A Morbihan Shawl for Every Budget

‘Pssst! Hey! Take me home with you!’ the ball of yarn in a gradient of blues whispered. It happened at our regional annual crafts fair. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said, ‘You’re far too expensive, and what would I do with you?’ The yarn ball wasn’t impressed. It kept up its insistent whispering, and after walking around it for about a dozen times, I said, ‘Okay, I surrender. I can’t deny that you’re gorgeous, and you can come home with me.’

It would have been so nice to tell you a romantic and poetic story about the inspiration behind Morbihan, my new shawl design. About how I was inspired by the sea – by its myriad shades of blue and its waves lapping the shore. But you may already have gathered from my previous post that it didn’t work that way. It was the other way around. It was the yarn itself that made me make this shawl, and it was only later that I made the connection with the sea.

The yarn that seduced me was Lang Yarns ‘Puno’, a blend of wool, alpaca and silk. What I love about this yarn is, first of all, its gorgeous colours, and also its drape, its softness and its subtle sheen.

And after knitting and blocking, I noticed how beautifully the lighter bits of this semi-solid yarn undulate along with the waves of the lace pattern, especially in the simple stocking stitch sections of the shawl.

This yarn cost € 49.90 for a single ball (or rather ‘cake’). Gulp! Granted, it was a generous 200 grams and 800 metres, but still… Not exactly a bargain.

Because I didn’t have any spare yarn for swatches (I wanted to use up all of this precious yarn for my project), I first tried out my ideas with some yarn scraps. When I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to make, I still hesitated about using the Puno. I didn’t want to spoil the yarn by ripping out my efforts several times. So, I bought some inexpensive yarn for a trial version, and it looks like this:

This is Drops ‘Flora’, a blend of wool and alpaca, with a similar weight/metreage ratio as the blue yarn – four 50 gram balls of this yarn are the equivalent of one ball of Puno. This was a bargain. I bought 4 balls with 30% off for the grand total of € 7.44.

Although this was only meant as a trial version, it has become a lovely shawl in itself. What I like about this yarn is its woolly cosiness and how beautifully it shows the lace pattern.

And it didn’t end there. After I’d decided to publish the Morbihan pattern, I wanted to make absolutely sure that there weren’t any errors in it, so I decided to make another one to check it.

This time I used a cotton yarn. I wouldn’t normally choose cotton for a shawl, but during a very hot period this summer, I started looking for yarns that wouldn’t stick to my hands and found this. I don’t know if your screen is big enough to read it, but the card behind the yarn cake says ‘handmade’.

Huh, handmade? Yes, this yarn cake really is handmade! And it’s organic too!

Saskia, the owner of Wol zo Eerlijk, a yarn shop specializing in fair trade, organic and otherwise sustainable and animal friendly yarns, makes these yarn cakes herself. She combines several threads of a very thin cotton yarn and winds them into fabulous colour gradients. There are over 25 colourways to choose from.

The colourway I chose is called Planet Earth, and goes from a medium green through blue to almost (but not quite) black.

The thin threads that the yarn is made up of, are not twisted around each other, and I was a bit concerned that the yarn would be hard to knit with. I expected to stick my needle between the threads and miss one or two here and there, but personally, I didn’t have any problems.

Because this yarn is handmade, the cakes do not all have exactly the same weight. The ball band says ‘approx. 225 grams’, but mine was 235 grams. This meant that I could add quite a few extra rows to the border (the pattern explains how to do this) and it has become quite a big shawl.

At € 29.95 per cake, this yarn is rather more expensive than that of the grey Morbihan. But considering that it is handmade and organic, and has a generous metreage, I think it really is a bargain, too. It would be an ideal choice for warmer climates, vegans and people allergic to wool.

Well, those are my three versions of Morbihan. I think it will work in almost any yarn – cotton or cashmere, sheep’s wool or silk, viscose or vicuña, alpaca or acrylic… Wait, no, not acrylic! That’s about the only yarn type that I wouldn’t choose. I don’t think it’s very suitable for lace knitting, because it will bounce back after blocking.

Should you decide to make your own Morbihan, in whatever yarn takes your fancy, I wish you happy knitting!

 You can find the pattern here on Ravelry.

Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. The descriptions of the yarns are based on my own experiences with them, and represent my own honest opinions.

Morbihan – The Little Sea Shawl

Hello! Good morning, good afternoon or good evening, depending on where in the world you are and when you can find a moment to read this.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a shawl I’ve designed. I’ve called it Morbihan. As you can see, it’s an asymmetrical triangle, and it is knit in a combination of stocking stitch and a traditional, wavy lace pattern.

But before I tell you more about the shawl itself, I’d like to tell you how it came by its name.

I designed and knit the (then nameless) shawl in the early summer of 2018, months before I started this blog. I made it for myself, but at the back of my mind was the thought, ‘Who knows, maybe I’ll publish the pattern someday.’

That summer, were going to spend our holiday on the south coast of Brittany, France, and while I was packing I decided to add the shawl to my suitcase for chilly evenings. We were to spend part of our holiday in the region of Finistère, and part of it in the region of Morbihan.

The coastline over there is so, so beautiful, especially that of Morbihan. There are rocky stretches…

… as well as wide, white sandy beaches.

In the Breton language the gulf of Morbihan, which gave the region its name, is called Ar Mor Bihan, meaning ‘the little sea’.

What I love most of all about the coast in this part of France, is the clear light and the vibrant colours. Very different from the generally more muted colours of my own country. The bright red of a fishing boat…

… but especially the many, many shades of blue. The translucent blue of the sky. A blue shutter on a white building. And the ever changing blues of the sea, of course. Sometimes pale and in stripes…

… and sometimes a much darker blue shading to turquoise.

We didn’t spend our entire holiday staring at the sea, though. While we were there, we just had to pay a visit to the famous standing stones of Carnac. The sheer number of upright stones, all neatly arranged in rows pointing in the same direction, is amazing.

There were some interesting museums and galleries, and we also visited a stately manoir, with a granary (below) that was even more beautiful than the house itself.

And then there were the delicious thin pancakes called crêpes, the tempting restaurants, and the lovely fishing villages. In one of these villages I took this picture of a shop window:

It’s an ‘upcycling’ shop, where they make and sell wonderful creations from second-hand clothes. Here, too, it was all about blue.

But, all in all, we spent most of our time on the coast, either walking along the coastal path

or strolling along the beach, camera in hand, taking pictures of the sea, rock pools and birds, and just soaking up the sun and gazing out over the sea.

On one of these beach days, I asked my beloved private photographer to take some pictures of my shawl. You’ve already seen it in its entirety at the top of this post, but here’s another picture of it fluttering in the sea breeze.

The triangle starts with just 3 stitches and gradually grows wider with increases along one side. The lace pattern I’ve chosen is an all-time favourite called Old Shale. The body of the shawl consists of stocking stitch sections alternating with sections in Old Shale, and it ends in a border knit entirely in the wavy lace pattern.

I used a yarn in a gradient of blues, from a deep sea blue at the narrow end to a pale turquoise at the wide border.

Here’s a close-up of the border.

To an inexperienced knitter, it may look complicated, but it isn’t. It’s a fairly simple shawl, in fact, with the ‘action’ taking place in only one in every four rows of the lace pattern. For the rest it is just a matter of knitting and purling.

By now, you’ll probably understand why I’ve called this shawl Morbihan. Although I hadn’t planned it beforehand, the shawl and ‘the little sea’ turned out to have much in common. The colours, the waves…

… and also a certain soothing rhythm.

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally written out, tested and uploaded the pattern. If you’d like to knit a Morbihan shawl, too, you can find the pattern here on Ravelry.

The pattern has all the details about yarn, knitting needles etcetera, written instructions as well as a chart for the lace pattern, and a tip about making the shawl longer or shorter.

In addition to this one, I’ve made several more versions of Morbihan. I’ll tell you more about them and the yarns I’ve used soon.

An Afternoon in Antwerp

Friends of ours live near the Belgian border. That’s not exactly around the corner from where we live, and we don’t see them as often as we’d like. So, when my husband was asked to give a talk in Antwerp, we decided to drive down together and invited ourselves to a meal at their place afterwards.

This meant that I had an entire afternoon to spend as I liked in a city I had only been to once, years ago. I wanted to spend my precious time well, and planned my route carefully beforehand to include some sightseeing and some shopping.

I was dropped off on the left bank of the river Scheldt and took the ferry across to the city centre.

The ferry ride, even if it lasted only 15 minutes, immediately gave me a feeling of freedom and being on a holiday. From the water, I had a lovely view of Antwerp’s skyline, with its mixture of old and modern buildings.

My first port of call was the Grote Markt, the market square with its tall and impressive guild halls. They speak of incredible wealth. Flanders once had a booming woollen cloth industry, but I think that had declined before these guild halls were built. I know very little about Belgian history, to be honest, and have no idea where all the wealth on display here came from, but I have a feeling that it cannot all have been fair trade.

The gables are adorned with ‘golden’ sculptures. I don’t suppose they really are made of gold, but they aren’t brass either, or somebody will have to climb up and polish them once a week.

High up on one of the  gables, a beautiful golden galleon was sailing through the clouds.

Leaving the market square behind, I strolled through the surrounding streets and bought some of those famous Belgian chocolates for my loved ones.

Having crossed off the most important thing on my list of things to do, I went in search of the Vlaeykensgang. I’d read about this historic alley and had located it on the map, but still had some difficulty finding it. The entrances are so narrow and inconspicuous that I’d walked past one of them several times without recognizing it as an entrance.

I’m glad that I didn’t give up, because it’s a really, really special place.

A restaurant in one of the buildings looked very inviting, with flowering plants on the window sills and the warm glow of candles inside.

But my time was limited and there was more on my list of things to do, so I walked on to Julija’s shop. Julija sells fabrics and yarns, some of which she dyes herself, like this tweed yarn.

She is best known for her knitting patterns for young children and their mums, though. She has published four ‘real’ books and many small booklets she calls magazines.

Julijas patterns are easy to knit and make me wish that I had some small people to knit for. I mean, look, isn’t this simple garter stitch cardi adorable?

Even in big cities, I always feel drawn to green spaces. In Antwerp I found a lovely place to munch a snack and give my feet a rest in the Botanical Garden.

Den Botaniek, as it’s called, used to be the herb garden of a hospital. Part of it is still planted with herbs and there are also some beautiful trees, a pond with a small waterfall and big goldfish, a glasshouse with cacti and other exotic plants, and an intriguing sculpture.

The plaque next to it says that it’s called ‘Greening II’ and is by Monique Donckers. I haven’t been able to find anything else about it. What does it mean? Could this be symbolic for man on his way to pushing up the daisies?

Refreshed by my short stop, I walked on to another yarn shop – Lana. Visiting two yarn shops on one afternoon, made me realize how different they can be. Both of these shops sell yarn, obviously, but their selection and atmosphere is very different. While Julija’s is light, fresh and modern, Lana is warm, colourful and cosy.

Lana is a Rowan flagship store and the photos above and below show several knits in their Felted Tweed yarn. Some (or all?) of them are by the famous Kaffe Fassett. I recognize Vibrant Stripe (scarf above right) and Colours in the Mist (sweater below).

I’m not sure about the striped knits below – perhaps they are just swatches to show off a beautiful yarn, or perhaps they are scarves. And I don’t remember what yarn they were in either. I only photographed them because they were so nice to look at.

I must admit that I feel a bit iffy about writing about these yarn shops. So, to be absolutely clear about my intentions: I’m not sponsored by any of them. I just write about them because I hope that some of the things that make me happy, will make others happy, too. And also because the information may be useful to other knitters with some time on their hands in this lovely city. Besides, it isn’t as if these shops are huge multinationals. They are just small businesses that deserve all the support they can get.

And did I buy anything? Often, I am so overwhelmed by everything I see, that I think, ‘Oh well, I don’t really need anything’, and leave the shop empty-handed. But this time I was well prepared. At Julija’s I bought some beautiful Japanese fabric, in a blue-green colour that looks like wide brush strokes of watercolour paint. And at Lana I chose a few balls in a thick, soft, fluffy yarn in off-white for a cosy winter accessory.

Well, time to head back. Instead of taking the ferry across the Scheldt again, I walked through St Anna’s Tunnel under it. I wasn’t entirely sure about this, but because there is no bridge, I didn’t have much choice. My fears were unfounded, though, as the tunnel is clean, well-lit and feels entirely safe. And it’s quite an experience! It’s a pedestrian tunnel dating back to the 1930s, with escalators made of wood and brass that make a fantastic rattling noise.

If you’d like to visit Antwerp too one day, I’d say take an entire day (at least) and rent a bicycle or use public transport. (I vastly underestimated the distances and walked miles and miles.)

At the end of a lovely afternoon, an even lovelier supper awaited us at our friends’ place. They prepared a special Belgian meal, with Flemish chips, spicy red cabbage and a stew made with one of Antwerp’s special beers. Thank you, dear friends!

I won’t be here, on my blog, next week. After all this gallivanting, working in the garden and a terrible computer crash, I need some time to catch up with the rest of my life. And I want to finally finish the new design I’ve been working on for a long time. I hope to tell you more about that soon.

Thanks for reading and take care!

Soup and Socks

Over the years, our front garden has become a bit of a mess. Some conifers and shrubs that started out as cute little things, have become unwieldy monsters. We could live with that. In a busy life, the garden doesn’t always get top priority, and it’s impossible to have everything perfect all the time. But now that several trees and some plants have died after two very hot and dry summers, it’s high time to take action.

So we’ve taken this week off for a big overhaul. Fortunately we have some help with the planning and the heavy lifting.

(This may make it look as if we have a huge estate. We don’t, but this is the only way to dig out the tree stumps.)

Because the garden work comes first this week, I’m keeping everything else as simple as possible, including our meals. Soup is ideal for weeks like these. One of my all-time favourites is mushroom soup, and I’ll share my recipe with you here.

I could have used these shaggy inkcaps, but left them in place.

Although I know these are edible, I don’t feel very comfortable eating wild mushrooms. So I bought a mixture of mushrooms from the supermarket instead. If you can’t get a variety, any old mushrooms will do. White button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, flat caps, whatever is available is fine.

Simple Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 250 g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 750 ml water
  • 250 ml cream

Method

  • Sauté the onion in the oil or butter over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the curry powder and sauté for about 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance.
  • Pour in the water, add the stock cubes and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and leave to simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Add the cream and heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with some bread and a salad for a complete main course.

Enjoy!

Taking these pictures has taught me that food photography is not as easy as it looks. When I take pictures of things I’ve knit and am not happy with the result, I can always do them again. But with food, well, if you’re not happy with the photos, you don’t get another try because the food is gone.

With the photo above, I wanted to show that the soup is steaming hot, but it just looks hazy. And the mushrooms have all sunk to the bottom of the pan. I can only hope that it still looks tasty enough anyway.

One of my husband’s hobbies is baking bread, and he baked these beauties. We ate some straightaway and put the rest in the freezer.

What with all the physical work and fresh air, I’m rather drowsy in the evenings. All I have energy for is writing a blog post, bit by bit, and some simple knitting. For me, socks are the ultimate simple knits.

I’ve just started some from a yarn that will make an identical pair. This kind of yarn is sold under names like ‘pairfect’, ‘perfect pair’, or something with ‘twin’ in the name. Some of these yarns work with a starter thread.

In this case, the neon green thread in the photo below is the starter thread. This is pulled from the centre of the ball until you get to the first bit of yarn in a ‘normal’ colour. Cast on the required number of stitches, then knit, knit, knit stripes until you come to a solid bit. Then start the heel (heel and foot are knit in solid blue in this case), and when you get to the toe, stripes appear from the inside of the ball again like magic.

For the second sock, pull the yarn from the inside of the ball again until you come to the end of the next starter thread and start knitting again. It’s really clever how this yarn has been dyed.

I’ve knit many, many pairs of socks over the years. I always have a sock on the needles. Sometimes a pair is finished in a week, sometimes it takes a lot longer. It depends on how much time I have, and what other knitting projects I’m working on, but there’s no hurry.

I like wearing them myself, but also give many away. They make welcome gifts. Sometimes I choose yarn specifically for a certain person. But often, I just choose yarns and colours that I like, and when the socks are finished, I look at them and ask them, ‘Now who would like to wear you, do you think?’

Procrastination

Back in February I decided that, in addition to some simple things and socks, I would also like something challenging to knit. Rummaging through some boxes in a cupboard, I found the kit for a Norwegian cardigan with a leaf pattern that I bought in 2006(!). I was looking forward to finally doing something with it.

To start with, I wrote a blogpost about our visit to the spinning mill in Norway where I bought it. Then I took everything out of the bag.

There were 7 colours of wool, in skeins of different weights. There was an iron-on label, a length of velvet ribbon and a small quantity of thinner wool. And there was a photograph of the cardigan.

The pattern was not included, but that was fine. I already had the book containing the pattern – Poetry in Stitches by Solveig Hisdal. It was the book that had lured me to the spinning mill in the first place.

Poetry in Stitches contains patterns for many cardigans and pullovers, for adults, children and babies, a few children’s hats and a summer top. And there is a muff and a pair of wristlets in an interesting combination of knitting and crochet. It is filled with beautiful photographs, not only of the knitted items, but also of the textiles and folk art from several museum collections that inspired them.

Even if you’d never knit any of the patterns, Poetry in Stitches is a book worth having. Unfortunately it is out of print, but there are some second-hand copies around. I saw one for $ 369! But some more reasonably priced ones, too.

After unpacking and photographing everything, I screwed my ball winder and my umbrella swift to the edge of our dining table and started winding the yarn.

Long ago, I used to wind yarn by hand, while somebody else held up the skeins. It’s a companionable and relaxing thing to do. But if you have many skeins to wind, the set-up with swift and ball-winder is much more efficient.

The result is different, though. Instead of round balls, a wool winder makes yarn ‘cakes’, that are flat on two sides and don’t roll away.

When all the yarn was wound, I put everything neatly together in a basket. I found a corner in the living room for it, and…

… there it has stayed. Untouched. Eight months after I unearthed the kit, I haven’t knit a single stitch. And before that it has lain around for 13 years! This is starting to look like a serious case of procrastination.

We all procrastinate from time to time, I suppose, but I’m not terribly familiar with procrastination. So, why am I procrastinating now? Don’t I want to make this cardigan anymore? Yes, I do. I really do. Lack of time isn’t the problem either – I can find time for all kinds of things. What is it then?

I could sense some question marks, doubts and uncertainties in the back of my mind, but they were rather vague and elusive. Time to bring them out into the open. Time for one of my problem-solving writing sessions.

A notebook, a pen and a big mug of tea, that’s all I need. And sometimes I also use a kitchen timer. As I often do when I’m stuck, I wrote down everything that came up as quickly as I could. I took a break, and then looked at what I’d written. What I saw was lots and lots of question marks.

Taking a closer look, I also saw that they could be grouped into three topics: The knitted fabric, shape and fit, and non-knitting elements.

The knitted fabric

This pattern has much larger motifs than Fair Isle or other stranded knitting usually has, which means long floats at the back. How do I prevent the knitting from ‘pulling’? How do I get a nice and even fabric? How do I get crisp leaves? And how do I prevent the veins from getting lost in the leaves?

Shape and fit

This cardigan is basically a large rectangle with fairly wide sleeves attached. There is no side or shoulder shaping, and no armhole shaping either. Not very flattering. Am I going to knit it as it is, or am I going to do something about it? If so, what and how?

The pattern only has two sizes, which look like Large and Extra Large to me. How do I get the right size? And especially: will I be able to get the sleeves the right length? They look rather on the long side on the model, and my arms seem to be slightly shorter than average. Do I need to shorten the sleeves? And how? They have wide stripes, matching the front and back, that can’t be made narrower. And I can’t just leave a stripe off at the top or at the wrist, can I?

Non-knitting elements

There is a velvet ribbon along the fronts and neck. The ribbon in the kit feels fairly stiff. Is it suitable for sewing onto the softer and more stretchy knitted fabric? Will I be able to sew it on without the ribbon or the knitting buckling? Will I ever be able to get the corners of the square neckline right?

Then there’s a lot of cutting involved. Cutting into knitted fabric is always rather nerve-wracking. I will need to cut the front open to make the tube into a cardigan, and I will need to cut armholes. And in this case, I will also need to cut a large piece out of the front for the square neck and a smaller, curved part for the back neckline. Without the help of any diagrams. Scary! I’m afraid to spoil all those hours and hours of knitting at the last moment.

And then there is the lining. Will it work – a non-stretchy cotton lining inside a stretchy woollen fabric? And where do I find a suitable fabric? At a quilt shop perhaps? Or should I leave it out? What is its function anyway? Is it purely decorative or is it essential for, say, the button holes?

And what about the button holes? They need to be made through both the knitting and the lining. They don’t look particularly nice and neat in the photograph, do they? Will I be able to make them so that they don’t spoil the entire cardigan?

Taking the time to look at what has brought me to a standstill seems to have been really worthwhile. I don’t have the answers yet, but at least now I have the questions out in the open. And, as Aristotle said:

Asking the right question is half the answer.

So, what do I do now? I’ve looked around for ways to deal with procrastination and came across tips about setting goals and deadlines. I’m not happy with those – they feel too much like work. What I did like was an item on WikiHow called How to Overcome Procrastination Using Self Talk. It has some very friendly pieces of advice, like ‘focus on starting rather than finishing’, ‘break a long project down into short tasks’, and ‘make it fun!’

I can do that! My first short task will be ‘knit swatches’ (Duh, any knitting project starts with knitting swatches. Why didn’t I think of that before?). I’ll start with that, without looking too much at all those question marks ahead of me. And making it fun won’t be any problem at all. Knitting is fun in itself, and the yarn and colours are lovely. All I need to do is make a pot of tea, put on some music and start knitting.

Autumn Colours

Autumn is mushroom time. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but it’s true. As soon as it was officially autumn, mushrooms started springing up like, well, mushrooms in the woodland on our doorstep.

Or perhaps I should say mushrooms and toadstools. I keep having difficulty with the distinction. In Dutch we call them all paddenstoelen, which literally means toadstools.

I’ve been taught that mushrooms are, on the whole, the ones you can eat, while toadstools are the poisonous ones. But what if you see a beautiful specimen and don’t know if it’s edible or not? What do you do then?

‘Look, what a beautiful… errr’

‘Hang on a minute, I need to look it up in my field guide first. Yes, here it is – I think it’s a blusher. That’s edible, so, ‘What a beautiful mushroom!’ (Or, wait, it may be a false blusher, which is poisonous, so…)

Maybe other people aren’t bothered by this, but I am. I may have left the translation world last year, but the translator inside hasn’t left me. I’m still very much focused on words.

It’s not just the mushroom/toadstool distinction that’s bothering me. It’s also the word toadstool itself.

On one of our recent walks I nearly stepped onto a toad.

Can you imagine it sitting on one of these fragile stools?

Or on one of these?

It would never work. The only fungus that would hold a big fat toad without breaking that I can think of, would be a cep. But that’s a mushroom.

It’s all very confusing.

It’s the same with some knitting-related words, like sweater, jumper, pullover and jersey. Very confusing.

Ravelry, the big online knitting platform most of you will be familiar with, helps a little. In its vast pattern archive it uses ‘sweater’ (124,663 patterns!) as an umbrella term, and in that category distinguishes between ‘cardigan’, ‘pullover’ and ‘other’. But what about jumper and jersey? And why are sweaters called sweaters?

I don’t know. But there’s one thing that I do know, and that is that it’s sweater weather again. Looking for some inspiration, I bought Kim Hargreaves’ new pattern book – Covet.

Kim Hargreaves started out as a designer for Rowan, but has been working as an independent designer for many years since. I like her designs a lot because they are timeless classics with great attention to detail.

There are 12 designs in Covet: 5 cardigans, 5 pullovers, 1 dress that can be shortened to a pullover (which Kim calls a sweater) and 1 granny square crochet wrap in a bulky yarn. No hats or scarves this time.

I love the cable designs and also the seemingly simple ones in stocking stitch. I’m not a big fan of the new bell sleeves, though, and I can’t see myself or anyone I know wearing the figure-hugging knee-length dress in a very warm wool and alpaca blend knit on 6 mm needles. With a polo neck. Just thinking of it makes me break out in a sweat. Taken literally, sweater would be a better word for this design than dress.

A design that drew my eye immediately was ‘Devote’, a cardigan with a stunning shawl collar.

Beautiful! And it also has some lovely decorative decreases on the sleeves, too. But the shape is not suitable for me, alas. Too short and tapering down to a narrow waist. I could probably adapt it, but this time I was looking for something to knit straight from a pattern.

So I got out some of her older books. Even books from years ago don’t look dated – that’s quite an achievement. Earlier this year, Kim let us know that some of her books won’t be reprinted anymore, so if you’d like to add some to your knitting library, don’t wait too long. You can find them all here on her website.

One of my favourite Kim Hargreaves books is Pale, which was published in 2018. There are several patterns in it that I’d love to knit. To start with, I’ve chosen a cardigan pattern called ‘Fair’.

It’s a simple little cardi in stocking stitch, but with a great fit and lovely details, like integrated pockets with rolled tops, a neat button band and side vents. It’s designed for a new yarn – an airy cotton and alpaca blend – that I’d like to give a try. It’s called Alpaca Classic and it looks very light and soft.

Now to choose a colour.

Autumn is the season of oranges, yellows and reds. I love these bright spots of colour in gardens and woods at this time of year.

The brightness of the yellow stagshorn (above) is a sight that makes me very happy. And it’s the same with the orange lanterns of the Japanese Lantern.

And then there’s red, from the bright red of the fly agaric at the top of this post to the deep dark red of these beautiful heart shaped leaves.

These are cheerful accents in a world that is gradually turning brown, but… apart from some shades of red, I never wear autumn colours. They just don’t go with my hair and skin tone. Fortunately the yarn for the cardigan I want to knit comes in many shades. I dithered between several, but finally chose blue (again – it’s my go-to colour).

The yarn producer, Rowan, calls this shade ‘Peacock’, but I don’t think it looks like peacock feathers at all. To my eye, it is somewhere between turquoise and sky blue. Could I call it ‘Autumn Sky on a Sunny Day’? I’m looking forward to knitting with it.

Coming back to the ‘real’ autumn colours, although I will never wear them in large doses, I can see me using them in small quantities, as accents in combination with other colours. I’d like to get out of my colour comfort zone a little and to experiment with them in that way. So last weekend, I chose a few small balls of yarn in autumn colours to play with.

I bought these during a visit to two very special yarn shops I’d never been to before. Now I’m in doubt as to whether I should write about these shops – or yarn shops in general – on my blog.

On the one hand, I’d love to, and I think it could be interesting and useful. For me, it’s about more than shopping and buying. It’s also about creativity, colour, inspiration and meeting like-minded people.

But on the other, won’t it seem terribly commercial, as if I’m advertising for these shops? (Which I don’t want to do – I prefer to stay independent). Will people in other countries want to read about yarn shops in the Netherlands (and some in Belgium in Germany perhaps)? Does anyone want to read about yarn shops at all, for that matter?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but so far have been unable to make up my mind. If you have any ideas, thoughts or opinions on this, I would appreciate your input very much. Thank you for reading. Have a lovely week and until next time!

Basket Weaving

A knitter can’t live without baskets. At least, that’s what I think. There are baskets dotted all around our house, filled with knitting projects, yarn, unspun wool, more yarn and more knitting projects. Some of these baskets were made by Jannie, a basket weaver I often run into at fairs, markets and sheep shearing festivals. This summer I discovered that she doesn’t only make baskets, but also teaches others how to make them, and I entered my name for a workshop.

I asked a friend (who also knits and spins) if she’d like to join me. She said, ‘I’d love to!’, and together we set off early last Saturday.

As soon as we arrived, we were surrounded by baskets. Baskets hanging under the stairs.

And baskets stacked high on shelves.

There were small, fairly simple looking baskets.

And bigger, very complicated looking baskets. (The picture at the top of this post is a close-up of the basket below).

Something like this would be way too difficult for a first effort, of course. What we were going to make, was a round, medium-sized basket with handles. And this is the material we were going to use:

Willow shoots, or osiers. These were sorted by thickness and length and pre-soaked for about 10 days.

We started by slitting three thick pieces of osier in the middle and threading three others through them. With a thinner shoot we started weaving the base.

We continued weaving, while separating the spokes, until it was a reasonable size.

Then we cut off the starter shoots, stuck 24 new long shoots into the base, and added a few rows in a different ‘stitch’ as I would call it as a knitter. I have no idea of basket weaving terminology, but I looked it up, and I think the last few rows in the photo below are called a ‘randing’. They make for a firm base.

Now it was time to bend the shoots upwards. They were tied together near the top, to keep them out of the way and pointing in the right direction. The 3 shoots you can see sticking out on the floor, are the ones we were going to continue weaving with.

We were sat on low wooden benches, with a sloping wooden work surface attached to them. At this stage, a heavy weight was placed inside the basket in progress, to keep it from sliding down the work surface.

Phew, basket weaving is hard work! In need of a short break, I stepped outside. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and the garden around the basket weaving shed was idyllic.

Even outside there were basket-like decorations and structures everywhere, overgrown with plants.

The chickens (and a guinea fowl) were making soft, clucking noises. There were literally heaps of courgettes and tomatoes on the patio, and there were some gorgeous dahlias in bloom.

The same week I went basket weaving, I won a knitting pattern on Ravelry. Although ‘won’ isn’t the right word for it, perhaps. All I did was chat with other knitters about the things we were making and post some pictures. But still, my name was drawn and I received a digital pattern for a big, cosy wrap in a basketweave pattern.

Wasn’t that a nice coincidence? I’m really tempted to cast on straightaway, but I already have so many other plans for the coming months. I think I’ll keep it till later.

Well, after this short break I’m ready to get back inside. Are you coming?

It’s already starting to look like a real basket.

Our example was placed in the middle of the room for inspiration.

Using champagne corks we made even spaces for the handles.

After braiding a sturdy rim and snipping off all the ends sticking out, our baskets were finished. And here they are – tadaah!

And here’s mine at home, filled with some undyed Shetland roving. I’m so proud of my very first, slightly lopsided willow basket.

My friend and I made our baskets at Vlechterij Vinkenslag. Jannie is a very knowledgeable, friendly and patient teacher. Apart from teaching basket weaving, she sells her beautiful baskets, bird feeders and decorative ornaments at crafts markets and fairs.

3 Reasons for Knitting Dishcloths

There aren’t many taboos left in this country. We Dutch are a broad-minded people in general. If someone were to say, for instance, ‘I’m a dominatrix in my spare time,’ people will in all likelihood go like, ‘That sounds fascinating! Tell us all about it.’ But there are still some subjects that we avoid talking about.

When people ask me what I do in my spare time and I tell them that I knit, their eyes tend to glaze over. They say things like: ‘Oh, ah, my Nan used to do that,’ and then the conversation falls flat. It’s the same with housekeeping. We don’t talk about it. It isn’t considered sexy.

Cheryl Mendelson, a former lawyer and professor of philosophy, knows about this taboo. She starts her informative and entertaining book Home Comforts with the words: ‘I am a working woman with a secret life: I keep house.’

When she told people she was writing a book about the nitty-gritty of housekeeping, the reactions she got were not undividedly enthusiastic. And she writes that even for herself ‘the subject was actually something of a hot potato’ (p. 4).

I’ve kept quiet about two such ‘hot potatoes’ for a long time. My nearest and dearest knew about them, but I usually avoided these subjects with strangers. Starting this blog has felt like a kind of coming out with regard to knitting. And with today’s blog post about knitting dishcloths I feel like I’m getting to the next level, because it’s about housekeeping, too. Another subject that makes us cringe.

Handknit dishcloths = knitting + housekeeping = double cringe

(Or is it just me? How do you feel about this? Do you knit dishcloths too? How do people react? Do you mind?)

So, why knit dishcloths anyway?

For me, the seed was sown in Norway in 2006, when I bought Vinterlappar og annen vintermoro, a crafts book with many great ideas for things to make and do in winter. There is also a knitting pattern for a dishcloth in it. It was the picture of the stacks of dishcloths in shades of blue and green that did it for me. How lovely!

But knitting dishcloths? No, no, no, I wasn’t going there. Too twee by half!

I came across more handknit dishcloths in Scandinavian magazines that made me sigh ‘how lovely’, but always a feeling of embarrassment held me back.

Early this summer a knitting friend showed me the dishcloths she’d knit. Again I thought ‘how lovely’. And this time, I  finally caved in. Why? Well, for several reasons.

Reasons for knitting dishcloths #1: Choosing the yarn is fun

Choosing yarn is always fun. In this case you’ll need cotton, a material available in many, many colours, which makes it even more fun. And the advantage with choosing yarn for dishcloths compared to items to wear is that you can choose any colours you like – bright or subtle. They don’t have to look good with your clothes, your hair or your complexion.

As I don’t have a lot of experience knitting with cotton yarns, this opened up a whole new world for me. I browsed around in shops and on the internet until I hit on a yarn that came with a shade card. (I love shade cards!)

I chose 3 shades of blue and cast on for my first dishcloth. And that brings us to

Reason for knitting dishcloths #2: Scope for trying out stitch patterns

Dishcloths are ideal for trying out and enjoying the rhythms of all kinds of stitch patterns. I started with one in broken rib:

Lovely in all its simplicity, but the edges were rather loose. Hmmm – something to do differently next time.

I immediately cast on for the next one. This time in broken basket weave, a pattern that required a little more attention.

Even nicer than the first, because it has a border in garter stitch that gives it stability, and because the stitch pattern is more interesting to knit and look at.

For my third dishcloth I chose a stitch pattern called Cable Stitch in the booklet I used. At home we call this stitch ‘Coffee Beans’. I had my doubts about this one, because it is a very stretchy stitch that I would normally rather choose for something like sock cuffs. It looked really nice in the photograph, though, so I tried it anyway. But I ended up with a long and narrow dishcloth, which was not what I was aiming for:

After washing I was able to block it to a square cloth…

… but I’m not happy with the edges, and I wonder what is going to happen when I use it and wash it again. I definitely don’t intend to block my dishcloths every time I’ve washed them.

By this time I was so taken with these simple little cloths, that I asked our daughter to get some more yarn from a shop she passes every day on her way to work. ‘Please choose some harmonious shades,’ I said. And she picked these:

Nice and subtle, aren’t they? While you’re reading this, there are more dishcloths in the making. I’ll write about these, about the yarns, and about my experiences with using and washing them in another post.

Ah, dishcloths are such great little projects. And that brings us to reason number three.

Reason for knitting dishcloths #3: Portability

A dishcloth would make an ideal travel project – small, lightweight, not too difficult. But…

… what if I’m knitting on the train and someone asks me what I’m making? What do I do then? I can’t just admit I’m knitting a dishcloth, can I? Way too embarrassing!

Still, one day, with a long train journey ahead of me, I put my embarrassment aside. I didn’t have anything else suitable to take along, so I grabbed my current dishcloth and stuffed it into my backpack. But when the guard who came along to check our tickets asked me, ‘What are you making? A scarf?’ I was only too relieved that she hurried on without waiting for an answer. Phew!

Will there ever come a day when I can say, ‘I’m a dishcloth knitter and proud of it’?

Knitting Sideways

Mid-September. The mornings are starting to feel chilly and the smell of autumn is in the air. In the garden there are still some roses to be picked and the autumn anemones are flowering profusely. It’s the time of year to start thinking of warm and woolly knits. But first it’s time to finish some summer projects.

My ‘big’ summer knitting project was an oversized T-shirt, from a pattern called Sideways Tee, designed by Churchmouse. I’m not much of a summer knitter – I prefer woolen yarns and cosy socks, sweaters and shawls. But after a very hot spell early in the season, I realized that I needed something cool and summery to knit or I wouldn’t be able to knit at all on hot days.

Now I’d like to show you what I made and how I set about it. I like looking over other makers’ shoulders and hope that what I’m doing will be interesting and useful to others too.

Before I start knitting a garment, I always swatch. I don’t swatch for socks, and I don’t always swatch for shawls and scarves. But for garments it makes all the difference between success and failure.

This time it was a good thing I did, too. For the first swatch, I used the recommended needle size (4.5 mm) but didn’t get the right gauge. So I went down a size (to 4.0 mm), knit another swatch and, yay, the gauge was correct. I washed both swatches to make sure the knitting didn’t shrink or grow, but it was fine, so I could start knitting.

The Sideways Tee has an interesting construction. Both front and back are started from a provisional cast-on in the middle, and are knit outward to the sides. It isn’t called Sideways Tee for nothing.

In this case it isn’t your usual ‘crochet a chain and pick up stitches from the bumps.’ It’s a more sophisticated provisional cast-on, that is crocheted over the knitting needle.

I’ve used this technique before, and think the result is much better than with the crocheted chain technique.

At first sight this Tee looks very simple. But the only thing that is simple about it, is the stitch pattern – a simple stocking stitch. Other than that it has many interesting features, like sloping shoulders, side shaping and short rows. The 8 pages of the pattern are packed with instructions, diagrams and special techniques.

I could easily lose my way leafing back and forth through all these pages, and took several measures to prevent confusion.

To start with I marked everything related to my size with a pink highlighter (I’ve discovered that yellow becomes invisible in lamp light). I used a row counter (the bright green thing) as well as sticky notes to keep track of where I was in the pattern.

The first half of the back ended with some short rows, done with a special technique called C&T (Clip and Turn) by the designer. It involves lots of locking markers, as you can see here:

I used some very fine metal locking markers for this. They were a gift from a friend and I really like them, because they don’t distort the knitted fabric like the thicker plastic ones can do with this technique. (I did use plastic ones to indicate armholes, neckline etc.) In the final row, all the gaps caused by the short rows are closed and the stitches are placed onto a piece of waste yarn.

Then the stitches  from the provisional cast-on in the middle are picked up, while the waste yarn used for the cast-on is removed.

This technique works very well. I think it’s rather daring to start like this, because you could easily get a wonky row right in the middle of the front and back that would spoil the entire garment. But I can’t see where I picked up the stitches – can you?

After finishing back and front it was time to start seaming the shoulders. At this point my Tee looked like this:

For me, this was the absolute low point of this project. It looked terrible, like some kind of frumpy, strangely shaped, too short poncho. If it wasn’t for this blog, I could easily have thrown it into a corner never to look at it again. But I’d planned to show the finished T-shirt here, so I persevered.

After closing all the seams and knitting on the edgings, I washed the shirt and threw it into the dryer until almost dry before blocking it.

When it was on my blocking mats I saw that it was going to be okay after all.

The size was exactly as it should be according to the pattern. I was really happy with that. I only pinned the shirt into place with a few T-pins. After drying, I steam pressed it for an extra neat finish.

And this is what my Sideways Tee looks like when worn:

It’s a very different type of garment from what I usually choose. Usually I choose more fitted, A-line shaped garments. So this was a bit of a gamble, but all in all I’m happy with it.

The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the neck edging. There is a row of rather loose stitches along the front neck.

I don’t know what I could have done differently. Maybe it’s because the yarn has no bounce and doesn’t fill up the holes, or maybe it’s because the sideways knit stitches stretch too much. I don’t know. It’s just a small detail, however – the rest is fine.

I like the drape and feel of the knitted fabric. I think it’s a flattering shape. And I like the sloping shoulders and fit of the ‘sleeves’ (which are, basically, just armholes with an edging).

Finally, here’s a shot of the back. It’s definitely oversized, but far from shapeless.

Well, I finished that nicely in time for summer, didn’t I? (Summer 2020, that is.)

Oh, and then there’s the yarn, of course. I almost forgot to mention it, but it’s one of the most important elements. It can make or break a knitting project.

I chose Juniper Moon Farm ‘Zooey’ for my Sideways Tee because it felt cool and crisp, and because it happened to be available from a local yarn shop. And I chose white because it’s a nice and summery colour that goes well with jeans.

Zooey is a 60% cotton, 40% linen blend with thicker and thinner parts. It is loosely twined and, because of that, very splitty. It is easy to miss one of the strands, resulting in a thin spot in the knitted fabric, or to mistake one stitch for two and accidentally increase a stitch. I’m speaking from experience. Both have happened to me and I’ve had to frog quite a bit to fix it.

After a while I got used to the yarn, and developed a knitting technique that prevented me from sticking the needle into stitches by pushing the strands together with my index finger. This is definitely not a yarn for mindless knitting. Having said that, it gives a very nice fabric – drapey with a lovely irregular structure.

Well, that’s the story about my Sideways Tee. If you’d like to make one too, I can recommend it. It’s a really enjoyable and interesting knit. Looking ahead to autumn, I think it will work very well in a cosy woolen yarn, too.

To end today’s blog post, in style with the focus on white, here’s a picture of our beautiful autumn-flowering Japanese anemones ‘Honorine Jobert’.

Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. I only mentioned the pattern store and yarn brand because I think it’s essential information.

Summer Walks Part II – Coast

On a day that was too hot for walking through woods or across heathland, we thought a walk along the coast might be a good idea, with hopefully a refreshing breeze. So we set off for my native Friesland. Our starting-point was the old town of Stavoren (photo above), and our destination was Hindeloopen, another small harbour town. (It was a one-way walk – we took the train back.)

This isn’t the coast as in sea shore, but rather the coastline along the IJsselmeer, a former inland sea that was closed off around 1930 and is now a big freshwater lake. The dykes are still there, and our trail ran right across the top. Well, it wasn’t really a trail, just grass, but you get the idea.

In reality the dyke is much steeper than it looks here. The narrow road on the right is a bicycle track. Nice when you’re cycling, because it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind. But not much fun when you’re walking, because you’d miss the lovely views over the lake.

With a delicious breeze from behind it was an ideal day for this walk. Looking to the left, we saw a choppy lake with some sailing boats.

And looking to the right, we saw agricultural land, with some farms and modern windmills. Completely flat, with endless horizons.

All along the dyke, there were lots of fences with stiles to climb.

The fences are there to confine the Texel sheep to certain sections of the dyke. The sheep are kept company by water birds, like these black and white barnacle geese.

The sheep were not shy at all. They didn’t run away when we came close, like they usually do. We had to step around and over sheep and lambs lazing and grazing on our path. And some of the sheep were downright pushy. When we sat down on the grass to eat our sandwiches, they came begging for a share. They must have been fed by other walkers.

‘Come on, give us some of your bread,’ they seemed to say. And, ‘I really like the smell of that cheese.’ They refused to be shooed away and were so insistent, that in the end we got up and walked on, eating the rest of our lunch along the way.

In the distance we could already see our destination. It wasn’t just a perfect day for walking, but for wind and kite surfing, too.

Against the big blue sky, Hindeloopen looked very small, with its church and the houses with their red roofs huddled behind the dyke. And, in fact, it is small now, with under 900 inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the lake was still a sea, it used to be an important harbour and trade centre, with three times the number of people and a fleet of around a hundred ships.

It’s nice to imagine merchant ships leaving and entering the town via the lock (photo below) that is now used by pleasure boats. On their outward-bound journeys they would be filled with gin and wool. And coming back from Scandinavia and Russia they would be carrying wood.

We slowly strolled through the old town centre and saw some monumental merchant’s houses – a sign of great wealth in earlier times.

There was a museum, too, as well as several shops selling local traditional crafts. Hindeloopen is renowned for its decorative painting style, with garlands and stylized flowers on a red, green, blue or cream background. Here are several trays and a ‘butte’.

A butte is a traditional travelling case used by seamen for their personal belongings. I think it’s a thing of beauty and would like to own one someday. But as it’s all handmade, it has quite a hefty price tag. It’s not that it isn’t worth it, but it isn’t an amount I’d spend on a whim.

I came home with some more modest souvenirs – two pieces of fabric and two postcards.

The fabrics are inspired by some of those used in the colourful traditional costumes of Hindeloopen. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for yet, but I’ll think of something.

One of the cards shows some of the typical decorative painting on a wooden platter. And the other shows a woman in traditional dress. (Unfortunately the postcard doesn’t tell us who the artist is.) In the painting, the fabrics are simplified to solid colours. In reality they would be flowered and checked, in mainly red, blue and white. There’s an picture of a complete costume on the town’s museum website.

And what is the woman doing? Knitting – what else?