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?

Warm and Woolly Gifts

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

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

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

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

  1. Take your time

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

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

The Shawl

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

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

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

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

The Yarn

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

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

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

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

The Horse

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

The Mittens

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

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

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

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

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

Buachaille Bunnet & Cowl

Mid-November our first spell of cold weather arrived. One Sunday morning we woke to a wonderfully quiet, frozen world. We often spend our Sundays (or at least part of them) walking or cycling. On this Sunday we couldn’t wait to get outside, and we set out for a walk straight after breakfast.

The thermometer indicated zero degrees Celsius. The fallen leaves were white with frost, the air was crisp and the sky was a clear, pale blue. During the night a thin film of ice had formed on the pools.

Aaahhh, bliss! I love this kind of weather. It makes me feel happy and energized. And what made me doubly happy on this morning was that I finally, finally got to wear the hat and cowl that I’d finished knitting in spring. Here’s the hat:

The hat

For the hat, I used a pattern called ‘Bunnet’ by Kate Davies, a writer and designer living along the West Highland Way in Scotland. Kate tells us that bunnet is ‘a colloquial Scots term for a hat’, and in particular ‘the headgear of an ordinary working man.’

To my mind, Kate’s bunnet is ideal for an ordinary walking woman, too, as it is the only hat I’ve ever owned that actually stays put. I think that’s largely due to the multi-coloured corrugated ribbing in the brim.

Apart from a colourful brim, the hat has a lovely star shape on the crown.

The yarn

I knit the hat in Kate’s own Buachaille, a wonderful warm, woolly yarn. Buachaille. It takes quite a bit of courage to choose a name that is so difficult to pronounce and remember for a yarn. But for me, as an ex-translator, it is an extra attraction. I love the shapes and sounds of words, and immediately delved into this one. It turns out that Buachaille is pronounced something like boo-chal-ya and means herdsman or shepherd. The yarn comes in 11 colours, with lovely names like Moonlicht Nicht (the deep blue main colour of my hat), Ptarmigan (natural white) and Between Weathers (sky blue).

The cowl

When I’d finished the hat, I decided that I would like a matching cowl. So I looked closely at Kate’s pattern and came up with this:

I also photographed the cowl flat, so that you can see the pattern more clearly.

I started and ended with the same corrugated ribbing as in my Bunnet. In the middle I used the pattern from the crown, with diamonds inserted between the ‘arrows’ and the entire pattern turned upside down for the second half.

For a little extra interest I knit one half with dark blue Moonlicht Nicht as the background colour, and the other half with raspberry red Macallum.

You can find more details about the hat and the cowl as well as some extra photos on Ravelry.

For anyone who’d like to make their own Bunnet, the  pattern is from Buachaille: At home in the Highlands, a book with twelve knitting patterns, several Scottish recipes and a route for a walk in the West Highlands.

Walking on

After taking pictures of the hat and cowl we continued our walk. First the path led us through a wood…

Then along a stand of birches, with the bright sunlight accenting the white of their trunks.

On past a majestic pine tree.

And finally across some heathland, where we stumbled on these beauties:

One of our local flocks of sheep. We had an interesting chat with one of the shepherds, but this blog post is long enough as it is, so I’ll keep that for some other time.

Note: This post is not sponsored in any way. I write about things I like just because I like them.