April Allsorts

It almost hurts the eyes, doesn’t it? That blue, blue sky with those bright white flowers of the June berry. I was taking a spin on my bicycle when I took this photograph. Something was bothering me, and I thought a bit of exercise and fresh air might help clear my mind. The air was certainly fresh, not to say icy. I was glad I was wearing my woollen gloves. But what a glorious afternoon!

There were lots of lambs in the fields:

You’d expect the air to be filled with the sound of bleating, but it wasn’t. The sheep and their lambs were quietly dozing or grazing – or following their grazing mums around – and watching each other.

We all know that ewes and their lambs can recognize each other’s voices. But we don’t know (or at least I don’t) if they have other ways of communicating. One ewe and her lamb, lying with their heads close together, made me wonder about that. Do they communicate with other sounds besides bleating? They don’t seem to have many different facial expressions. But what about eye contact? Or perhaps they communicate in ways that we humans have no idea of.

What a wonderful bicycle ride! It was no more than 45 minutes, but I’d seen so many lovely things. And although I hadn’t consciously been trying to solve the problem bothering me, just cycling along had solved it for me – I knew what I had to do when I got home.

Apart from some cold and bright days like these, April has given us all sorts of weather. We even had an afternoon of snow and hailstorms! I don’t know if you can see it on your screen, but the leaves of these dwarf lilies in our garden are filled with hailstones.

Last Sunday, the day after these wintry showers, was a little more spring-like. Not as warm yet as it is now, but really nice weather for a woodland stroll.

I was wearing my new socks. Maybe you remember them from a previous post – the ones with the wide stripes:

I tried to get the stripes matching on both socks. I’ve tried to do that before, with varying success. In theory, it should work if you find a clear place in the stripe pattern, note down where you are starting on the first sock, and start at the same place in the stripe sequence on the second sock.

The emphasis here lies on ‘in theory’, because sometimes there is a knot in the yarn (*#@!), or the stripe pattern suddenly skips a section for no clear reason (*#@!!!). This time it worked, though:

I give lots of socks away, being fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who want to wear them. But I’m keeping these.

The yarn I used is Regia 4-ply in a colourway called ‘Nissedal’. This stripe pattern was designed by Arne and Carlos, the sympathetic Norwegian guys (or is one of them Swedish?) who gained world fame with their knitted julekuler (Christmas baubles). They’ve designed lots of other knits since then and have a YouTube channel with some 60.000 subscribers. I must admit that I’ve never watched any of their videos myself, but that’s not Arne and Carlos’ fault. It’s just that I’m not much of a video watcher in general.

One of their latest ventures is a collection of cushion patterns for yarn brand Rowan, which is presented in Rowan’s latest Spring/Summer Magazine (number 65):

Some cushions have geometrical designs, others have intarsia flower patterns, and all of them have ‘Scandinavian knitting design’ printed all over, don’t you think?

Word of Warning: Don’t buy this magazine just for the cushions, because the patterns are not included. I don’t regret buying it, as it is filled with lovely spring and summer knits, including four designs for garments and accessories by Arne and Carlos. Everything is beautifully photographed, the patterns for all the other items are included, and I love leafing through it for inspiration. But the cushion patterns need to be bought and downloaded separately from the Rowan website.

I’ve almost come to the end of what I wanted to show and tell you today. There’s just one more thing. I’ve finished knitting Granite, the cardigan for our daughter. I struggled with the right way to measure the stretchy knitted fabric, and was worried that I’d get it wrong. So I didn’t sew the pieces together yet, but just pinned them.

During our visit on Sunday she tried it on and…

… it fits! Yay! Can you see the pins sticking out at the armhole? Now there’s just the ends to weave in, the seams to join and the buttons to sew on.

Well, that’s all for now. I wish you a lovely weekend. And if the weather is as spring-like in your part of the world as it is here, I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

Yarn Review: Manos ‘Fino’

Do you know that feeling – you see a yarn and immediately fall in love?

Nowadays I try to be sensible and only buy yarn with a specific project in mind. But it still happens to me every now and then that I see a yarn that is so beautiful I just have to take it home with me, even though I have no idea what I’m going to do with it.

‘Fino’ from Manos del Uruguay is one of those yarns. The tiny ball in the yarn bowl in an earlier post already gave you a glimpse of it.

Mini-skeins

The yarn I’m showing you in this blog post is a set of mini-skeins in a colourway called ‘Flora’:

Before I start describing the yarn, I need to tell you that these mini-skeins are exactly the same yarn as the full skeins of Manos ‘Fino’. A set of five 20 gram mini-skeins has the same yardage and the same weight as one 100 gram skein. And all of the colours in the mini-skein sets are also available as full skeins.

The yarn

Some Manos yarns are still spun by hand. Fino isn’t, but it is hand-dyed, and that shows. I realize that may sound negative, but that’s not what I mean at all. On the contrary. The hand-dyeing process yields beautiful colours, as you can see below:

From top to bottom the colours are: 433 Folly, 404 Watered Silk, 408 Crystal Goblet, 407 Velvet Pincushion and 423 Tincture.

Folly, Watered Silk, Crystal Goblet… it looks like they’ve found their colour inspiration at some 18th or 19th century mansion, doesn’t it?

None of the colours are completely solid. Some of them are semi-solids, with lighter and darker shades of the same colour, like the darkest green (Tincture). Others are more variegated, with a combination of different hues. For instance, overall the second colour from the top (Watered Silk) looks pale turquoise. But looking more closely at the yarn knit up in a swatch…

… you can see that there is pale turquoise and even paler turquoise in it, but also some purplish grey, steel blue and mauve. All in all, this gives a lively (but not too busy) effect.

Fino is a light fingering-weight blend of silk and wool with a subtle sheen. It is a single-ply yarn. This means that it consists of just one strand of yarn, unlike most yarns, which have several plies twisted together. I’ve taken a close-up, so that you can see what this looks like:

The yarn is not entirely even – it has slightly thicker and thinner bits. I think this adds to its charm on the whole. There were one or two blobs of silk in my yarn that were too thick to my taste, but I was able to remove them very carefully without damaging the thread.

I always like to know where a yarn I’m using comes from. What the story behind it is. So I did some research and discovered that Manos yarns have a very interesting story to tell.

Fair Trade

What I found out is that Manos del Uruguay (Hands of Uruguay) is a not-for-profit organization, comprising 12 individual cooperatives, owned by the women who work there. The cooperatives are all located in rural areas of the country and their products are certified by the World Fair Trade Organization.

There’s much more to tell, but the artisans can tell their own story much better than I ever could. In honour of their fiftieth anniversary they’ve made a 6-minute video that gives a great impression of their work. Don’t you just love those long, long lines with skeins of dyed yarn, drying on the air outside?

The knitting experience

So what is it like to knit with this yarn? Absolutely lovely, in my humble opinion. I’ve knit some small swatches, one in each colour:

I have a little more experience knitting with this yarn than just these small swatches, as I’m also working on another project in Fino, an easy-to-knit accessory that I hope to tell you more about later this spring. I first used the blues and greens shown here, and I’m making another version in a totally different (but equally beautiful) colourway now.

The yarn knits up to a fairly even fabric. Very fine, or more open and drapey depending on the needle size used. The yarn is so beautiful that just plain stocking stitch would be a good choice, but I think it will work equally well in a cable or lace pattern. Because it is so soft, it is perfect for accessories worn close to the skin, like shawls, cowls or hats. I don’t think it will stand up to frequent (machine) washing, so I wouldn’t recommend it for baby knits.

Some bleeding is common in hand-dyed yarns. But when I soaked the items I knit in a non-rinse wool detergent these colours didn’t bleed at all.

Yarn facts

  • Name: Fino
  • Manufacturer: Manos del Uruguay
  • Skein weight: 100 g (mini-skein sets 5×20 g)
  • Length: 450 m (490 yds)
  • Recommended needle size: 3-3.75 mm (US 3-5)
  • Recommended tension/gauge: 24-28 sts to 10 cm (4 in)
  • Composition: 70% wool; 30% silk
  • Made in: Uruguay
  • Available in: 40 shades
  • I used: Mini-skein set ‘Flora’
  • I paid: € 29.70 for a set (February 2019)

Yarn shop

In fact, I didn’t buy this yarn in a shop, but at a big annual needle crafts fair, where I spent a wonderful day with a friend who loves knitting just as much as I do. The yarn seller does have a shop – De Roopoorte, near Ghent in Belgium – but I haven’t been there, so I can’t tell you about it. What I can tell you is that Evelyne, the owner, has a good eye for beautiful yarns and interesting pattern books. And she stayed calm and friendly all day long, patiently giving people advice about yarns and patterns, no matter how big the crowds milling around her stand got.  

Silly but honest

You may (or may not) have noticed that I sometimes add notes to my blog posts saying something like ‘This post is not sponsored in any way’. I feel a bit silly adding these notes. I mean, who’d want to sponsor me?

The reason I’m adding these notes is that I want to make it clear that nobody is paying me to say nice things about their yarn, shop, designs, books etcetera. When I say nice things about something or somebody, it’s because I really mean them. This also applies to this post. Honesty and integrity are important values to me. So even though it feels rather silly, I’ll keep adding these notes from time to time.

Fun

I’ve had such fun playing with this yarn – winding the small skeins into balls, knitting those tiny swatches, taking lots of photos. I hope it’s been fun to look at and read, too. Thank you for spending some time here.

The Shepherds of Balloo

On Sunday morning we decided on a whim to pay the shepherds of Balloo a visit. It was a lovely day for a walk and I hoped we would see some newborn lambs.

When we arrived, the doors of the sheep fold were open. We could see that it was empty and the sheep were out, which was only to be expected in the middle of the day.

In 2011, the old fold was destroyed by a terrible fire. Fortunately, enough money could be raised to rebuild, and there is a new, very light and airy fold now.

Looking inside we could see the fresh, golden straw on the floor and the wooden feeders filled with hay. In cold and wet weather the ‘windows’ can be closed with a kind of roller blinds.

The area where these sheep roam is not very big, so we should be able to find them. The wind was a bit nippy, but otherwise it was a lovely dry and bright day. The start of our walk took us along a cycle track:

Very soon we turned right, onto a sandy path and the heath. Although spring has arrived in our garden, the landscape here still looked bare and wintry.

I haven’t discovered how to share the sounds and smells of our walks with you here other than catching them in words, so that’s what I’ll try to do. Well, I don’t know about the smells, but for a soundtrack to this walk think of the soughing of the wind and the song of skylarks, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Nothing else. No cars, no planes, no traffic noise at all.

We didn’t have to walk very far before we spotted the flock of sheep in the distance:

Walking on, we lost sight of them for a while. Why? Well, in my pictures the landscape looks flat, while it is in fact slightly undulating. But soon enough, climbing a hillock, we suddenly saw them again. And sitting in a sheltered spot, leaning against his rucksack, was one of the two shepherds who own this flock, keeping an eye on his sheep.

And he was not alone. His two sheep dogs were with him. One of them is a border collie, like many other shepherds in this area have. And the other one is an Australian Kelpie. Meet Woods:

Oh, what a lazy dog! Just lying around enjoying the sunshine instead of minding the flock. Or is he? Look at his ears – they are not resting at all, but on the alert all the time. And as soon as they register something he sits up:

The shepherd told us that Woods is a dog with a natural instinct for herding. A really reliable dog. ‘If we get back to the fold at the end of an afternoon and Woods keeps looking back, you can bet your boots that there’s a stray lamb left behind,’ he said.

Talking about lambs – where are they? Well, as it turns out we were a bit early in the year. There were only six lambs as yet. They were hidden among the adult sheep, but I was able to take a snapshot of two of them. Can you see them?

These sheep are again of the Drenthe Heath sheep breed, about which I wrote in A Chat with a Shepherd. And here, too, their main job is nature conservation.

The shepherds of Balloo have the biggest flock in this part of the country, with over 400 sheep before the lambing season. As is usual for Drenthe Heath sheep, their colours range from (almost) white to black, with other colour variations in between.

What interests me, of course, is what happens with the wool. In the Middle Ages wool was an economic factor to be reckoned with, and the wool trade brought great riches to parts of Europe. But we live in different times.

At my knitting group, last week, I was shocked to hear that another shepherd with Drenthe Heath sheep receives literally nothing at all for his fleeces! His fleeces are shipped to China, as some kind of waste product, to be used in the carpeting industry.

At Balloo things are looking better, I’m glad to say. Along one wall of the fold I saw stacks and stacks of plastic bags filled with fleeces.

Fleeces in all of the colours Drenthe Heath sheep come in are offered for sale. Each bag has a label describing the specific properties of that particular fleece. I read things like: ‘Ideal for felting’, ‘Good quality for spinning’, ‘Fleece with especially long locks’, etcetera.

An entire fleece would be  too much for me, at the moment, but fortunately I was able to buy a smaller quantity of wool. I am looking forward to trying out how it feels in my hands and how it spins up. I need to finish spinning and plying some other wool on my bobbins first, but when I have something to show, I’ll definitely let you know.

More information

There are two websites dedicated to the Balloo sheep. I don’t quite understand why. One seems to be the shepherds’ own website, and has information about the flock and the wool studio (more about that some other time). The other website provides similar information about the flock, as well as a description of the landscape.