of yarn and pattern. I wanted to make the Boyfriend socks… but couldn’t find instructions for the Turkish cast-on in any of my books, and our dodgy home Broadband link was on “flickering green” (i.e. “Forget it, Roo, your neighbours are playing online bingo”!)

So I found myself staring at the Highland Schottische Kilt Hose (Ravelry link) in “Folk Socks”. You have got to be kidding, Roobeedoo! Self-striping yarn and busy lace for a man’s knee-high?! But somehow it works. The criss-cross lace cuff sets off the stripes as if they were weaving a tartan together. And I can see that this effect will continue down the leg. And it’s a Nancy Bush pattern so full of design detail and precise shaping instructions to satisfy my perfectionist streak.

Having said that, I have had to do fewer decreases than written and have a bit of a "double lace" situation at the back of the leg. I will keep going for now...

So far, FL hasn’t noticed what I am knitting. I am hoping to present them as a Christmas surprise, so I might have to cast on for another decoy pair to take the attention away from the sheer length of this project. Definitely the Railway Stitch (Ravelry link) socks… probably in Fyberspates self-striping BFL from the sock club. Shorter, less hard-wearing, but definitely to sir’s taste.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Malabrigo alert!

Call me an enabler if you will.... but Socktopus has some Malabrigo sock in stock! Fly, fly my children!!!

P.S. I bought the Eggplant colourway - woo hoo!

P.P.S. SNOW?! In October?!?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Local history and socks

Still deeply immersed in the archives and cemeteries of Aberdeenshire!

This weekend we visited the old graveyards of St Comb's and St Meddan's, ever in the quest of the elusive family which lived on the farm in the 1700's.

These stones are inside the ruins of the church of St Meddan's at Cothal. They belong to the Forbes family, major landowners in this area. The church is in a perilous state: as my daughter said "It's a deathtrap!" We fell down rabbit holes and impaled ourselves on thorns at every turn. The inscriptions were almost impossible to read, worn by the weather and overgrown in the intervening centuries. A hauntingly beautiful place though.
There were so many inter-marryings of the big landowning families in this part of the world, all with the same names, generation after generation. We still haven't found the missing link but between the stones and the books I know I am getting closer.

The book in the photo is a record of Society of Friends Births Deaths and Marriages for Scotland - found on the shelves of the local branch library, untouched for decades. Fantastic stuff! It had not occurred to me that the family might be Quakers, until now. All the right names and places. I just need to join the dots...

And I have been knitting too. I finished my son's Christmas socks. I didn't love this pattern (Undulating Rib from "Favorite Socks") but they are very stretchy, which is exactly what was needed for the wide-footed boy. Online Supersocke Sport Colour, sizes 3.25 and 2.75 dpns, 78 stitches.

Friday, October 24, 2008


After my little foray into crochet, I needed, really needed, to get back to knitting. I have intended to knit more Woolly Wormhead hats this year, and a rummage around Ravelry led to an unreasonable lust for the Abalone. I ordered the yarn on Wednesday, and was wearing it on Saturday!

This is the ideal shape of hat for people with lots of hair: stuff and go! It takes a little bit of fold-adjustment to avoid looking like you have a paper bag on your head, but this is where good yarn choice comes in. I used Noro Silk Garden – oooh! All the colour gradation but a softer palette than Kureyon and much much softer fabric. What you can’t see, and what I just could not seem to photograph, even with help, is the spray of curly twiglets at the crown: short tassels of “cast on then cast off” yarn – each of which came out a different colour due to the self-striping yarn. If I make this again I will make these longer because they are great fun!

There are 5 panels in this hat and I got the first 4 out of the first 50g ball. This left loads of yarn to make some matching fingerless mitts… or so I thought! I actually ran out of yarn at the final thumb! Luckily I had some toning Colinette Skye left from my Gretel hat for those last few critical yards! This is the same pattern as I used for my daughter’s Warm Braid Wristwarmers (Ravelry link). I love how they came out entirely different and yet matching.

All in all, this was a very economical use of quite expensive yarn: absolutely nothing leftover, and a matching hat and mitt set just in time for this morning’s frost.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Roo Roo Rowan and Rumba

I had an unusually sociable weekend.

FL and I went out for a meal… twice!

Then we went to see Rumba Caliente at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen – Latin music from the salsa side of Salsa Celtica. I danced a bit but FL was too tired to join me and I kind of lost confidence after the break so we left before the end. There were a few "real" salsa dancers there which was great, but everyone else just stood and watched, so I felt a bit exposed jiggling around by myself! As the band leader said “Come on Aberdeen, you’re a bit too mellow!”

Then on Sunday…. I met Roo! Woo hoo! She is in Scotland on holiday and I realised I was child-free on the right weekend for us to meet up at the Rowan 30th Anniversary Exhibition on its stop in Newburgh, home of Twist Fibrecraft. FL drove me down (far too fast!) and disappeared off with the Sunday papers while Roo, her BF and I did the knitty stuff.

The exhibition was… um… for Rowan fans. Well, that’s obvious isn’t it?! But I was slightly bemused by the display of intarsia monsters from the past – big carpet-like multi-coloured cotton “jumpers” which - sorry - made me laugh. I do remember starting one of them (at least 15 years ago!) and giving up because the resulting garment was shapeless, heavy and frankly unwearable. It was interesting from a “history of knitting” point of view, but other visitors were rather more reverential. They were swallowing it whole with wide wondering eyes. What was I expecting? I don’t know… maybe some mood boards to put the designs in context? Certainly better examples of finishing – I was shocked by the knotted back of one cardigan in particular. These were not museum-quality pieces and yet were being presented as if they were. Hmmm.

Off to Twist – ah that’s better! Comfort zone! A small but well-stocked shop with all manner of yarn, roving, natural dyestuffs etc. I bought wool for a hat for FL (his choice – wait and see!) and some funky packs of mixed buttons which might embellish future projects but will more likely be purloined by my daughter to make bracelets – which is fine at only £1.50 a bag! Roo was seduced by sock yarn – surprise!

We popped into an incongruously arty hat shop thinking it was a tea room and ogled the goods. Amazing stuff. I felt like I was in Clerkenwell or Hoxton. How much business do they do in a sleepy Fife Village?

Then we met up with FL to hunt down some lunch. It was looking bleak until we found Hatters cafe. (Hats again! A quick Google tells me that Newburgh has a history of hats!) FL insists that I recommend it on the blog! The d├ęcor was quirky and delightful (though Roo and BF were perched on the window ledge to eat!) and the menu was imaginative (hot pots inside a cottage loaf anyone?), the food was delicious, and the people were lovely. After checking out the local tumbleweed pubs, this was a revelation. Funny place, Newburgh!

I was too shy to whip out my camera, even though Roo had on my/her rainbow socks (Ravelry link) and had finished her first Honeybee sock (Ravelry link) in Mmmalabrigo sock – very photogenic! Rather regretting that now. Tsk.

So I leave you with a photo of the Julie Cuff from Blueprint Crochet which I gifted to Roo – a friendship bracelet! Although, to be honest, the Queen of Hexagon Blankets could have made a far better job of it herself – it’s the thought that counts! There were no text instructions so I made this entirely from the symbol chart. Yarn Yard Bonny left over from my Chevron scarf and a 3.25mm hook. Woo hoo!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blueprint Zebra

I recently bought "Blueprint Crochet" by Robin Chachula. This book sets out to teach you how to read crochet symbols through detailed text, diagrams and funky projects.

I decided to start with the Madison scarf, using Colinette Point Zero in colour "Zebra" and a 5.5mm hook.

It's a mad combination! I admit it!

But it was also very forgiving of mistakes which don't show up in the busy-ness of black and white floral motifs. Just as well, because I found this quite a steep learning curve. I got a bit lost when the author pushed me a little bit too hard too fast to follow diagrams instead of relying solely on the text. And all the terminology was American (so a double crochet was what I would call a treble!) which tripped me up from time to time.

However, it is a great book for someone who already knows the basics of crochet, to push their creative limits a bit further. There are some small projects at the front, like the Julie Cuff, (pdf link to free pattern!) to get you going.

Deeper in, there are some very cool bolero patterns - one I really really like which looks like wrought iron (Katie Bolero) and a longer top based on unusual not-granny's-squares (Paige Sweetheart Top). Other things are not to my taste (a yellow crochet dress? Hmmm. Maybe not!) but I am excited enough by the whole concept to overlook the odd blooper.

Because lets face it - if I master the language of crochet symbols, the wonderful world of Japanese crochet patterns is opened up to me - wow! I can't wait!

Off to start another funky accessory.... and dream about making something bigger!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fingers out

I don’t think I wore my toes-out sandals at all this summer. But my daughter is planning on having her fingers out all winter!

I spent a few evenings making a sportweight cabled mitt using my PigeonroofStudios yarn and the Natalya pattern. But it was doomed. Despite having skeletal arms, my daughter has adult-sized hands, so the first mitt would not go over her knuckles until I yanked it hard. And then she told me she was about to pass out because it was so tight! (You are reading too many Victorian novels, young woman!) So I ripped them out.

Back to the stash, and she pounced on the leftover plant-dyed aran from Manon. 4.5mm dpns. Perfect! A better weight for winter, quicker to knit and the colour of her dreams. I used the “Warm Braid Wristwarmer” (pdf link) pattern as the starting point, but added thumbs. The work of two evenings. She says she wants more of them in “every colour”!

The kids are on two weeks’ school holiday, so I am having to fit work around day trips with them. My daughter wanted to go back to “Touched by Scotland” craft shop so we popped in to the Wool Shed (now at Oyne) and she persuaded me to buy a skein of Colinette Parisienne (mohair on a cobweb-fine polyamide thread) to make her a scarf. Ha! I sat down to start the Wave pattern but cast on too many stitches so it was too wide. Without thinking, I ripped it out, sending clouds of fluff into the air and leaving the yarn almost bald. Oops! I will go back to it, but not just yet! Still sneezing!

Right now, I am playing with my new book “Blueprint Crochet” – pictures and a review will follow!

My daughter recommended I read “The Book Thief". It repays close attention so I am taking my time with it. I am enjoying the style. Narrated by Death, there is a dark quirkiness to its structure which reminds me of German drama of the period (1930’s). (Anyone need a subject for a comparative literature paper?!) I am chastened that my daughter read it before me! But I got to the post first when her latest acquisition arrived – ha ha! “Before I Die” looks like a supermarket shelf special teen weepie: 16 year old girl with leukaemia makes a list of things to do before she dies and works her way through them in a race against mortality. Sounds awful, but actually it is very well written, with convincing characters, a realistic depiction of living with cancer and just enough literary devices in just the right places. I stayed up until 2am on Saturday to finish it. And I cried. Read it and pass it on!

FL update:
After last weekend’s upset, he has had a run of unsettled nights, so has been getting up at 4am for a couple of hours, coming back to bed just before I get up. A couple of “waking up drowning, unable to breathe” incidents, but otherwise fine. Still golfing. Thanks to everyone who sent words of support – much appreciated!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My mind is a blanket

Said Clarice Bean.

Despite the advent of central heating, the open plan sitting room / kitchen is absolutely freezing. Something to do with the wind whistling down the chimney, round my ears and out through the gaps around the back door. Yes, my main living space is a wind tunnel.

Of course we need to keep badgering the draught-proofing people who were supposed to make us windproof back in May when the central heating arrived. We have rung them 3 times this week.

But meantime my mind is on a blanket. An aesthetically-pleasing, snuggley blanket which we can all crawl underneath while I knit, my daughter reads, my son watches TV and FL does the crossword. That would be one big blanket! So I will settle for a two-person comforter. We can fight for it!

I am currently auditioning patterns.

I really like the look of the Barn-Raising squares from “Knitalong” but I don’t want to buy the book for that one pattern. This is a good one because it would allow me to use up leftover sock wool.

And I love the Hemlong Ring. Fabulous texture, thick and warm. Isobel made a gorgeous purple one - mmmm! But a bit small perhaps...

And there’s crochet of course. Babette?
Babette in lots of colours of Cascade 220? Or leftover sock wool?

Thanks for all the lovely comments about my shetland triangle! I knitted it for a wedding that I am now not going to (kids not invited) and I am not sure if my workplace is ready for wrap-style fashion! So I have no immediate plans for more lace-knitting. Not until I find occasions to wear what I knit! But I've definitely got over my fear of lace!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Shetland Lace Triangle

May I present: the Shetland Lace Triangle from Wrap Style. It's Wollmeise superwash merino sock yarn in Veilchen (Violets), dark dye version, knitted on 4mm Denise interchangeables.

The work of a week of evenings plus an afternoon.

This is my first ever lace project and I have to admit I was scared! The fear of dropping a stitch and not being able to retrieve it without leaving a ladder? Shudder! I read about using a “lifeline” of dental floss but I didn’t really understand how or when to do this (thread it through a chosen row and keep knitting?). So I just knitted. Big needles and thin yarn seemed like an anachronism to a confirmed sock knitter! The family scoffed when I said I only had 4 rows to go and had what looked like a facecloth-sized, egg-carton-textured ball of knitting hanging from my needles. “Is it for a doll?” asked my daughter. Just wait and see, I said (fingers crossed!)

It was easy! If you have never knitted lace before this is definitely a great project to start you off. The stitch pattern is easily memorised row by row, and even block by block. I made mine 10 repeats large rather than the suggested 8, because Wazz did this and hers looked about the right size. I used about 100g of yarn. The hardest thing was the casting off. I changed up to huge points on my Denises and they were incredibly slippery because I had never used them before – oops! So there was a lot of shrieking as giant loops skidded off the points and threatened to unravel. (Sorry, dear daughter, for shrieking in your ear.)

I soaked it for 20 minutes in warm water, rolled it in a towel, and then set about blocking it. Not for one minute did I think it would be this big! And the lace-iness was a revelation. See the swirling fir cones? There was no clue that these would appear while the shawl was in its freshly-knitted state. I actually thought I might have got the stitch wrong when I compared my unblocked knitting to the photos in the book.

It was pinned out on my exercise mat when my son came in.

“What’s that?” he blinked. And then it dawned on him. “You crocheted that?” No, I knitted it. “What - today?” Well, over the week. “You are getting better aren’t you?” Then: “So… have you knitted my hoodie yet?” Boys!

P.S. Yes I love it, and yes I will be knitting lace again – woo hoo!

P.P.S. I offered my daughter the choice: model or photographer and unusually she chose model. This is her "Tess of the Durbervilles" pose!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Lace alert!

Oh yes! In case anyone thought I was just a tease, I hereby present the beginnings of my first "real" lace project: the Shetland Triangle from Wrap Style.

This is the Wollmeise superwash merino sock yarn leftover from my Clessidra socks, colour "Veilchen" (violets). It was almost a full skein, so I have plenty of yarn to make this shawl.
I am using 4mm Denise interchangeables and so far I am delighted to report that I am having a great time! Not nearly as much splitting as with tiny ebony dpns (neither of yarn nor needles!) and the texture of the yarn is rather lovely as lace: plenty of drape, soft and yet somehow crisp. I stand by my earlier comment that it feels more like cotton than wool.
I am actually much further on than this photo suggests. I might well be showing off my first finished lace project after the weekend - woo hoo!
I can knit lace! Who knew?!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Oh woad is me

I finished the first Christmas boy sock.

Here is lies on a clump of woad leaves, demonstrating the colour BLUE.

In case anyone had forgotten what blue looks like.

You may remember that I was growing woad, discovered it was a "noxious weed" and dug it up before it took over the planet? Ah well, I was not quite fast enough with the spade and it self-seeded, producing 5 juicy clumps of leaf.

So I thought I should continue with Plan A and harvest it for its dye.

First pick your leaves, tear them, simmer for ten minutes, squeeze out the goodness (discarding the pulp into the compost heap) then whisk briskly with soda ash until a thick blue foam develops. Allow to settle. So far so good.
But then, you have to separate the blue sediment from the 10 litres of opaque green liquid, decant into clear glass jars, allow to settle again and rinse repeatedly until the water is clear and the indigo is left at the bottom of the jars.
Only after that do you have the joy of brewing the pigment with 5 litres of (ahem!) stale urine... for two weeks! Needless to say, I have two male volunteers who want to help me dye my yarn. Sigh. Boys eh?
But I seem to be stuck at the "opaque green liquid in glass jars" phase. Perhaps my whisking was not brisk enough?
However, I had two batches. So I experimented with the second. I tried brewing some Hipknits handspun in the pot, then plunging it into cold water. Nothing much happened. Tried adding Bicarbonate of Soda (not sure why) and nope, nothing much happened! So I tried adding vinegar to the water - MUCH more exciting - the wool turned mauve!
However, after a gentle wash and wind-drying, the skein is just a warm purplish beige. Not exactly the dark indigo blue my Pictish ancestors might have expected.

So my volunteers are lining up to pee in the pot. I am beginning to regret this. I think I may move the vat into the Bothy as I imagine it will be somewhat... fragrant. Naturally hand-dyed yarn anyone?