Lemons and Literature

Thank you so much for all your well-wishes, both online and off! They have done me a power of good.

In the grand scheme of things, a bout of the flu is nothing, of course. But in my personal life it’s been rather disruptive, and I haven’t always been the most patient of patients. I’m on the mend now, I’m glad to say, and feeling a little better every day.

When life gives you lemons…

… make lemonade. Or so the saying goes. I feel ambivalent about the philosophy behind this. On the one hand it sounds nice and positive. But on the other, I would never, ever say this to somebody who is seriously ill or otherwise going through a difficult time. I side with Ursula Le Guin, who says:

Positive thinking is great. It works best when based on a realistic assessment and acceptance of the actual situation. Positive thinking founded on denial may not be so great.

(from: No Time to Spare, p.12)

In the case of flu, though, I do think it’s a good thing to do something positive with those lemons. Only instead of lemonade, I’d rather make tea. Our good friend Richard sent me his recipe for Lemon and Ginger Tea and has kindly given me permission to pass it on here.

Richard’s
Lemon and Ginger Tea

Ingredients

  • 1 litre of water
  • 25-30 grams of ginger
  • 2 bags of herbal tea*
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • honey or stevia** to taste

* Richard likes to use a detox blend, but says that any other (organic) herbal tea is fine. I used a blend of lime flower, chamomile and rosehip.

** The stevia powder available in most supermarkets is a mixture of stevia and sorbitol. Pure stevia is available from health food shops in liquid form.

Method

  • Bring the water to the boil
  • Peel and thinly slice the ginger and add to the boiling water
  • Leave to cool to about 80°C and add the teabags
  • Remove the teabags after about 5 minutes
  • Leave the tea to cool further to lukewarm
  • Sieve out the ginger and add the lemon juice
  • Sweeten with honey or stevia if you like

Drink straight away or keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.

This tea can be reheated gently (do not boil again or you’ll lose the goodness from the lemon), but is also delicious as iced tea in summer.

Tip: add some slices of orange and/or a clove for an extra warming winter tea.

Enjoy!

Tea label wisdom

Apart from the tea itself, the labels attached to the bags have also been nudging me in the right direction, with gems of wisdom like ‘This life is a gift’ (Absolutely, and I really appreciate it), ‘Kindness is the essence of life’ (All right, I’ll try not to be too grumpy), and ‘Create the sequence of goodness, consequences will be always good’ (Uhm, I need to meditate on that one for a bit, but I’m sure it will lead to something good).

Books

Books have been a great comfort to me during the past few weeks. I’ve been reading a lot, mainly re-reading books I’ve read before.

I’ve given this blogpost the title ‘Lemons and Literature’ because of the attractive alliteration. Whether everything I’ve been reading falls into the category Literature with a capital L is debatable, but I don’t think that matters all that much. Among my reading matter, was the book by Ursula Le Guin from which I quoted above.

No Time to Spare

Le Guin, who died last year, was a prolific writer. Apart from many novels, she wrote essays, short stories and poetry. She also published a new English translation of the Tao Te Ching. And she started blogging at the age of 80! No Time to Spare: Thinking About what Matters (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) is a compilation of some of her blog posts.

These are gems of wisdom in a different category entirely from the tea labels. Witty, warm-hearted and wise, Le Guin writes about subjects ranging from ageing to cats, literature and life in general. A book to savour in small chunks.

Tip for Book Lovers

No Time to Spare was a gift from my dear friend Pien, a fellow book lover and a book artist. Pien makes her own paper, in which she often includes plant fibers, like gingko, hemp or stinging nettle. She writes her own texts, prints them onto her hand-made paper and then binds her books by hand. Do take a look at her website Waterleaf Paper and Words if you’re a book lover too. All images on her website can be enlarged by clicking on them.

KnitLit

The book you may have noticed on my bedside table in my previous (very short) post, was KnitLit: Sweaters and their Stories… and Other Writing about Knitting. The title says it all: this is a collection of essays and stories about knitting, yarn, wool and other fibres, disastrous and successful projects and much more.

Some of the pieces are humorous, some moving, and some thought provoking. Most of them are no more than 3-4 pages long, and some only half a page, like ‘Silent Knit’, about the sound of wooden knitting needles versus that of plastic ones. Does anyone really want to read anything as nerdy as that? Well, I do. And apparently lots of others do too, as there’s also a KnitLit Too and KnitLit the Third.

Knitting

I have given my needles a couple of weeks’ rest, but I’m back to knitting now and hope to give you an update next week.

A Visit to a Norwegian Spinning Mill

Hello! Welcome on board the ferry from Kiel, Germany, to Oslo, the capital of Norway.

Today we’re travelling back in time to 2006. The year our family of three spent a Summer Holiday in Norway. One of our destinations is a spinning mill on the west coast, a little north of Bergen.

But before we get there, we’ll be seeing some sights along the way. I won’t bore you with our complete family photo album, but I do want to show you a bit of this beautiful, rugged country that has such a great knitting tradition.

Our accommodation for most of this holiday is a tent. It isn’t big, but it’s comfortable. And we’ve even brought some chairs.

From Oslo we are first travelling north, to Jotunheimen National Park. This mountainous area is ideal for hiking. There are miles upon miles of hiking trails, the main routes clearly marked with big red T’s on rocks.

The scenery is breathtaking, the air is clean and fresh, and – apart from the sound of wind, water and birds – silence reigns. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these walks and are not too stiff and sore from the unaccustomed climbing. Leaving Jotunheimen, we’re now travelling in a southwesterly direction.

At Borgund we visit a stave church from around 1200 AD. The roof of this wooden building is decorated with both dragon’s heads and crosses, and there are intricate wood carvings around the entrance. Inside it is rather dark, as the windows are small. The wood is charred and tarred for preservation, which gives off a very special smell.

Our next stop is Bergen, the second largest city of Norway (280.000 inhabitants). These are the wooden buildings at Bryggen, the colourful historic harbour front:

Bergen is notorious for its rainfall. There’s a well-known joke about it that goes like this:

A foreign tourist visiting Bergen in a downpour addresses a local boy, ‘Boy, please tell me, is it always raining in Bergen?’ The boy answers, ‘I wouldn’t know, Sir. I’m only six.’

We’d heard the joke and decided to rent a cottage in the area instead of putting up our tent again.

It is painted in Scandinavian red and one corner of the roof is supported by a knobbly tree trunk. Inside everything is made of unpainted wood – the walls, the floor, the furniture. On our menu is a lot of salmon, as well as Pytt i Panne, a traditional one-pot dish with potatoes, leeks and ham.

From the cottage it is only a short drive north to Hjelmås, where we are going to visit a spinning mill, called Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk.

Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk was founded in 1898. Some of the machinery from the early days is still in use. The front door of the building opens right into a small shop brimful with yarn and ready-knit socks, woollen underwear and sweaters.

We ask the lady behind the counter if we could, perhaps, take a look around the actual mill to see the yarn being spun. ‘Of course,’ she says, and she calls the general manager, who kindly gives us a tour of the premises. He tells us that all of the wool they process is from Norwegian sheep.

First he shows us how the wool is fed into the carding machine…

… and is carded by roll upon spiky roll to align the fibers, and produce a sliver ready for spinning.

Then we see how the carded wool is spun onto yarn spools.

The yarn is dyed in big vats, in over a hundred different colours. (Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos of those. At the time I had no idea that I’d ever be publishing this on a blog. Had I even heard of blogs in 2006?)

Back in the shop it’s time for another look at the colourful yarn display. After much deliberation, I finally decide to buy the kit for the ‘challenging’ cardigan I mentioned in my previous post.

Nowadays, Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk is an Economusée, which means that they are still a working mill, but now officially give guided tours.

Well, it’s high time to get back on the ferry for the return journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed your mini-holiday in Norway. Thank you for travelling with Merula Designs and I hope to see you again soon.

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way. I just like talking about knitting materials and where they come from. (Not that I would mind being sponsored by the Norwegian Tourist Board but, alas, they haven’t discovered my blog yet.)

How to Choose What to Knit Next

The title of this blogpost may suggest that this is some sort of manual telling you how to choose your next knitting project. Well, it isn’t. It is a question that I’ve been asking myself lately. In reality, the question was more like: How ON EARTH am I going to choose what to knit next??????????

Going by what I see and hear around me, there are more people struggling with this question from time to time. It’s a luxury problem, of course. Our grandmothers knew what they had to knit to keep their families warm – not much to choose there. But we live in different times. Our problem is often that we have too much to choose from. Besides, a knitting project can be quite an investment of time and money, so it’s only logical that we want to make the right decision.

What I did to find the answer

I’d love to give you a step-by-step plan, but I can’t. I’m no master of choosing, and I have no idea what works for others. I can only tell you what I did to find the answer, and hope that’s somehow interesting or helpful.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may remember that I’d come to a point when there was nothing on my needles except a pair of socks. And when I’d finished those, there was nothing on my needles at all. I hated that. I felt very uncomfortable with it. And yet, I was unable to cast on something new. Why?

To find the answer, I did what I often do when I’m stumped. I took out a notebook and a pen and started to write.

In brief, my problem-solving writing process works like this:

  • I set a timer for a specific time, say 15 or 20 minutes.
  • I write down everything that comes to mind regarding the problem.
  • When the timer beeps, I ask myself: Anything else?
  • I set the timer again, this time for 5-10 minutes, write some more and put down my pen.
  • Then I read through what I’ve written and usually see a pattern emerging.

What I saw this time was that my inability to choose was an after-effect of my career switch. In my new life I have time, energy and creativity left for some more adventurous knitting than I’ve done in recent years. That’s absolutely wonderful, but it also takes some getting used to. And I can’t be adventurous all the time.

I saw that what I really needed was different knitting projects for different situations, different times of the day/week and different energy levels.

What I needed was:

  • Something simple
  • Something challenging
  • Something to play with
  • Something to take along

After I’d made this little list, it was easy to choose what to knit next. I didn’t have to go shopping for yarn, because I’m the happy owner of an wonderful yarn stash. Another luxury that our grandmothers didn’t have (and I haven’t always had either), and I’m very grateful for it. Here is what I chose for each category.

Something simple

This is ‘Granite’, a stylish cardigan, in a very simple stitch pattern, by one of my favourite designers, Kim Hargreaves. I’m going to make it for our daughter. Just the thing to knit on evenings when I crave some meditative, repetitive knitting. It is knit on small needles, so it should keep me occupied for a while.

Something challenging

I bought this yarn kit for a cardigan with a big leaf pattern in Norway years ago. This feels like a huge challenge, and I’m a bit nervous about sharing it here, because I’m not sure I’m ever going to finish it. But I am looking forward to starting it.

Something to play with

This basket is filled with some new (to me) yarns as well as some left-overs from other projects. Playing with them for me simply means: letting the yarns go through my hands, knitting swatches, experimenting with stitch patterns, and trying out some design ideas that I have.

Something to take along

Simple, lightweight, portable, this Color Play Mohair Scarf is knit in four colours of a lovely mohair-and-silk blend. The yarn is thin, but two strands of yarn in different colours are held together throughout. This is an ideal project for knitting on a train or bus, in a waiting room etc.

Oh, I almost forgot – I’ve also cast on another pair of socks. I just can’t live without a pair of socks on my needles:

Well, I surprised myself there. I’d intended to just introduce some new knitting projects, but it evolved into something more than that. Thank you for reading.

I’ll keep you posted about anything worth sharing about these knitting projects. Next time I’ll tell you where I got the ‘challenging’ yarn kit. I hope you’ll join me on the ferry to Norway.

A Chat with a Shepherd

By far most of the sheep surrounding us are of the well-known Texel breed. Stocky, white-fleeced sheep, like the woolly lady enjoying a bit of wintry sunshine in the picture at the top of this post.

When I started spinning, decades ago, I only spun Texel wool at first. Simply because it was the only wool I could get at the time. Since then I’ve tried out various other sorts of sheep’s wool and non-sheep fibres. Even some nutria (also known as coypu rat). Ugh, never again! But let’s not get distracted – back to sheep.

We do have other sheep breeds in the Netherlands – 67 other breeds, in fact. (I didn’t know that. I looked it up.) One of these is the Drenthe Heath sheep. There are several flocks of Drenthe Heath in our part of the country, and we sometimes meet them when we’re out walking.

On one of our Sunday walks I already spotted them from a distance. How nice that they’re here today! (We never know exactly where they are – it’s always a surprise.) But when we came closer, something seemed different. Strange. Wrong.

Normally they roam freely over the heath, but this time they were all huddled together.

Huddled really, really closely together. Look:

That was decidedly odd! And where was the shepherd? We stood watching the sheep for a while, wondering what was up. Meanwhile I took some close-ups of individual sheep. Most of them are whitish with a brown or golden head and legs, but there are also some grey and black ones among them. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Then the sheep dog, a Border Collie, came back with the shepherd close on its heels.

We asked him (the shepherd, not the dog) what was the matter, and he told us that one of the sheep had broken a leg, jumping into a ditch. He’d had to carry it back to the fold and herded the rest of the flock closely together to keep them safe while he was away for a while.

He also told us that the flock consists of 380 sheep now. In spring, after lambing, it grows to 700-800. The sheep’s job is nature conservation. Their grazing keeps the heathland open, like this:

Every sheep eats about 5 kilograms of plant material a day. So, in winter the flock eats 380 x 5 = almost 2000 kilograms per day! Without the sheep, the area would soon be overgrown with shrubs:

The shrubs would be followed by trees. And the heath, with all its rare flora and fauna, would be gone within a decade. Thank you so much, dear sheep, for preserving this beautiful habitat for us.

Although these are the native sheep around here, I’ve never spun any of their wool. To be honest, I actually know very little about Drenthe Heath sheep or their wool. So when we got home I got out my Fleece & Fibre Source Book.

Yes! They’re in the index – go to page 313. And what does it say on page 313? The breed is mentioned under Zwartbles, as one of its ancestors, ‘the horned and hairy-fleeced Drenthe (outside the scope of this volume)’. Not very helpful.

Well, I’ll have to go looking for more information elsewhere. There’s always the internet, of course. Or I could visit some of the flocks and chat with other shepherds. I know that the Shepherds of Balloo have a wool studio, but I’ve never been there. A visit during the lambing season would be something to look forward to.

And maybe I could try spinning some Drenthe Heath wool. I don’t know what it’s like or if it would be suitable for knitting. Do any of you reading this have any experience with the wool? If you do, I would really appreciate it if you’d tell us about it in a comment.

To be continued…

Yarn Review: Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’

Recently someone not a million miles from here made a remark about my blog that set me thinking. He said: ‘I have to read/scroll through quite a lot of stuff to get to the point of your post.’

That stopped me in my tracks. To me, this reading/scrolling thing is the point.

O dear, am I doing this all wrong? Should I make my point first, and expand on it afterwards? There is something to be said for that.

Hunters and gatherers

After giving it some thought, I came to the conclusion that this is a great illustration of the difference between hunters and gatherers. A remnant from a time when we lived in caves and had to hunt for meat and gather berries to prevent starvation. Some people were better at one thing and some at the other.

I consider myself totally and utterly a gatherer. I often find lots of delicious berries (i.e. seemingly irrelevant but fun stuff) along the way and easily get distracted by them. And that is also the way I write my blog. But I do realize that not everybody is like that.

So, if you are a hunter type, and prefer to get straight to the meaty details, please scroll down to a box entitled ‘Yarn Facts’, followed by ‘Conclusion’.

If you are more of a gatherer, please read on.

A bit of history

A long time ago, I became a member of Rowan International. For those of you who don’t know: Rowan is a Yorkshire-based yarn company especially famous for its tweed yarns and innovative designs.

At the time Rowan International members received a beautiful, large-size magazine twice a year, packed with knitting and crochet patterns and some interesting background articles. Plus the new autumn/winter or spring/summer shade cards. And a free gift of yarn with a pattern for a small project.

I still have the original shade card folder:

Changes

After a while things began to change. The shade cards disappeared. We didn’t receive yarny gifts anymore. The company was taken over by a big international firm. The patterns were no longer all that exciting. The pattern sizes became tiny (in my country, I’m an average size person, but sometimes even the largest size was too small for me). And there were a lot of changes in the yarn lines. To make a long story short: I ended my subscription.

But in recent years things have gradually changed again. The pattern sizes are back to normal. The patterns are more appealing. And there are some really exciting new yarns. So, when I saw the new Rowan shade cards last autumn I decided to buy them.

Shade cards

Maybe I’ll go into my love of shade cards some other time. For now, I’ll just say: All those beautiful colours! So many possibilities! So much to dream about! Just look at these two pages. Don’t all those gorgeous colours just make your heart sing?

I looked at and felt the yarns and knew straight away that I had to try out some of them.

One day in October last year, I was in Amsterdam. I was there for a different purpose and didn’t have much time, but I quickly popped into De Afstap, a small but well-stocked yarn shop specializing in Rowan. I had an interesting chat with the lady behind the counter and bought three balls of Cashmere Tweed, in a deep burgundy colour called ‘Andorra Red’ (shade 006). It has flecks of a brighter red, orange, black and grey.

Cashmere Tweed is a mix of merino wool and cashmere. It consists of two plies of slightly irregularly spun yarn incorporating dots of wool in different colours for a tweedy effect. It is a dk-weight yarn that knits up to a lovely soft and filled-out (but not dense) fabric. Cashmere Tweed is available in 13 shades, including some natural browns and greys, a pale pink, several really bright colours and some muted and darker ones.

I bought the yarn especially to make the two pairs of Welted Fingerless Gloves I wrote about in a previous post.

The knitting experience

The yarn was a joy to knit with. It is very soft and woolly, without being itchy at all. There were no knots in any of the balls.

I’ve read some complaints about the yarn breaking easily. I agree that Cashmere Tweed is not a very strong yarn. It is easy to break the thread by hand. But I only had problems with the yarn breaking during knitting once. That was at the thumb hole, where I messed things up, had to unravel and re-knit a bit.

The yarn broke when I passed one stitch over the next with some tension on the thread. An awkward place. But, to be fair, I think that this was more due to my unravelling and handling of the yarn than to the yarn itself.

Yarn facts
  • Name: Cashmere Tweed
  • Manufacturer: Rowan by Mez Crafts UK Ltd
  • Ball weight: 25 g
  • Length: 88 m (96 yds)
  • Recommended needle size: 4 mm (UK 8 / US 6)
  • Recommended tension/gauge: 22 sts x 30 rows to 10 cm (4 in)
  • Composition: 80 % extra fine merino; 20% cashmere
  • Made in: Italy
  • Available in: 13 shades
  • I used: Andorra Red (006)
  • I paid: € 9.40 per ball (October 2018)
Conclusion

Rowan ‘Cashmere Tweed’ is a luxurious dk-weight yarn that gives a very soft fabric with a good ‘body’. It is easy to knit with, but may break after unravelling and under too much strain. Considering the price, I think it is especially suitable for accessories like shawls, scarves, cowls and hats. Just a few balls will make a lovely gift to a special person (or yourself).

The yarn shop lady

The lady at the counter of the yarn shop was none other than Carla Meijsen, who has just published her third book: Magic Motifs: Knitting with a Secret Message. I don’t have it, but I’ve taken a look at it. In one word: intriguing.

This post is not sponsored in any way. I’m interested in the knitting materials I use, and like sharing my experiences.

Perfect Knitting Weather, but…

Hello again! Welcome to a white and snowy world!

It started to snow at three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon. Exactly at the predicted time. We live in a very well-organized country. A code yellow warning was issued by the meteorological service. Train timetables were adjusted long before the first snowflake fell.

So the snow wasn’t a lovely surprise. But lovely nevertheless. We don’t get snow all that often, and although it usually isn’t more than just a few centimeters, I always find it exciting and exhilarating. I just have to share some of all that white loveliness with you.

With my camera in hand, I stepped out the back door, where our pots with herbs are. The most fragile ones are safely under glass, the others will hopefully survive.

I walked round the house for a look at our bird feeders. If you look closely, you can see that this great tit has a sunflower seed in its beak. Great and blue tits and sparrows fly on and off, picking up one seed at a time, eating it in a quiet and safe spot on a branch, and then coming back for more.

First, I took a stroll through our village and noticed this little tree, snug in its stripy knit coat:

Then I walked down the road outside the village, past a stack of wood waiting to be picked up.

And finally I came to the wood at the end of the road.

It looks like a very quiet place, but I was definitely not the only one enjoying it. There were lots of people around, with or without dogs, children, sledges and even skis.

How I love this weather! The snow, the pale light, the cold. Perfect knitting weather, but…

… my knitting more or less seems to have come to a standstill. There isn’t much knitting going on at all. I really don’t know why. Am I suffering from a winter depression? No, I don’t think so. I love winter and I’m feeling perfectly all right otherwise.

Waiting for inspiration I’ve been knitting some socks.

At first I said to myself, it’s only natural after all the gift knitting. Just take your time. Relax a little. Knit another pair of socks. Some ideas will come to you, just wait and see. But now I’ve almost finished three pairs of socks.

There’s just the toe of the third pair to finish and the ends to weave in. Apart from that, I’m struggling to get the pockets of a nearly finished cardigan right. And that’s it. There’s nothing else on my needles.

High time to actively go hunting for inspiration and something to knit. Something interesting. Something a little more challenging than socks. High time to dive into my yarn stash and leaf through some books in my knitting library. I’ll let you know when I find something.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of all of you travelling to and from work by car or by train in this weather. I hope that the roads are not too slippery and the trains are on time. And I hope that you can also enjoy the snow a little.

Most of all I’m thinking of my knitting friend Monique, who gets onto her bicycle every day to deliver the mail whatever the weather. I really admire her for that. And I also admire her for her knitting. Monique knits and designs some of the finest and most beautiful lace you’ll ever see. If you’re into lace knitting, you must take a look at her website. She has just published the second issue of her free digital magazine ‘Fine Shetland Lace’. (Scroll down a little and you’ll see a download link.)

Reading through the magazine, I came across an inspirational quote that seems like a fitting end to this blog post. It’s from Irish lace knitter and designer Aisling M. Doonan:

Sometimes… you have to sit down and begin for the ideas to come.

Warm and Woolly Gifts

Knitting for others can be a pleasure all around, with the emphasis on CAN. I know that it can also lead to uncertainty, frustration and stress (on the part of the knitter) and embarrassment (on the part of the recipient). For handknit gifts to be a success, it’s important to choose well.

I’ve been thinking about what ‘choosing well’ means in this context. A lot of things went through my mind, like choosing the right colour, yarn, size, or type of project. I could write several blog posts on the subject, but basically it is all very simple. I think it all comes down to 3 things:

  1. Only knit gifts for people who will really, really appreciate them (don’t waste your precious knitting time on others – buy them something)
  2. Always take the recipients’ tastes and preferences into consideration (if you’re not sure, ask!)
  3. Never knit anything that you don’t enjoy knitting

And for me, personally, there is one more thing that is very important:

  1. Take your time

I need to be careful to avoid unrealistic deadlines. When knitting becomes a race against the clock, it becomes a chore instead of a joy. So whenever I’m unable to finish something in time for, say, a birthday, I just buy something else or write a card, and tell the person that the handknit gift will be finished soon.

Keeping these principles in mind, I have had a great time knitting warm and woolly gifts over the past few months. I haven’t photographed everything, but here are some pictures of a shawl and a pair of mittens that I knit for our daughter.

The Shawl

For the shawl I used a pattern called Bradway. It is a fairly quick knit on 5 mm (US #8) needles. The triangle starts with just three stitches and is knit from the middle of the top outwards. It has wide and narrow bands in three different stitch patterns, as the photo below shows from close up:

There are bands in garter stitch, twisted 1/1 rib and ’tiles’ consisting of knit and purl stitches. I was a bit worried that the twisted rib sections would be tighter than the other stitch patterns so that the sections next to them would pucker, but that did not happen at all.

I was not happy with the increases used in the pattern (they did not look good on the reverse side) but that was easy to modify. And the bind-off technique used by the designer was too tight to my taste, so I used a stretchier lace bind-off. (More details about these modifications on Ravelry.)

Bradway is not huge, but big enough to wear wrapped around the neck as a cosy scarf with a winter coat.

The Yarn

I knit Bradway in Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, a yarn that I have been wanting to knit with for ages. It is a gorgeous rustic tweed yarn. For us, in the Netherlands, it is rather expensive, but in my humble opinion it is absolutely worth the price. The colours are fabulous and vibrant, and the tweedy flecks add another dimension. I chose Truffle Hunt (brown), Fossil (natural white) and Long Johns (red).

What struck me while I was knitting with Shelter, was that each of the three colours had a different character. The red yarn (Long Johns) was slightly thinner than the other two as well as more uneven, with thicker and thinner parts.

Looking at the natural white (Fossil) and brown yarn (Truffle Hunt) I could not see any differences, but to my hands they did feel very different. Truffle Hunt somehow felt less supple and the knitted fabric also looked denser than the other two colours. I even wondered if I should use a different needle size. The differences are probably due to the red being dyed and the white and brown being undyed as well as from different fleeces. In spinning I’ve noticed this phenomenon of different colours having different properties, too, even though the wool is from the same sheep breed.

Having said that, the differences did not bother me in the finished shawl. The yarn softened up nicely after a good soak. And blocking evened out any irregularities.

The Horse

The horse? What horse? Well, we decided to combine the photo shoot for this blog post with a visit to our daughter’s horse. She’s so sweet and photogenic. I just couldn’t resist including a picture of her here, in between all the knitting. I hope you don’t mind. Hello Silver!

The Mittens

Now, onto the mittens. I’ve knit these Welted Fingerless Gloves several times before, in different yarns. It is such a quick and satisfying knit. Not difficult at all, and just the kind of small project for indulging in a really special luxury yarn (I used Rowan Cashmere Tweed).

‘Welted’ refers to the welts in stocking stitch (US: stockinette stitch) and reverse stocking stitch around the wrist. The really special part about these mittens is the thumb. Actually, they do not have a knitted on thumb, but just a kind of large button hole, which makes them easy to knit and fit perfectly. What I also like is the nice, knitterly detail of a row of purl stitches along the thumb gusset (see photo below).

In fact, I did not knit one but two pairs of the same mittens. The other pair was for the dear daughter of one of my very best friends. I can see her wearing them walking to the bus stop on her way to uni on chilly mornings.

The big gift-giving month of December is over, but I am knitting still more gifts. I have just finished a super soft alpaca cowl and am knitting two more pairs of fingerless mittens, this time for our lovely niece. If you read this, dear niece, the first pair of mittens (the pink ones) is almost finished. Not quite in time for your birthday, but I’ll mail them to you soon!

I’m always on the lookout for new ideas for doable knitted gifts. So, if you have any tips, please let me know. Is there a favourite pattern that you knit again and again?

Festive I-Cord and Winter Tea

For us, Christmas is not about presents. Our big gift-giving moment is on December 5th, the feast of Saint Nicholas. For us, this time of the year is about celebrating togetherness, darkness and light, and good food. And for me, it is also a time to reflect, rest, read and knit.

Still, there is always someone who could do with a small present – a host, someone who has moved house, or ‘just’ a dear friend. For such occasions I have made some warming Winter Tea, with orange zest and spices. I’ve written the recipe down and included it further on in this blog post.

Making the tea is really nice, cutting and drying the zingy orange zest, crushing the spices, and mixing the fragrant blend. But what is even nicer, is knitting the cords to decorate the jars. It would be much quicker to use string, raffia or ribbon, of course. But knitting this cord is so much fun and brings a quirky, personal touch.

I-cord

This type of knitted cord is usually called I-cord. Why? Something to do with iPhones and iPads perhaps? No, as it turns out, the ‘I’ stands for ‘idiot’. This cord is so easy to knit that every idiot can make it. I-cord was made famous by the innovative knitting teacher Elizabeth Zimmermann, and can be used in many different ways – along the edges of knitted fabrics or separately, like I used it here.

For a cord like this you’ll need some scraps of fingering-weight (sock) yarn in two colours and two double-pointed knitting needles (I used 2.5 mm).

Knitting the I-cord:

  1. Cast on 1 stitch
  2. Knit into the front, the back and the front of the stitch (= 3 stitches)
  3. DO NOT TURN! Move the needle from your right to your left hand and slide the stitches to the right tip of the needle.
  4. Knit the 3 stitches, pulling the yarn firmly (but not too tight) at the first stitch.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 to the desired length. (I knit to about 70 cm/28 inches).

To cast off slip the first stitch, knit the next two stitches together, pass the slipped stitch over this stitch, cut the thread and pull it through the last stitch. Weave in ends.

For the cord on the left in the photo above I knit 2 rows red and 2 rows natural white. For the cord on the right I alternated 3 rows natural white with 1 row red.

And then I played some more with the yarn:

It’s amazing what you can do with just 3 stitches and 2 colours of yarn. The hardest thing about I-cord is keeping an even tension. Don’t worry too much about that, though. Nobody will notice. As you can see from the photo above, my tension is not all that even. But do you notice that looking at the I-cords on the jars? Not really.

Winter Tea Recipe

You’ll need:

  • Dried zest of 1 orange (see below)
  • 100 grs black tea (e.g. Ceylon)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1-2 cinnamon sticks (depending on size)
  • 15 cardamom pods
  • 10 black pepper corns
  • 2 teaspoons dried ginger

To dry the orange zest, preheat the oven to 100 °C / 210° F / 90 °C fan. Peel the orange thinly using a potato peeler. Cut the zest into tiny strips. Spread the strips of zest out on a baking tray and place in the oven for about 1 hour, until completely dried out and brittle. Leave to cool.

Break the cinnamon sticks into pieces. Crush the spices (not the orange zest!) using a pestle and mortar. Use some force, but not too much. The spices should still be recognizable and not pounded to a powder.

Mix the spices with the tea and the dried orange zest and fill into jars. (This quantity is enough to fill two 240 ml jars.)

Make a nice gift tag and fasten it with your I-cord.

The tea is even better served with a slice of fresh orange.

Last but not least

Remember to take some time to make yourself a cup of tea, sit down, sip and relax.

I wish you a very happy and peaceful holiday season and look forward to seeing you again (in real life or here) in the New Year!

Weihnachtsmarkt

The first weekend of December we drove up to Germany for a change of scene. Our destination, the city of Münster, is not all that far away from where we live, really. It is the same distance as from our place to, say, The Hague. But it is an entirely different world. The same Euro, but different houses, a different landscape (hills!), different food and a different language.

Apart from visiting the Christmas Market, I had planned to visit a yarn shop and report back to you here with some inspirational photos and stories. I’d found the shop on the internet and looked the address up on the map. But… I forgot to go there!

How could I forget to visit a yarn shop? What was wrong with me?!?

The only explanation I have is that I was overwhelmed with all the sights, sounds and smells of the Weihnachtsmarkt. So that was my blog idea out the window. What to do now?

I could try to give you an impression of our day. Maybe you’d like a virtual mini-holiday abroad. And maybe then you’d understand why I forgot about the yarn shop. Would you like that? Come along then.

The Weihnachtsmarkt in Münster actually is not one Christmas Market, but five smaller ones, in different locations around the historic city centre. The booths are tiny wooden houses, some painted green, some painted blue, and some left untreated in natural wood. Many of them have lovely decorations along their gables and on their roofs. These life-size wooden deer were on the roof of one of them:

The warm smells of food and drink greeted us as soon as we set foot on the first market. First of all there’s glühwein, of course, with its wonderful spicy and fruity aroma, and similar drinks like Punch, Grog and Feuerzangenbowle, with or without alcohol. There is the smell of roasted chestnuts. The piney smell from the literally hundreds of Christmas trees placed all around the markets. And the smell of salmon roasting over a wood fire.

There are lots of delicious things to eat on the Weihnachtsmarkt. One of the things I like best is Reibekuchen, grated potato cakes, served with apple sauce. But this time we chose sautéed mushrooms in a creamy sauce and Rauberfleish, a sort of mix between goulash and chili con carne, for lunch. And we couldn’t resist the famous German Kuchen, of course. I was too busy enjoying the taste of spicy plums covered by a layer of crumbles to take photos. But I did take a picture of some of amazing loaves of sourdough bread.

They were absolutely huge. We estimated that they must weigh over three kilos each!

There’s music all around, too. Christmas music coming from the shops. Music from street musicians, some very talented, some not so much. And around noon, walking along a river from one market to the next, we heard church bells ringing, a deep and sonorous sound.

The booths sell all kinds of lovely stuff, from Christmas decorations, to jewellery, wooden toys, beautiful hand-carved wooden figures and home accessories.

There are stacks and stacks of hand-made soaps, some fresh, summery and flower-scented, and others spicy and fruity.

And candles, of course. Candles in all shapes, sizes and colours. My favourites are natural beeswax ones, with their beautiful golden glow and subtly sweet honey scent.

There’s some knitwear, too, albeit machine-knit. Socks, shawls, scarves and hats. And lots of wrist warmers. The ones in the photo below are made from alpaca. They looked a bit stiff and scratchy, but were in fact extremely soft. Gorgeous colours and patterns – I would really like to knit some like these someday.

So many lovely things, so much to see.

So, what did I buy? Ehm… nothing. Overwhelm at work again, I think. But I really needed some presents, so at the very end of the day, I rushed back to one of the booths selling teas and tisanes and bought some delicious fruity & spicy teas. Mission accomplished.

Now, almost two weeks later, writing this and looking at the pictures, I think: What a wonderful day. And at the same time I am still shaking my head and muttering: How on earth could I forget to visit a yarn shop?