May Miscellany

In May…

…all birds their eggs do lay, or so an old Dutch saying goes. But that’s not the only nice thing about the month of May. It’s also the month the vendors at our nearest Farmer’s Market put up their stalls again after their winter break. Visiting this market is a real treat.

The singer who is always there with her guitar, welcomes us with Dolly Parton’s ‘Play a song for me, Apple Jack, Apple Jack’, and other old favourites. The music creates a great atmosphere around the twenty or so stalls.

We always buy a punnet of strawberries. These are so much tastier than the ones from the supermarket. And sometimes we buy some delicious handmade goat’s cheese, too.

New to the market this year is a lady with felt objects, like hats and scarves, as well as handspun yarns. I wouldn’t immediately know what to do with her riotously colourful skeins, as I usually choose quieter yarns (maybe combine them with a matching solid colour?), but they’re a joy to look at.

I love chatting with other crafters about the things they make, about what moves and inspires them, the techniques they use, and so on. So I asked the new lady about the ‘fleece’ hanging at the back of her stall. I’ve seen fleeces like this before, felted onto a woollen background, but always made from the wool of just one sheep.

This crafter, however, combined wool from different sheep breeds to create the fleece in the photo below. She mentioned at least six breeds. (But I don’t remember a single one. Sorry, my brain was also having some time off.) It shows beautifully how greatly sheep’s wool can vary.

Apart from the colours, ranging from white through grey and russet to almost black, the structure of the wool varies too. There are some long straight locks, some fluffy, wavy bits of wool, and some very tight curls.

Birds

Now on to those birds laying their eggs in May. Our nest boxes are often used by blue and great tits (picture below), but I’m not sure who is using which nest box this year. We don’t want to disturb the birds, so we don’t open the boxes to look what’s inside. I’ll just have to spend more time in the garden watching flight movements.

In our beech hedge there’s a blackbird’s nest – or perhaps even two. And just above our bedroom window there are two house martin’s nests. These were first occupied by squatters – two families of cheeky sparrows, whose chicks have already fledged. I’ve seen the parents feeding small pieces of peanut from our feeder to their young.

After the sparrow chicks fledged, the house martins returned from the south. They set about cleaning out and repairing their nests straightaway. I can’t look inside to see whether there are any eggs in them, but I’m pretty sure both nests are back in use.

And the winner is…

I started the month of May with a blog post about a gift of yarn from a friend. In it, I asked for your help in choosing between two patterns I had in mind, called ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’. I have now counted the votes, and Stay Soft came out on top. It got an overwhelming majority of the votes: 70% for Stay Soft against 30% for Stripe Study.

Now you may think, ‘Huh, but there was only one person who left a comment, voting for Stay Soft! How did you arrive at these percentages?’ Well, many people seem to be hesitant about leaving a comment on a blog. I quite understand. I often read blogs without commenting, too. That’s absolutely fine. What I got instead were phone calls, emails and face-to-face reactions.

So, Stay Soft it is going to be. I’ve already made a start.

A funny thing that struck me, was that most knitters voted for Stay Soft, while most non-knitters voted for Stripe Study. Why would that be? We talked about this in the knitting group I belong to, and one of the members said: ‘It looks like non-knitters focus more on the end product, and knitters more on the knitting process.’ Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Thank you to all of you who helped me decide.

Knitting at the Sugar Factory

Last Friday I took the 8 o’clock train to Groningen, to visit the Northern edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days. I’d planned to add a few centimeters to my take-along project, a scarf in 4 shades of green, or perhaps even finish it. But after knitting less than a row, I discovered that I’d dropped a stitch quite a few rows down. I hadn’t brought a crochet needle to fix it, and as this particular yarn (Rowan’s ‘Kid Silk Haze’) is notoriously difficult to unravel, there was nothing for it but to stuff my knitting back into its bag.

Oh well, just looking out the window at the familiar landscape rushing by was very nice too. Along the route I met up with a friend, and together we arrived at the Old Sugar Factory, where the fair was held.

Sugar production is an important industry in Groningen, a city surrounded by large fields of sugar beets. I still remember the sweet and musty smell wafting through the air from September to January from the time I studied here. What you see on the photo above is only part of the original building – the rest of the factory has been demolished.

The rough edge of a partly demolished wall frames the window of the trendy in-house café, where my friend and I sat drinking endless mugs of tea.

For me, this edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days was very much a social thing, with lots of familiar faces from the North of the Netherlands, the region where I grew up.

Queuing for our tickets, we hugged our first knitting friend. The next familiar face was the cousin I am forever grateful to for teaching me my very first knitting stitches. And then there was a knitter whose blog about her knitting, walks with her dog and life in general I’ve been following for over ten years. And after that…

No, that’s quite enough socialising. Let’s get back to what we’re here for – knitting materials and inspiration. The fair as a whole was rather underwhelming, to be frank. But, focusing on the positives, some stall holders had outdone themselves with beautiful displays of yarns and knitting projects.

Here’s an impression (click on images to enlarge):

My favourite of all was Atelier Lindelicht, with its rainbow of hand-dyed colours:

The owner, Marianne, lives in a neighbouring village. She started out as a designer of felt ornaments, but now also dyes yarns in very small batches. (Sadly for those of you living further away, she only sells her yarns at fairs and markets.) What I like about her yarns is the quality of the materials and the depth of her beautiful jewel-like colours.

My eyes are drawn especially to her blues, pinks and purples (see the picture at the top of this post, too).

This time I didn’t buy any of her lovely skeins, though, as there are several in my stash waiting to be knit up. In fact I didn’t buy any yarn at all at this fair.

What I did buy was a set of interchangeable circular knitting needles:

I already have one exactly like it at home, so why buy another one? Well, I use some of these needles almost every day, and sometimes need more than one of the same size at the same time.

The set (Twist Red Lace small) contains 7 pairs of 13 cm long needle tips ranging in size from 2.75 to 5.0 mm, as well as three cables in different lengths. There are also 2 end stoppers (the white rectangular things), 2 keys (for fastening the tips to the cables) and a cable connector, 12 stitch markers in 2 different sizes, and a needle gauge (the white ruler).

It’s quite an investment, but I know that I’ll enjoy using it for years to come.

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. One last picture of some of the inevitable graffiti on the factory building:

The bicycle parked against it, gives an idea of the size of this work of art.

To be honest, I felt slightly out of my comfort zone in this industrial setting. I didn’t name my website for the blackbird (Turdus merula in Latin) for nothing. We (the blackbird and I) are birds of woodlands, gardens and other green spaces. I tried very hard to approach this days’ urban surroundings with an open mind. And my mind could really appreciate the raw aesthetics, but my heart… not so much.

My heart said: Ah, so happy to be back in my natural habitat!


Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. I just write about things I like because I like them.

A Lovely Surprise

Last November, I found a parcel in our letterbox. It wasn’t my Birthday. I wasn’t expecting any parcels. Had I ordered something that I’d forgotten about? I didn’t think so.

I hurried inside to open it, and I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I saw the contents. It was the red bag in the photo at the top of this post, but even better. It was covered in colourful tape: yellow tape measure tape and cheerful flowery tape. I should have taken a photo straight away, but didn’t think of it at the time. I was too curious what was inside.

I ripped the tape off and found this:

Three beautiful skeins of soft, squishy yarn (and a postcard). A present from a dear friend I’ve known for over 40 years, to thank me for a shawl I’d knit for her. Totally unnecessary, of course, because knitting that shawl was such a pleasure, but what a lovely surprise!

My friend wrote that she’d been to Amsterdam for work, and had taken the time in between two meetings to visit one of my favourite yarn shops to buy some yarn for me. Wasn’t that a wonderfully thoughtful thing to do? She is not a knitter herself. She must have learnt to knit as a child (we all did), but I’ve never seen her knitting.

So how does a non-knitter choose from all those beautiful yarns on display? On the postcard she wrote: ‘For me the shop was a jumble of yarns and wool, but I just had to choose these three autumn colours.’ She may not be a knitter, but she is an art-lover with a good eye for colour.

She chose three skeins of Isager ‘Alpaca 2’, a 50/50 blend of alpaca and wool. It’s a yarn I’ve never knit with, but have been wanting to.

And look how carefully the postcard that she sent was chosen to match the colours of the yarn:

The combination is a thing of beauty in itself. The yarn has been lying around for a while. First in a basket, just to be admired and petted, and later wound onto balls. I don’t know if you can see the colours properly on your screen, so I’ll try to describe them.

There’s a mustardy yellow, a warm marmalade orange, and a blueish or greenish (depending on the light) dark grey. It looks like part of the fibre was from a grey or brown animal, which makes the colours muted and slightly heathered.

Really autumnal, woodland colours. It’s springtime now, but I’m not going to wait for autumn to come around again. I want to make something with this yarn now. But what?

A shawl, I think. Something modern and geometrical. It’s 150 grams altogether, so it won’t be huge, but it should make a good-sized one if I choose the right shape.

What would be a good pattern for this yarn?

Ravelry

The best place to look for an answer is Ravelry, so that’s where I went. Most of you will be familiar with it, but for those of you who aren’t: Ravelry is a online knitting and crochet community, with currently around 8 million members. It is a great place to meet knitters from all walks of life and all over the world. It is also a database with tons of patterns to choose from. This is the log-in screen:

Entering search criteria for project category and approximate yarn weight I got about 24.000 options to choose from. I refined my search criteria some more, some more again, and then some more, and finally got a manageable number of choices.

One of the patterns that came up was Earth and Sky (Ravelry link) by Stephen West, co-owner of the shop where the yarn was bought. It is a great design, and very suitable for 3 colours.

But then I scrolled on and came across Finnish designer Veera Välimäki and thought: Yes, of course! Veera is famous for her geometrical designs. Several of her shawl patterns fit the bill, and I finally whittled them down to two: ‘Stripe Study’ and ‘Stay Soft’.

Stripe Study

Stripe Study is an asymmetrical triangle knit from the top down, with the stripes closer together at one end than at the other. A great pattern, but… Stripe Study is designed for 2 colours. The challenge is: how to divide my 3 colours over the shawl to get a pleasing effect and use all of them up as much as possible?

Stay soft

Stay Soft is a shallow, slightly curvy triangle designed specifically for 3 colours. It is knit in 2 sections from one point to the other, with the top section in colours 1 and 2, and a wide border in colour 3. This is a great pattern too, but… My colours have much more contrast than the ones in the example. Would they still form a pleasing whole, or would the contrast be too strong?

I couldn’t find a better picture of Stay Soft, so I’ve taken photos of the diagrams of both shawls to show their constructions more clearly (click on images to enlarge):

Which one is it going to be? I don’t know – there’s something to be said for both. What do you think? Stripe Study, with its bold, straight lines, or Stay Soft, with its softer, curvy shape? Will you help me choose?