Knitting Sampler

Hello again!

Last week, my musings about knitting traditions ended with a remark about something I found in my parents’ attic. Well, here it is – a knitting sampler. I found it in 1999, after my Mum suddenly and unexpectedly died from a brain aneurysm, aged 66.

During the decade or so before she died, my Mum worked as a housecleaner. She left other people’s houses sparkling and immaculate, but didn’t always have much time or energy left for her own home. The Christmas before she died, she told me that it bothered her that the house was so messy, and I promised to help her sort things out in the New Year. But then she died in January.

In memory of my Mum and for my Dad’s sake, I tackled the tidying after all. It was a difficult and hectic time. I was grieving over my Mum, my Dad was developing Alzheimer’s, I had a young daughter and a job. So when I found the knitting sampler, I just stored it away safely in a box in my own home and forgot about it.

It wasn’t until earlier this year that I remembered it. Now, I’m at a stage in my life where I can give it the attention it deserves.

Who knit it? And when? I have no idea. The strange thing is that my Mum never mentioned it or showed it to me. That is strange because I did know about her embroidery sampler.

At one end, it has knitted-in initials:

GW
EW
I

I know from embroidery samplers that girls often included their own initials as well as those of their parents. In this case, that would mean that the knitter’s name started with an I, and her parents were EW and GW.

That wasn’t my Mum. Her name started with a T. And it wasn’t my maternal or paternal grandmother either. Can it be older? I don’t know anything about my family further back than that.

Or perhaps it was knit by somebody else entirely. Perhaps it was given to her when she helped one or other of her friends clean out their parents’ homes after they died. I really have no idea and don’t know how to find out.

Well, a little more about the sampler itself.

It is 0.90 m/35½” long and 9-12 cm/3½”-4¾” wide, depending on the stitch pattern.

It isn’t a particularly beautiful or elaborate sampler. I’ve looked around on the internet a bit and saw some much longer ones with many more different stitch patterns, including lace.

Mine has only 10 different stitch patterns, separated by several rows of stocking stitch. And all of them are simple knit-and-purl combinations.

The yarn used is a whitish cotton. Was it knit in unbleached cotton and bleached afterwards? Or was it knit in white cotton that has yellowed a bit?

The knitting is rather stiff, at around 40 stitches to 10 cm/4”. Was the girl a tight knitter? Or did the knitting shrink due to washing at a high temperature?

Was it knit by a beginner? There are errors here and there, but the knitting looks quite regular. And then there are several knots in the yarn around the I. Why didn’t she choose a tidier solution?

I’d love to know more about my simple sampler (and knitting samplers in general) and would be very grateful for any ideas about where to look for information. Have you inherited a knitting sampler, by any chance? Do you know who knit it or when?

I’ve been thinking about what to do with it. I suppose knitting samplers were originally not only meant to teach a girl to knit, but also to provide her with inspiration for further knitting. Useful things for her home and her family in all probability.

I like the idea of adopting ‘my’ sampler in this spirit. To use it as a starting point for some knitting projects. I’m already working on one and will show you when it’s finished.

Thank you for reading and take care!

Knitting Traditions

Hello,

Today, I’d like to talk a bit about knitting traditions. I’m not an expert or a researcher, but I am a great lover of traditional knitting techniques and patterns. There are many beautiful and interesting books about traditional knitting, and I’ve built up quite a nice library over the years. These books, as well as various museum collections, have always inspired me tremendously in my own knitting. But lately I’ve been thinking…

It started with a visit to a stunning sock exhibition last November. I was particularly inspired by three samplers with patterns taken from socks from all over the world (photo above), and thought it would be a great idea to borrow from them for all kinds of other projects.

Later, doubts crept in. Can we just borrow freely from other knitting traditions? Anything? From any tradition? When does borrowing become stealing? Or even cultural appropriation? What if a pattern has a special religious or spiritual meaning for the culture we borrow it from of which we may not be aware?

I don’t have the answers. These are just some of the questions that popped into my head.

Well, back to my knitting book library. Sometimes people generously and thoughtfully give me books to add to it. My sister-in-law brought back this lovely booklet from a holiday in the island of Gotland, Sweden, a couple of years ago.

It is filled with patterns for mittens, some with tiny roses, some with blueberries, and many with geometrical motifs.

All of them are beautiful, but are they unique to Gotland? They have a lot in common with Norwegian mittens I’ve seen, and the ones with the roses on the front cover look very much like some Latvian ones.

And here is a picture taken during our visit to the knitting museum in Selbu, Norway.

The 8-pointed star, prominent in the 3rd stocking from the left, is also known as Selburose and has been used a lot in that area. Does that mean that it was invented by the people of Selbu and belongs to them? Do they have a sort of copyright?

No, of course it isn’t as black and white as that. The same kind of pattern appears in textiles from many other countries and cultures.

Take, for instance, these hand-knit mittens I bought during a holiday in Shetland. There is a ‘Selburose’ on the back of the hand, but it looks slightly different knit in colour.

It’s only to be expected that the same kind of patterns and motifs occur in different regions and countries. Some motifs, like the 8-pointed star, flow more or less automatically from the nature of the knit stitch itself. Besides, Shetland isn’t all that far from Norway and there has always been a lot of trading and traffic between them.

Both have great knitting traditions, and there are similarities. But still, Shetland knitting isn’t the same as Norwegian knitting. They both have colourwork, but it’s different. Shetland has a fabulous tradition of lace knitting that Norway doesn’t have. Norway has thick mittens, while Shetland mainly has finer gloves. And Shetland has hap shawls, while Norway doesn’t. Why? Another question I can’t answer. I can only guess that it’s something to do with the materials available and the climate, as well as with local tastes.

Here are 3 of my favourite books about Shetland knitting: Heirloom Knitting (about Shetland lace), Fair Isle Knitting and Shetland Hap Shawls Then & Now.

Classics on the subject, but none of them written by authors from Shetland. Fair Isle Knitting was written by Alice Starmore from the Hebrides, and the other two by Sharon Miller from Devon. What do knitters in Shetland think of that?

I once knit a ‘Shetland’ hap shawl. I am placing Shetland between parentheses here, because it isn’t very authentic.

The wool is from genuine Shetland sheep, bought in Shetland. But, for one thing, I am not from Shetland and I spun the yarn at home in the Netherlands. For another, I used a pattern called Quill by American designer Jared Flood. It’s a hodgepodge. Is that okay? Or should we aim for more authenticity? And what exactly is authenticity?

I don’t think I’d be bothered about these questions so much if I lived in a place with a great knitting tradition, like Shetland or one of the Scandinavian countries.

And if I had grown up in a fabulous and colourful knitting tradition as that of Muhu Island in Estonia…

… I think I would be content with that, knitting within my own tradition happily ever after. (Photograph in Designs and Patterns from Muhu Island, by Anu Kabur, Anu Pink and Mai Meriste, p. 45).

But what if you live in a country without such a great knitting tradition? And at that my thoughts turned closer to home. Do we have a knitting tradition at all in the Netherlands? What kind of knitting did I grow up with?

To start with, I remembered a lot of acrylic, in orange, brown, purple and fluorescent green. But thinking about it a little more, I realized that even though our knitting tradition is not as impressive and extensive as that of some other countries, we do have a few things. There’s the Dutch heel for socks, for a start. We also have knitted lace caps for traditional costumes in some areas. And we have traditional ganseys (sharing many elements with English ganseys).

We also have Grolsche wanten – mittens with Norwegian-looking star patterns. Not bad, really. What else do we have? And then I suddenly thought of what I found in my parents’ attic.

To be continued…

The Beauty of Mundane Things

About the word ‘mundane’, my well-thumbed Collins Essential English Dictionary says, ‘Something that is mundane is very ordinary, and not interesting or unusual.’ As an example it gives, ‘mundane tasks such as washing up.’

So, what can be more mundane than a dishcloth?

I knew that people knit dishcloths, but I didn’t feel the least inclined to do so for a long time. To speak with Collins, I thought them very ordinary and not interesting at all. Until my friend Marieke showed me hers.

Suddenly I saw their beauty and started knitting. And kept knitting, knitting and knitting more.

I now have a whole stack of them, and love them.

Not only do I think them beautiful, but practical too. They are highly absorbent, eminently washable and have a much nicer feel than shop-bought ones. And as fellow blogger Donna wrote, they have ‘extra scrubability’.

I knit all of my dishcloths in subtle shades of blue and green. And that brings me to some other mundane and beautiful things in the same sort of shades. To take a look at those, we’re zapping to Zutphen.

Zutphen is one of my favourite cities. It has a very friendly atmosphere, an interesting history, and many, many beautiful old buildings. (Note to self: idea for next week’s blog post?)

It also has lots of quirky shops. One of them is De Potterij. (You don’t need a degree in Dutch to infer that means The Pottery.)

When I was there, the shop was unfortunately closed, but I was able to get a good look at their wares through the windows.

There were lovely little bowls in pale, watery greens…

… and beautiful plates, too.

They had imprints of snowdrops, of other flowers and seedheads, and of grasses.

Exquisite!

Behind the pottery shop there is a workshop space. Here potter Jacobi, who trained as a psychologist, works her clay magic and also teaches the craft to anyone who wants to learn, especially to (young) adults who thrive in quiet, predictable surroundings. On her website she writes: ‘I don’t give therapy in my workshop, but I have noticed that working with clay can be very therapeutic.’

The same can be said about knitting those humble dishcloths – very therapeutic.

Mine are around 30 by 30 cm / 12 x 12 inches, although they are not all exactly the same size and some turned out slightly more rectangular than square. The patterns for all of them come from Easy Knit Dishcloths by Helle Neigaard.

I love the simplicity of broken rib and knit several of those. And I also knit several in slightly more complicated knit-and-purl stitch patterns, like lozenges, two types of basket weave, and one in a small cable. The one I like best of all is the one with the zigzags:

I used organic cotton yarns for all of them. While I was knitting I made notes about the yarns and I’ll share my experiences with you when I can find the time.

Take care and see you next week!

PS. After a deluge that temporarily turned our street into a river and several more normal rain-and-thunder-storms, the heat seems to be over. Phew! If you’re in the same climate zone, I hope some cooler air is coming your way too.

Van Dyke Lace

There is often more to knitting than meets the eye. Take this scarf that I’ve just finished. To an outsider, it may look like just another knitted lacy scarf, but to me it’s much more than that. To me it represents memories of Norway and a group of virtual knitting friends, with some literature and fine art thrown in as well.

Let’s take a look at the basics first – the pattern and the yarn. The pattern is called Lace Sampler Scarf and is a Churchmouse Classic.

Over the years I’ve knit many items designed by the Churchmouse design team. Their patterns have beautiful photographs, are written with much attention to detail and always contain some tips and techniques. They also have a very friendly and helpful Ravelry board and, although I will in all likelihood never meet any of the people I chat with there in real life, their virtual friendship means a lot to me.

The yarn is 100% alpaca in a sport weight that I once brought home as a souvenir from Norway, where we have spent many wonderful summer holidays. I remember buying the yarn at a Husfliden shop in Mosjøen, a lovely small town about a hundred kilometres south of the Polar Circle.

I wasn’t into photographing yarn shops then (I didn’t even have a camera at the time), but I do have a few pictures taken by my husband to give you an impression of the town. Here is one of those attractive Norwegian wooden houses.

And this is a picture of one of the oldest streets of the town – Sjøgata (Sea Road).

The Lace Sampler Scarf uses three different lace patterns. It is a sampler, after all – originally meant as a practice piece. It starts with some Van Dyke Lace, followed by a section in Diagonal Lace and ending with some English Mesh Lace (photo below from bottom to top).

The designers playfully made the sections all in different lengths. That was the only thing about the pattern that I didn’t like. In fact, it really irked me. My mind is apparently more rigid symmetrically oriented than theirs. So I adapted the pattern to make the first and the last sections the same length, and the middle section twice as long.

While I was knitting, I didn’t really think about the lace patterns very much. Diagonal lace speaks for itself with its rows of diagonal eyelets. English mesh looks a lot like, well, mesh. And Van Dijk is a common enough name in this country. I knit on more or less thoughtlessly, enjoying the soft yarn in my hands and the different rhythms of the patterns.

But when I had just started on the last section, the book I was rereading also mentioned Van Dyke Lace and my attention was caught. It was Jane and the Ghosts of Netley by Stephanie Barron. (This is the seventh novel in a series of mysteries in which author Jane Austen features as an amateur detective. The novels capture the style and times of the real Jane Austen perfectly and are great fun.)

On p. 129 Jane is trying on a dress at modiste Madame Clarisse’s when an acquaintance asks, ‘I wonder if Madame Clarisse is familiar with the demi-ruff à la Queen Elizabeth, pleated in Vandyke?’ And a little later, ‘Forgive me for speaking as I find, Miss Austen, but you’ve rather a short neck – and the white demi-ruff, Vandyke-stile, should lengthen its appearance to admiration.’

Wait a second! Van Dyke Lace, pleated in Vandyke, a demi-ruff Vandyke-stile… where does this all come from? Oh, of course, it refers to Anthony van Dyke, the 17th Century artist who painted lace ruffs and collars so exquisitely! There are some great examples at the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. (These are either bobbin lace or needle lace – I don’t know enough about lace to tell.)

Then I started looking for examples of Van Dyke Lace in knitting and found out that there isn’t just one kind of knitted Van Dyke Lace, but many. This is my/Churchmouse’s Van Dyke Lace:

The Vandyke lace in Barbara Walker’s Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns looks very different:

In Treasuries I and II, Walker also mentions a Vandyke check pattern, Vandyke faggot, Vandyke leaf pattern, Vandyke medallion edging and Vandyke swag stitch.

In Heirloom Knitting, about Shetland lace knitting, Sharon Miller describes a Vandyke Edging – pointy with zigzags.

The common denominator seems to be that all Van Dyke lace is pointy or zigzaggy in some way. There are probably many more variations on this theme elsewhere. I just love it that there is always more to discover about knitting.

Well, here is another picture of ‘my’ Van Dyke Lace (the section with the V’s). This isn’t fine lace as in Van Dyke’s portraits and Shetland knitting. Compared to the gossamer yarns used in Shetland lace (which can be up to 6.000 metres per 100 grams), the yarn I used (which was 334 metres per 100 grams) is like ship’s rope compared to dental floss. But to me the result looks more than fine.

I give many of the things I knit away, but I don’t know anybody who would like to have a shawl in this shade of pink, so there is nothing for it but to keep this one. And you know what? I don’t mind in the least, because every time I wear it, it will remind me of Norway, of my virtual knitting friends and of the things I discovered in the process.

A Cup of Tea in the Garden

Hello!

First of all, thank you for all your kind comments about my new pattern, here and on Ravelry. Thús has already been downloaded many, many times. It’s been rather overwhelming, but very nice too. Maybe you’ve already noticed – there is a new button in the black bar ↑↑↑at the top↑↑↑ saying ‘Patterns’. If you click on that, you are taken to a page where you can always find ‘all’ of my patterns. There are not all that many yet, but I hope to add a few more over time.

But let’s not keep standing here in the driveway. Please come through into the garden! There’s a chair waiting for you in the shade of the old pear tree. Placed at a safe distance from mine, of course. I have a day off today, so there’s all the time in the world to catch up.

Please make yourself some tea. There’s hot water in the thermos and a selection of tea bags in the bowl with the blue decorations. The Dutch Blend is really good. Or you can pick some fresh Moroccan mint, if you like.

Looking up, you can see that there are already lots of small pears on the tree. It wouldn’t be safe to sit here later in the year. You’d need a helmet with pears falling from the tree left and right. But right now it’s the best spot.

And look, there is one of ‘our’ young great spotted woodpeckers. Several of them and their parents are in and out of the garden all of the time. Only the youngsters have red caps. Their nest was probably in a tall tree in the nearby wood.

This particular youngster is slightly clumsy. It has difficulty climbing up the stem of the apple tree, and last week it dropped down – thud – right in front of me into the long grass, squawking, squawking for its parents.

It will have to learn how to climb up, because it’s what woodpeckers do, and also because that’s where the food is. Here’s another youngster with dad. First they sit looking at the feeder filled with peanuts together…

… then dad gets a piece of peanut with his son or daughter looking on…

… and feeds it to his offspring (we know it’s dad, because unlike mum he has a red spot at the back of his neck).

I often sit here watching them. And knitting.

I’ve just finished a pair of socks, knit from the toe up to the cuff. There’s enough yarn left for another pair with the colours reversed. I’m knitting those from the cuff down to the toe. I’ll tell you more about them when the other pair is finished.

If the socks look slightly on the big side, that is because they are. I made them for someone with bigger feet than mine.

I’ve also been thinking about the pink striped cardi I wrote about two weeks ago. My friend Marieke suggested hanging it up with some weights on it to see whether it would sag. That was a great idea and I used clothes pegs as weights. Not only did it show that it didn’t sag, it also gave me the opportunity to look at it from a distance.

It’s fine. There is nothing wrong with it at all. It’s just that I’m not crazy about the stripes and can’t see myself wearing it. So, rrrrrrrip! There it goes! I’ll put the yarn away for a while and think of something else to make with it.

But here I am, wittering on about my knitting. How about you? How are you doing? I hope you and yours are well. Does your government still tell you to stay home? Or can you go out and about a bit more now? Do you have some nice knitting on your needles? Or do you prefer crochet, or embroidery? Or a good book?

Oh, how time flies. It’s been lovely to have your company here. Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you again soon!

Thús

Hello!

Well, here is the new (free) pattern that I promised you last time. It’s a loop/cowl called Thús, which is the Frisian word for Home.

As a child growing up in Friesland, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. What I did know, was that I wanted a peaceful, cosy home.

My wish was granted.

But I don’t take it for granted. I’m grateful for my home every single day, now more than ever.

When we were first exhorted to ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’, my initial reaction was, ‘……….??????’ (Read: Stunned – is this really happening?) Soon followed by thoughts like, ‘What can I do, other than just staying home?’ and also, ‘But what about people who don’t have a safe home?’

One of the ideas that popped into my mind for positive things to do was to design a knitting pattern. Something small and not too complicated, but just complicated enough to take a knitter’s mind off their worries for a while. Something that would be comforting to wear and suitable to send as a gift to a friend or relative when it’s impossible to visit them.

After many swatches, sketches and tries, it became this loop. I’ve made two versions. You’ve already seen the pink one at the top of this post, and this is me wearing the blue one.

(I’m so not cut out to be a model. It is way out of my comfort zone to be in the spotlights like this, but someone has to show what it looks like when worn.)

Knitting may seem trivial in a world in crisis. And maybe it is. But for me it’s a way to bring some beauty into the world, and also a way to express my love and concern.

With a little bit of imagination, you can see that the stitch pattern looks like rows of tiny interconnected houses.

It’s my take on John Donne’s ‘No man is an island’*. Even if we are all staying in our own homes, we are still all connected.

Now, here are some technicalities.

Thús takes just one 100-gram skein of fingering-weight or sock yarn. I think most knitters will have something like this in their homes somewhere. I chose blue and pink, because those are the colours I feel most at home with.

The pink version is made from a skein of Merino Singles dyed by Catharina at Wolverhalen (I wrote about her here). For the blue version I used a skein of Tosh Sock that had been marinating in my yarn stash for a while. These two yarns are very similar, and yet knit up differently.

Specs of the blue yarn: 100% merino wool; total meterage/weight 361 m/395 yds/100 g
Specs of the pink yarn: 100% merino wool; total meterage/weight 366 m/400 yds/100 g

The difference is that the pink yarn is a single, untwined thread, while the blue yarn consists of two plies. As a result, the blue version turned out shorter, cosier and squishier, while the pink version is sleeker, drapier and considerably longer than the blue one – it has five more rows of tiny houses.

The loop starts with a provisional cast-on and is knit flat (back and forth). I’ve heard of knitters who love grafting ends together, but I have never met any of them. I certainly don’t belong to that rare species. So, no grafting here. The ends are joined together using a much more knitter-friendly three-needle bind-off (all explained in the pattern).

Thús can be worn single…

…or wrapped around twice.

Thús is a free pattern – no strings attached. But if you’d like to do something in return, please consider making a donation to an organisation supporting refugees, other homeless people, or children/adults in unsafe home situations.

Thús can be found here on Ravelry
(available in English AND Dutch, also to non-Ravelry members)

Thank you and happy knitting!

* The quote comes from John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII. This is the entire passage:

‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.’

Rose-Tinted

Hello!

It’s good to be back! After a week of taking things a little more easy, here is the promised knitting update. I hope you don’t mind that it’s grown rather long. All three projects that are on my needles right now are pink, as you can see above. But first, let’s stop and smell the roses.

There’s a lane just outside our village that officially goes by another name, but is locally known as the Black Road. That may sound rather ominous, but it’s just that the soil in that particular area is black, and the road was literally black before it was covered with grit and rubble.

The Black Road isn’t the fastest route to anywhere, and is just used by agricultural traffic and people like us, going for a stroll. At this time of year, the sweet briar growing along it is in flower.

Fully open, the flowers are a very pale pink, almost white. But when they are just opening, they are a more, well, rosy pink.

This is the shade of pink of the first knitting project on my needles. The pattern is called Lace Sampler Scarf, but it is actually more the size of a stole than a scarf.

The ‘sampler’ bit refers to the fact that it uses three different lace patterns and can be a practice piece for beginning lace knitters. These are the first two, called Van Dyke Lace and Diagonal Lace:

I’m using an alpaca yarn that had been waiting for a suitable project to come along for a long time. It is thicker than the yarn used by the designers and I needed to modify the pattern to suit my yarn and the amount of it I had. I’ll write more about how everything works out when it’s finished. What I can say already, is that it’s a very enjoyable knit.

The second project on my needles is actually a UFO – one of the 9 UnFinished Objects languishing in a dark corner that I want to finish (or frog) this year. It is in the shades of pink of some of the lupins in our front garden.

It is ‘Kinetic’, a long, striped cardigan from Rowan Magazine 65.

I started it in early summer last year and am not quite sure why I abandoned it. It certainly isn’t the yarn. The pink yarn is a gorgeous blend of cotton and cashmere. It is combined with some white Kidsilk Haze – a fine lacy blend of mohair and silk – left over from another project.

I think it’s the stripes that I’m not really happy about. Perhaps the white is too white next to the pinks? The cotton-cashmere yarn is also much thicker than the Kidsilk Haze, and the narrow white stripes knit on the same needle size are slightly transparent as a result. What will that look like when worn? Will the garment underneath shine through? Will it stand up to frequent washing? And won’t it sag?

What to do? Finish it? Or frog it and make something else with the yarn? What do you think?

Looking at this post and my blog in general, it may seem as if I view the world through rose-tinted glasses. Well, I do and I don’t. I’m not a happy-go-lucky person by nature. World politics, racism, poverty and climate change can keep me awake at night. And now there’s also this pandemic with its short and long-term impact. Sometimes, I’m hopeful that the current crisis will lead to a better, fairer and cleaner world, but on the whole I’m not so optimistic.

I think it’s important not to look away, and to do what is within my (limited) power. I also think it’s important not to go down a figurative Black Road. That’s why I deliberately put on those special glasses now and then – the ones that focus on things that are good for the soul. Like roses. And knitting.

So, here’s a tiny corner of the third rose-tinted project I’m working on. It’s something I’m designing myself. I hope to publish the (free) pattern soon, if not next week, then the week after that.

It’s inspired by this challenging time we’re going through. I know that may not sound very attractive, and I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it, of course, but I really hope that it will make you smile.

It’s a small project for intermediate knitters with some experience in lace knitting. If that sounds like you and you feel like starting something new in the near future, why not start rummaging through your stash now?

What you should look for in those boxes in your attic, in the cupboard under the stairs or under the sofa, is 100 grams of fingering-weight yarn (approx. 360 m/395 yds). A solid or semi-solid colourway will work best. It can be a luxury yarn or a sock yarn, as long as it is soft enough to be worn around the neck. Choose the colour you feel most at home with!

Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for reading and I hope to ‘see’ you here again soon!

Song of the Sea

Hello!

Today, I’d like to tell you about a UFO (UnFinished Object) that I’ve just finished. It’s a loop cowl from a pattern called Song of the Sea (Ravelry link), designed by Louise Zass-Bangham.

A lovely pattern and lovely yarn. So why did it become a UFO? Well, there’s a story behind it.

Several years ago, friends of ours gave up their jobs and house, and sold or gave away almost all of their belongings to sail the seas of the world indefinitely.

I was knitting this cowl as a farewell present for one of them. When it was nearly finished, it suddenly dawned on me that she would just be wearing shorts and bikinis where they were heading. They weren’t going to sail to colder climes.

It had taken our friends a lot of trouble to get rid of everything they didn’t need anymore, and I didn’t want to burden them with something they would never use. So that’s how my Song of the Sea ended up as a UFO.

Looking at it again earlier this year, I decided that it was far too nice to be left unfinished. Now I’ve knit the last few rounds and blocked it.

Song of the Sea is knit in the round and has three different stitch patterns, forming large breakers, medium-sized waves and tiny wavelets (in knitting order, from bottom to top). Here’s a close-up:

The pattern has a choice of two sizes – a long and a short version. I made the long one. It can be worn singly…

… or twisted double for more warmth.

It’s nice, isn’t it? So what am I going to do with it, now that it’s finished? Well, I’ve decided to keep it for if/when our friends come back, even if it is only for a short visit. I’ll gift-wrap it, stick a sticky note with her name on it, so that I won’t forget what’s inside, and put it away in the basket where I keep more gifts for later/someday.

I couldn’t find anything about the inspiration behind this design, but it made me think of the animated film Song of the Sea. Based on an Irish folk tale, the film tells the story of 10-year-old Ben and his mute sister Saoirse, who turns out to be a selkie (somebody who can turn into a seal and back again).

The drawings in this film are exquisite. To give you an impression in case you haven’t seen it, here is the official trailer:

From their latest newsletter, I know that our friends are safe and well ‘down under’. They frequently don’t have access to the internet, but when they do they sometimes read my blog. So, if you’re reading this, dear T and H, I wish you fair seas and following winds!

This is the second of the nine UFOs I intend to finish this year. I’d better get a move on!

(Un)springlike

Hello! It’s so good to ‘see’ you here again. I really hope that you’re all doing okay. Life here is very much as usual, strangely enough, apart from the almost constant feeling of unease and worry in the background. I’m still working (from home), cooking, cleaning, and doing everything else I need to do. And I’m still always knitting. I really, really miss seeing people in real life, but am grateful for all the other ways we have for keeping in touch, including this blog, although this is a bit of a one-way thing.

After a cold spell with night frosts and a raw wind, spring really and truly arrived here about two weeks ago. All of a sudden it was warm and sunny, leaves were unfurling and trees were starting to blossom.

Only my knitting was out of sync.

I was knitting a warm wool-and-alpaca sweater for our daughter. Not exactly something she would need in spring. And even the colour was unspringlike!

When I think of spring colours, I think of yellow, fresh green and pink. I associate the (hard to capture) deep burgundy-meets-terracotta of my knitting yarn more with autumn. Warm yarn, wrong colour – uh-oh, another knitting project in danger of becoming a UFO!

But then my eye fell on the newly unfurled leaves of the Japanese maple in our back garden…

… and on the fresh young leaves of the skimmia.

Through the lens of my camera, I started seeing more and more of these so-called autumn colours. Enchanted by the frothy pink blossoms of Japanese ornamental cherries, I had never really noticed their leaves before. Now I saw that they were actually orange:

And the flowers of the elephant’s ears in our front garden are a really springlike pink, but look at the stalk!

Walking around with a camera in hand can be like a treasure hunt. I often see things that I would otherwise not have noticed. Besides, it helps me to focus outward and keeps me from ruminating too much. You could give it a try, too, if you like (or perhaps you already do?). Any old point-and-shoot camera will work.

Here’s just one more treasure I found – pear blossoms on the big old pear tree in our back garden. The general impression is white, but there are lovely red ‘things’ inside. I’m no expert, but I think they are the anthers (correct me if I’m wrong).

Phew! UFO attack avoided. Having seen all these springtime reds and oranges, the colour didn’t feel wrong anymore. I felt like finishing my knitting project, and that’s what I did.

The pattern I used is the Better-than-Basic pullover designed by Churchmouse.

And here is the finished sweater (it would have been nice to photograph my daughter wearing it, but unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity for that):

It looks pretty basic at first glance, so why is it called Better-than-Basic?

To start with, the pattern has options for several different versions: tunic or hip length (mine is in between), wide or narrow ribbed edgings (I’ve chosen wide), and a funnel or a turtle neck (I’ve done neither of these).

Then there are the special techniques, like the ‘clip & turn’ short rows for a gradual shoulder slope:

The same short-row technique is also used at the hems, so that the sweater hangs more evenly.

Other features are an invisible cast-on, two special bind-off methods, and tips for customizing sleeve and body length – all explained very clearly.

The shoulder seams are placed slightly forward and the special sloping armhole results in a relaxed dropped shoulder without too much bulk under the arm.

On special request, I made the sleeves extra long, so that they can be used as hand warmers during bicycle rides. Or they can be worn folded up, like here:

Okay, maybe this is not an ideal springtime knit, but it is definitely a pattern to keep in mind for next autumn.

Finishing Willapa

Hello! Today it’s all about knitting (and some music). I’m sorry to disappoint the non-knitters among you – I promise to write about something of more general interest next time.

I had been feeling a bit off-colour for several days, but struggled on until I thought, ‘Enough is enough’ and gave myself an afternoon off. I brewed a pot of tea, put on some music and spread an unfinished knitting project and everything I needed to finish it out on the dining table.

Do you remember me writing about UFOs and my New Year’s resolution to finish (or frog) them all? Well, this the first one. It is a cardigan called Willapa that was designed by Annie Rowden for Brooklyn Tweed. This is the front page of the pattern with a ball of the yarn I used:

I would have liked to make it from the original yarn, Brooklyn Tweed ‘Loft’, but the only shop in our country stocking that had run out of my colour choices A, B and C. I chose Lamana ‘Como Tweed’ instead. The yarns are similar, but not the same. They are both fingering weights, both tweedy, and both knit up to the same gauge. But Loft is more rustic and has (imho) more interesting colours, while Como Tweed is airier and softer.

So, why did this cardi become a UFO? I’m not entirely sure.

It was almost finished, but very soon after I’d started the front border, the frog chorus started to chant ‘Rip-it, Rip-it’.

The pattern said ‘slip the first stitch PURLWISE with yarn held in back’, while I would have chosen ‘slip the first stitch KNITWISE with yarn held in back’. I had my doubts, but thought, ‘How much difference can it make whether you slip a stitch purlwise or knitwise?’

So, I ignored the frogs and knit on. And on and on. It wasn’t until it was time to bind off that I decided I wasn’t happy with the edge stitches at all. They were different on the left and right and looked untidy.

But before I followed the frogs’ advice and ripped out many hours of knitting, I knit a swatch to check if slipping the first stitch knitwise would really be better than to slip it purlwise:

Yes, it did make quite a difference. The bottom half (A) of the swatch was knit slipping the first stitch of every row purlwise, the top half (B) slipping them knitwise.

Slipping the first stitch purlwise gave a stretchy/loose edge with a very different left and right side. Slipping the first stitch knitwise made the edge firmer. There was still a slight difference between left and right, but that was hardly noticeable.

So, I frogged the front border, knit it again, and was glad I’d taken the trouble.

At this stage Willapa was still a WIP. After the front border I knit the pockets and all the knitting was done. It was then that it became a UFO. I suppose it was because it was almost summer by then, and a warm cardi seemed irrelevant. And also because I dreaded weaving in all those ends and wasn’t happy about the pockets.

Well, my afternoon off solved all that. Weaving in the ends took about an hour, but was quite pleasant with some good music on.

My husband isn’t a big fan, so I only play this music when he’s not there. But I love it, especially On the Nature of Daylight. It is something between classical and minimal music, and the composer’s own website says, ‘The Blue Notebooks is a subtle and peaceful protest against political, social and personal brutality.’

With that peaceful protest in the background, I found the courage to finish my cardigan. Here it is:

It has a very wide front border, widened at the neck with short rows, that can be turned down to a nice collar.

Following the instructions in the pattern, the pockets would have ended up exactly on the sides of my hips. This is already my widest part, and it doesn’t need to be accented by pockets. So I moved the pockets down and forward, where they almost disappeared into the lower border:

Unlike the pattern, I used the same edge stitch for the pockets as for the front border (slipping the first stitch knitwise). The pattern didn’t say how to sew on the pockets. I tried out several ways, and in the end just used ordinary small back stitches. The pockets are on the small side, but big enough for a hankie or a slip of paper with some notes.

Willapa is knit from the top down, has narrow sleeves with wide cuffs meant to be folded double, and has lovely raglan shoulders.

All in all I’m very happy with the pattern, the yarn and the end result. If you’re looking for a simple, but definitely not frumpy looking cardi to knit, I can really recommend Willapa. You can find it on Ravelry and on the Brooklyn Tweed website. It is a well-written pattern and, apart from the edge stitches, there is much to love about it. I hope my notes are helpful for anyone making it.

(I can also recommend taking an afternoon off when you’re not feeling quite well.)

So this was my first UFO turned FO. One down, eight more to go.