Feels like Spring

Hello!

Today I’m writing to you from and entirely different world compared to two weeks ago. The snow melted away in no time, and suddenly it feels like spring. The spring bulbs in our garden are bursting into flower.

It’s not just crocuses and snowdrops, but also winter aconites,

and dwarf irises, yellow and blue.

It’s so lovely to feel the warmth of the sun, hear the birds sing their hearts out, and enjoy the flowers and the buzzing of the first bees.

And yet… there is this gnawing feeling.

It shouldn’t be like this in February – it’s unseasonally warm. The highest temperatures ever measured in this month for 5 days in a row. I don’t want to be a spreader of doom and gloom, but I can’t just ignore such signs of a changing climate. I’ve heard that it affects different parts of the world differently. Here in the Netherlands the climate has changed noticeably even in my lifetime (less than sixty years!).

Seems to me that if we want to leave our children, grandchildren and their children with a liveable planet so that they, too, can enjoy the beautiful signs of spring…

… we urgently need to learn how to be good ancestors.

Speaking of ancestors, on Sunday we visited a lovely place our ancestors left us. It’s a country estate that for centuries belonged to a wealthy family and is now owned by a nature conservation organization.

The 17th century house with stepped gable, surrounded by a moat with a bridge leading to the front door, is no longer there. The only buildings left are five tenant farms. These are the stables of one of them, now converted to living space.

The estate is part woodland,

part pasture (the cows are still inside at this time of year.)

Like many other farms in our region, the farms on the estate all have their own little baking house. Can you see the small white rectangle on the wall of this baking house?

Let’s zoom in – it’s a face! A person with a high forehead, no nose to speak of, and an elegant hairdo. Is it just a decoration, a household deity, or the likeness of somebody who used to do their baking here?

Going for a walk here, is like traveling a century or so back in time.

Apart from going for short walks, enjoying the garden, worrying about the climate and the pandemic, and generally doing what I need to do, I’ve also done some knitting. My blue Panel Debate cardigan is nearly finished and I’m knitting swatches and prototypes for a pair of fingerless mitts.

The yarn I originally had in mind for them didn’t behave as I thought it would. Looking for an alternative, I found several skeins in my stash that were meant for something else, but will be just perfect for my mitts.

I want to make a single colour and a 2-colour version. It is hard to capture the colours exactly. There is an off-white undyed cream, a dusty blue and a warm cherry red. What shall I do? Cream and blue for the 2-colour version, and red for the single-colour one?

Or cream and red for the 2-colour version, and blue for the single-colour one?

What do you think?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the flowers and the walk, and would be grateful for some help with the colours. I’m in doubt. Is the blue-and-cream combo nice and subtle or too bland? Is the red-and-cream combo nice and cheerful or too Christmassy?

Thanks and take care! xxx

Thinking about Flow

Hello!

(Because I think it would interrupt the flow of this blog post too much to insert links into the actual text, I’ve added a list at the bottom.)

It was yarn that first made me think about flow. Two skeins of a beautiful blue-green yarn hand dyed by Catharina at Wolverhalen. I chose this colour first of all because it caught my eye. The name – Flow – was of secondary importance, but it did catch my attention.

I asked Catharina about it, and she told me that she dyes a whole series of colours named for states of mind. Flow is one of them. Others are Positivity, Wisdom, Joy, Passion, Faith, and Stillness.

Flow… What exactly is it? It makes me think of water.

It also makes me think of  somebody with the unpronounceable name Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In my previous life as a translator, I’ve translated many psychology books and articles. During my background reading, I repeatedly came across his research.

In his famous book Flow: The psychology of optimal experience (that I haven’t read), he defines flow as: ‘…the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter…’ It is a particular kind of focus that seems to lead to intense feelings of happiness.

Am I ever in a state of flow? I don’t really know.

I used the flow yarn to knit another Thús 2 – a design I published in November last year.

Am I in flow when I’m knitting? Or when I’m designing a pattern?

Or when I’m faffing about with photography?

Or when I’m writing? Or when I’m doing other things entirely? Yes, no, well, maybe, sometimes…

Flow as a yarn colour is something that makes me happy. Flow as a state of mind is something I’d like to know more about. Are people generally aware of being in this flow state? What does it take to get there?

Flow is also a Dutch magazine that I sometimes buy. In the editors’ words, it is about ‘Celebrating creativity, imperfection and life’s little pleasures’. This is the first issue of 2021.

There used to be and English edition as well, but they’ve recently stopped publishing that. They do still have an interesting English-language website, and back issues and specials are still available.

My favourite articles in the latest issue are about navigating life in uncertain times and about tools for people working from home. And the item about Aheneah, a Portuguese artist who does cross stitch on a large scale, made me smile.

The message Aheneah gives off with her installations is to think outside the box and look at one’s roots and traditional techniques as things that can be transformed in unexpected ways and so given a new lease of life.

I’m ending today’s post with a poem by Wilder Poetry that really spoke to me. It comes from the Flow ‘Calm Down’ special.

Thank you for reading!

If you’d like to read more (or knit your own Thús 2), here is a list of links:

Saturday Knitting

Hello! This week I’m writing from a white and frosty village. We’re not entirely snowed in, but last Sunday we were treated to a beautiful thick blanket of snow, blown up into dunes here and there by strong gusts of icy wind. And because it’s stayed (far) below freezing even during the daytime, the snow is still here. A rarity nowadays and utterly lovely!

Before anything else, I need to show you this. The snow-shovel guy reversed and drove up several times specially so that I would be able to take a good picture for my blog.

Thank you Mister Snow Shoveler! Enjoy your moment of fame 😊!

It’s tempting to natter on about the snow, but I have made quite a bit of progress on the knitting front, and I’d like to talk about that, too. So let’s do that first, and have a few more snow pictures afterwards.

Recently, I wrote a very long post about my possible need for a little more focus. I don’t know if you’ve been able to plough through it all, but one of the insights I gained from a book I read on the topic was: ‘Different (knitting) tasks use different parts of the brain’. I realized that for certain aspects of my knitting projects, I needed to find moments during the week when the active thinking part of my brain would be fresh.

Saturday seemed like a good time, especially Saturday mornings. So I thought about what I would like to accomplish and noted it in my planner. The first thing I wanted to focus on was the sleeve cap of my Panel Debate cardigan. A puzzle because I’d enlarged the armhole and could no longer follow the pattern – how could I make a sleeve cap that would fit into the armhole and around my shoulder?

Spending several hours tinkering with it with a well-rested brain really worked.

I finished the sleeve cap. And using the parts of my brain that do the more automatic tasks, I was able to almost finish the rest of the sleeve in the evenings. Yes, progress!

The next task I wanted to tackle was finishing one of my UFOs (UnFinished knitting Objects that have been lying around for a long time). I chose a scarf and wrote that down in my planner for the next Saturday.

All I needed to do was weave in the ends and give it a Spa Treatment. Here it is, doing a stretching exercise after its bubble bath.

As always, the transformation was magical – the lacey holes opened up nicely, and the rest of the knitted fabric did too.

Before blocking
After blocking

This is what the scarf looks like when ‘worn’.

It is the Polka Dot Scarf by the Churchmouse design team. The pattern describes two sizes and I made the larger one. The yarn I used is Debbie Bliss ‘Rialto lace’, a very soft merino.

For a long time I disliked polka dots. I think it was because of that horrible sixties song about the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Do you know it? But these subtle ‘dots’ made me overcome that.

Looking around for matching things for pictures of the scarf, I discovered that I actually have several other items with polka and other dots.

All in all this has become a generous airy shawl that will make a lovely gift for someone. Happy with it.

I’m also happy with my new Saturday knitting plan. Being able to make considerable progress with such a small adjustment to my life, has really given me a positive boost. In addition to these two projects, I have even made some progress on a new design of my own.

Until now, this winter I have felt sort of lost on Saturdays, with nowhere to go and no one to visit. This focused Saturday knitting has also solved that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up once we get back to a more ‘normal’ life and the gardening season starts again. But I won’t look too far ahead.

For the time being the garden doesn’t need anything doing to it. All I need to do at the moment is admire the hyacinths I planted in pots in November…

… enjoy looking at snow-covered shapes, like the dead flower heads of the Marjoram…

… and feed and talk to the birds.

I hope you’re all snug and safe, wherever you are. Bye for now, and ‘see’ you again soon!

To Focus or not to Focus

Hello! This has become rather a long and complicated blog post, I’m afraid. I hope you’ll forgive me. Why not make yourself a nice cup of tea or coffee before you dive in?

————————–

To focus or not to focus, that is the question I am asking myself this year. Would a little (or a lot) more focus be a good thing in my knitting/life? (And if so, how?) Or would it suck the joy out of it?

I don’t think anyone would call me scatterbrained, but I often feel drawn in many directions and (except in my job) have a hard time deciding what to do first, last, or not at all. Never being bored and always having many projects on the go can be fun, but it can also lead to overwhelm, fatigue and UFOs – UnFinished (knitting) Objects.

I know I’m not the only one with difficulty focusing, so I thought I’d share some of my journey here, always focusing on knitting. To my mind, what goes for knitting goes for most things in life.

To find answers, I started as I often do – by reading a book.

(Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, paperback edition New York: Harper, 2014)

I chose this book because, well, it’s Goleman. And also because one of the chapters bears the intriguing title ‘The Value of a Mind Adrift’.

So what can this book teach a knitter (or anybody else)?

Uhm… that’s not so easy to say. Ironically, I think it’s a rather unfocused essay, without even a definition of the word focus. Still, for me, 5 things jumped out.

1 – Anxiety is detrimental to focus

In fact all emotional turmoil disrupts focus, but Goleman specifically mentions the detrimental effects of anxiety in relation to focus and performance. Small wonder that people are having difficulty focusing on all kinds of things, and can’t even focus on their knitting, in this anxiety-inducing time we find ourselves in.

It also explains why there is still no progress on this project of mine.

I still think it is beautiful and I still want to knit it, but I can’t seem to focus on it. In the past I would have set a deadline, made a plan and told myself to just get on with it. But I don’t want to force myself to focus in that way anymore. Least of all in my knitting.

Knowing that our inability to focus can be caused by anxiety, I think we need compassion. And also strategies for reducing such emotional turmoil.

2 – Different tasks use different parts of the brain

I have always felt that, say, knitting a simple sock takes a different kind of energy from knitting a complicated Fair Isle pattern, adapting a pattern for a better fit, or blocking a lace shawl. Goleman explains that it is not just about energy, but that different parts of the brain are involved in different tasks.

What he calls the ‘bottom-up’ brain takes care of more automatic and intuitive tasks. In knitting terms this would be knitting long stretches of stocking stitch, or simple socks (at least for an experienced knitter). The ‘top-down’ part of the brain is needed for tasks that take active cognitive effort, like Fair Isle, learning new techniques, doing maths or finishing a knit. ‘Top-down’ tasks also take more energy.

Let’s take my knitting as an example. I’m currently working on a reconstruction of my inherited knitting sampler.

Figuring out each stitch pattern is a job for the ‘top-down’ part of the brain. But once I’ve worked it out, the ‘bottom-up’ part can take over.

And knitting the long stretches of my Panel Debate cardigan was pure ‘bottom-up’ knitting. But now that I’ve adapted the armholes for a better fit and am at a loss how to adapt the sleeve cap, the ‘top-down’ part of the brain needs to come to the rescue.

Most of my knitting time is in the evenings. The top-down part of my brain is often depleted in the evenings. Ergo, to prevent this cardigan from ending up as a UFO I need to solve that puzzle at a different time of the day, when my ‘top-down’ circuits can deliver the right kind of focus.

3 – Knitting can help us focus

Goleman explains that tight focus leads to fatigue of the top-down part of the brain, ‘much like an overworked muscle…’ (p. 56)  And just like an overworked muscle, that part of the brain needs rest to recover. But how?

According to research by the University of Michigan, spending time in nature is one of the best ways to do that.

But according to Goleman, an even better way is ‘full focus on something relaxing’. What better way to recharge our ability to focus than some simple knitting?

4 – Creativity needs unfocused time

I was so glad to read that goal-driven focus is not the be-all and end-all. For creativity it is absolutely necessary to let our minds drift. According to Goleman, we do need a goal, but once we have that, it is crucial to have ‘protected time – enough to really think freely. A creative cocoon.’ (p. 46)

For me, being in this ‘creative cocoon’ is one of the best things in life. But I find it very hard to take the time for it. That is something to look into.

5 – We need positive AND negative focus

Most of the news we read and watch has a negative focus. Some people say that we should purely focus on positives. Just focusing on positives is certainly very tempting, but somehow it doesn’t feel right.

Goleman has something to say about that, too. Or rather, he quotes someone who has something interesting to say about that – psychologist and researcher Richard Boyatzis. ‘“You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive”, says Boyatzis, “You need both, but in the right ratio.”’ (p. 172 ) Turns out every negative needs 2.9 positives for the right balance.

Looking at my current sock knitting, I tend to agree. Starting on the foot of the second sock, I noticed that there was something wrong with the yarn. At first I focused on the positives (‘the colours are still sort of similar’), but…

… after a while I could no longer ignore the negatives. The colours really were very different from the first sock. And it was not just the colours – there were also irregularities in the yarn, and later on a knot followed by a complete break in the colour sequence.

So, I sighed a deep sigh and rrrrrrrip, there it went. All the way back to just before the heel.

That was a bit of a negative experience. But I’m glad I didn’t bury my head in the sand. All in all, with 1 part negative focus and 2.9 parts positive focus, I got a well-balanced pair of socks. Knitting as a metaphor for life. 😉

This book wasn’t an easy read. I struggled with all the talk about ‘leaders’ (mostly CEOs of big tech companies), as if we should all emulate them. Somewhere Goleman says that we are, in a sense, all leaders, but imho most of us do not lead anything but our own lives.

Having said that, it did give me food for thought. And applying some of the ideas to humbler and more personal pursuits has made reading it worthwhile.

Golemans book was a good start, but it doesn’t give us any ‘How-Tos’. I’m left with questions like: How to decide what to focus on? How to find focus when you’re procrastinating? How to stay focused until something is finished? And how about people with multiple interests or roles in life? I think I need another book for those.

Take care! Xxx

PS. In case you are wondering what my camera was focusing on in the picture at the top and during the rest of the walk – it was frozen moss:

Knitting Spa

Hello!

OK, complete focus on knitting today – no tangents or digressions. Maybe this is all old hat to you, but I thought I’d show you what happens to my knitwork after the actual knitting is finished and the ends have been darned in.

Last week I said the hat and scarf I made for my brother needed some TLC to relax. Well, they got more than just some TLC – they received a full 4-star spa treatment!

It all started with a bubble bath.

Aaaaah, so relaxing, especially when combined with aromatherapy. To make the bubbles, I use a no-rinse detergent for delicate fabrics – Eucalan or Soak. There may be other brands, but these are the only two I know.

I can’t say that I prefer one to the other. Eucalan is sort of syrupy and yellowish, whereas Soak is thinner and clear. Both are available in various lovely scents. The Eucalan I have has a very mild lavender scent. My Soak favourite is Lacey, a subtle flowery scent that is harder to pinpoint.

Only a teaspoon of detergent is needed, so a bottle lasts forever. Both also come in small trial packages, that are ideal not only to try out the products, but also to tuck in with a knitted gift.

As their name says, no-rinse detergents do not need to be rinsed out. After a bubble bath of about 30 minutes, I first gently squeeze out most of the moisture. After that I’d roll a more fragile knit in a towel to squeeze out more water, but robust knits like these I put in the spin dryer.

Now, still slightly moist, the scarf and the hat get different wellness treatments, tailored to their specific needs. I thought the scarf would benefit from acupuncture, while some steam would be best for the hat.

First the scarf. These are my acupuncture (in knitting terms also known as blocking) tools.

Foam blocking mats, blocking wires (that come with a wooden ruler), and T-pins (stainless steel pins in the shape of a capital T). At first I used this kit only for lace knits, but now I’m using it for many other projects, too.

I threaded wires along the long sides of the scarf, between the edge stitch and the next, going up and down every other row.

Then I pinned it onto the blocking mats, smoothing the scarf out along its length and pulling firmly widthwise. (Never do this on a wooden table or floor – the T-pins may prick through the mats and damage the surface underneath.)

And here is a close-up. I hope you can see the wires and T-pins.

Now, let’s leave that to dry and continue with its mate. The still moist hat is pulled around the end of the ironing board.

Then it is covered with a moist press cloth (i.e. an old tea towel that doesn’t give off colour) and steam-pressed. I used the lowest setting that will give steam (silk/wool). If the picture looks slightly blurry, that’s the steam.

I tried all this out on a swatch first, to make sure nothing terrible (like felting) happened to my ‘clients’ and they would benefit from their treatments.

After pressing the hat was still slightly wet and I placed it on the blocking mats with the scarf. Twenty-four hours later everything was dry and I unpinned the scarf.

A lot of work for a simple hat and scarf. Is it really worth all the effort? I think it is – very much so. I took before and after pictures, but unfortunately they are not very clear because of the dark yarn colour and the dark weather.

Here are the hat and scarf (before on the left and after on the right):

And here is a close-up of the k2, p2 rib pattern (again before left and after right):

Can you see the difference? Before blocking the knitting was irregular, and the purl stitches disappeared between the knit stitches. After blocking the knitting evened out and the purl stitches became visible. And before blocking the scarf was 1.5 m x 14 cm, so stiff that it could almost stand up on its own, and slightly scratchy. After blocking it was 1.6 m x 25 cm, with a lovely drape and nice and soft.

Now all that’s left to do is gift-wrap the set, put it in a box, add a few Dutch treats and send it off to Germany, in time for my ‘little’ brother’s Birthday.

Here is a behind-the-scenes picture of the ‘Knitting Spa’ photo shoot.

The kitchen counter was the lightest place in the house on a dark day, and the bread kneading board made a nice natural surface for photographing the tools and detergents. A perfect Knitting Spa with everything to hand: hot & cold water, a bath tub, teas & tisanes, and a nice view of the front garden.

The yarn and the pattern I used:

Word of the Year

Hello again!

It’s good to be back here after a 2-week break. I hope that, in spite of everything, you’ve had an enjoyable festive season and a good start to the New Year.

We had a quiet and pleasant time, and on New Year’s eve I baked a big batch of knieperties. These very thin wafers are a traditional end-of-the-year treat in this part of the country. I always make more than enough to share with several neighbouring families.

This year’s conundrum was how to hand them over at a safe distance? It didn’t feel right to place them on people’s doorsteps. I came up with this solution:

Loops of silver ribbons tied to the bags to hang them from the hooked stick we otherwise use to open our attic hatch. It was great fun, really, and brought smiles to everybody’s faces, including my own. The anderhalvemetersamenleving in action.

Anderhalvemetersamenleving (1.5-meter-society) was chosen as Word of the Year 2020 in the campaign organized by our leading Dutch dictionary Van Dale.

A word that sums up a lot about the past year, and also a word that we will not be leaving behind us soon, I fear. (As a former translator, I have a thing for words. Although I worked with digital dictionaries for years, I still treasure my paper ones.)

My knitting during the Christmas break was entirely in the spirit of the Word of the Year 2020. It’s an exactly 1.5 meter long scarf for my brother who lives in Germany.

Knit in 2-by-2 ribbing it is very tight and narrow now. It will need some TLC (a bubble bath, some steam, and an acupuncture treatment) to relax.

More about that and the matching hat soon.

I have very little knitting to show today, but there will be more over the coming months. Lots more, I hope. Looking back at 2020, I realized that I haven’t finished those UFOs that I planned to turn into FOs. Not nearly all of them. Am I beating myself up over that? No, I don’t think that will help. But their state of unfinishedness did set me thinking. It’s not just those UFOs. I currently also have 4 WIPs as well as loads and loads of plans for new knits. What might help, is a personal word for the year 2021 to give me some direction.

At first I thought of ‘limits’, but on second thoughts that sounded too bleak. There are so many outside limits already. (Our present lockdown lasts until January 19 and we don’t need a crystal ball to predict that it will be prolonged.)

A word with a similar meaning that sounds much friendlier is ‘focus’. Maybe more focus is what I need. Or maybe not. During the past year I’ve become a very focused grocery shopper.

On the left an old-style shopping list with everything in no particular order and room for browsing around. On the right my new-style shopping list with everything neatly arranged along the supermarket aisles. Pro: More focus makes for very fast shopping and I’m not in anybody’s way for long. Con: It sucks all the joy out of shopping.

But still, I have a feeling that the word ‘focus’ may help me in my knitting as well as in other areas of life. At least it is something to explore. I don’t know if it’ll be worth writing about here, but we’ll see.

Now for something completely different. Spring is still a long way away, but even at this time of year there are a few bright and flowery spots in our garden. There’s the Viburnum tinus (top) that gives us flowers for a long, long time and provides a great hiding place for the sparrow family. The hazel shrubs already have catkins…

… and for the first time this year the Cyclamen coum is flowering. Its bright pink flowers are only about 7 cm (3”) high, but they cheer me up no end every time I look out the kitchen window.

Focusing on things like this really helps in a world in turmoil. Yes, Focus seems like a good word for 2021. Hope, too, by the way. And Peace.

Comfort and Joy

It’s Christmas Eve, and we’re nearing the end of a challenging year. Thinking about writing this post beforehand, I felt that I should say something Profound and Meaningful, but what? I wouldn’t know where to begin. I’m not some kind of oracle or Wise Woman, after all. I’m just an ordinary person muddling along like everybody else.

In the end, I’ve gone back to what this blog is basically about and decided to share a few of the things that have given me comfort and joy over the past weeks, hoping they’ll do the same for you.

The front door with the lovely garland at the top of this post isn’t ours. It belongs to a house further down the street.

Every time I pass this house, looking at these neighbours’ stylish grey-and-white decorations brings me joy.

Our style is more traditional, mainly red, green and silver. It’s comforting to take the same old Christmas baubles from their box every year. This one symbolizes 2020 for me.

White hyacinths opening their flowers at exactly the right time scent our living room.

The upstairs Advent calendar has now opened its last door. And I put the star on the top of the downstairs one this morning. One of the first creatures I placed on this cardboard fir tree was a woodpecker.

It looks just like the great spotted woodpeckers that visit our garden. They’ve been away for a while, retreating to the wood during their moulting period, but are back in full force now. Sometimes there are four of them at the same time, looking for insects on the branches of our old pear tree and fighting for a place on the peanut feeder.

Watching these beautiful birds always brings me joy. They are fairly shy, but if I’m very quiet and patient, they allow me to take a picture now and then.

Something that always brings me a lot of comfort is knitting. It is the feeling of the yarn in my hands combined with the rhythmic movement that makes it so. And what’s more, knitting things for others makes me feel connected with them during a time we are unable to meet. That’s also a comfort.

Apart from knitting several pairs of socks, a scarf and a hat to give away, I’ve treated myself to two skeins of exquisitely soft yarn for a hat and a cowl.

The hat pattern was a freebie from Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. They have a very active and friendly knitting group on Ravelry that I’ve enjoyed being a part of for years. The moment I saw this simple hat and read that the yarn they used for it was a sustainable cashmere, I knew that this was going to be my special December knit for me this year.

I was not just going to knit the hat, but also a matching cowl. Although I could have finished each of these projects in an evening, I decided to take it slow and enjoy every minute of the process, including winding the yarn and taking photos along the way.

I limited myself to knitting no more than a few rows a day. During these quiet, contemplative moments, I first saw my hat grow.

And then my cowl.

Knitting a pattern thought out by someone else is especially comforting – no stress about how many stitches to cast on, getting the right size, what decreases to use, and whether there will be enough yarn. I’ve given my own twist to it by adding a bit of contrasting colour to the rim of the hat, making a matching cowl, and finally duplicate stitching hearts onto both.

For the duplicate stitching I’ve tried out a new (to me) type of needle, with a bent tip. I’ve laid my ordinary darning needles and the new ones out on the finished cowl to show the difference.

The new ones are officially called tapestry needles, and they are a real improvement for duplicate stitching, I have to say. The bent tip slides easily between the knit stitches and is really nice to work with. (I’ll keep using the regular straight ones for darning in yarn ends, though.)

And here are my hat and cowl all finished.

They were a joy to knit, and I know they’ll be a joy to wear for a long time to come.

Now there is just one last thing I’d like to share with you – a gift we received on Tuesday. This year the organic farm that delivers groceries to our door, gave all their customers a bag of organic daffodil bulbs. It came with a message on a bit of sunny yellow paper. Translated it said:

When all of a sudden ordinary things
Can no longer be taken for granted
We realize how extraordinary
Ordinary things really are

Such a lovely gift – a ray of sunshine and hope during these dark days.

Thank you so much for reading my blog over the past year, and leaving a comment now and then. These small virtual moments of contact mean a lot to me. I’m taking a break now and hope to be back here somewhere in the course of January. I’m looking forward to ‘seeing’ you again then.

I wish you a safe and peaceful Christmas and the very best for 2021!

Slowing Down and Tidying Up

Hello!

The title of today’s blog post – ‘Slowing Down and Tidying Up’ – may sound terribly Zen and Organised, but that’s not how I’m feeling at all.

The slowing-down part is my left foot speaking. I’ve injured it during a recent walk. Nothing serious, and I hope it will heal soon, but for the time being I need to listen to my foot and walk slowly and mindfully. Because whenever I ignore it, it sends a stab of pain to my brain.

I think my left foot is a rather sadistic Zen master, and I can’t say that I’m grateful to it. But I am grateful that it isn’t my left hand that’s injured. At least I can still knit, and that’s what I’m doing a lot.

There is some gift knitting going on that I can’t show you, but I’m also knitting something for myself that I can show – a cashmere cap and matching cowl in charcoal and red. Pure comfort knitting.

More about that when I’ve finished it. The novel next to my knitting is from the series of Jane Austen mysteries by Stephanie Barron that I’m re-reading. Highly recommended!

While the slowing-down bit from this blogpost’s title is dictated by my left foot, the tidying-up bit is dictated by the state of some parts of our house. You probably know what it’s like if you have many interests: notes, patterns, newspaper clippings, recipes and other papers pile up until there comes a moment when they take up so much space that tidying-up becomes unavoidable.

And for a knitter, there are all the things left after a knitting project is finished: pattern print-outs, notes, swatches, scraps of yarn. After finishing my Monogrammed Guest Towels I am left with all this:

A folder full of notes and charts, left-over yarn, yarn labels, the towels and face cloths themselves, and swatches. Lots of swatches of the monograms – many knit-in versions, one in duplicate stitch, and even one in cross stitch on a knit swatch (not a success).

And there’s also a small bouquet of loops:

Shall I keep them for future reference? I have difficulty tidying up, because I keep thinking that things may come in handy later. But no, they’ll have to go or we’ll get snowed under in stuff. If I’m ever going to make something with loops or monograms again, I’ll knit new swatches. That’s part of the fun anyway.

Speaking of new swatches, I paid a visit to Wolverhalen to get some materials and needles for them. Maybe you remember the shop? I wrote about it before here.

My tactic at a time we need to avoid crowds is to shop as little as possible, and when I really need something, to go at a quiet moment. So last Wednesday I arrived at Wolverhalen when Catharina was just about to open up. While she was placing a last little Christmas tree in the shop window, I looked at the things on display and put on my face mask.

I had taken a good look at her website beforehand and made a shopping list. One of the things on my list was two balls of this squishy yarn.

Something to play/knit swatches/cuddle with during the Christmas holiday.

Also on my list was some of Catharina’s own handpainted yarn for another Thús 2. On my way to Wolverhalen, I dropped the original version off at a friend’s house, and now I’d like to make another one. I chose a deep teal merino singles yarn (2nd from left in photo below).

While I was choosing my yarns, another customer came into the shop. She was wearing a very special sweater, and when I asked her about it, she told me she’d bought it during a month-long stay in the Faroe Islands. Oh my, an entire month in that beautiful place!

I asked her if I might take a picture of her lovely sweater for my blog and she said that was fine, so here it is – Thank you, unknown knitter!

Chance meetings like these are what make visits to a brick-and-mortar yarn shop extra special. I don’t know if I’d recognize her in the street or she me, large parts of our faces being covered in masks, but from her story about the Faroe Islands, the pattern she was choosing yarn for and her remark that’s she’s a bird watcher, I did recognize a kindred spirit.

Well, let’s browse around a little more before leaving for home. Apart from her own gorgeous hand dyed yarns…

… Catharina also stocks a selection of yarns from other companies, like Danish CaMaRose.

And then there are plants in lovely pots everywhere…

… books…

… and magazines.

Ah, it’s been so good to not be at home for a while. And to meet other knitters and yarn lovers, even if it was only briefly, in small numbers, at a safe distance, and partly hidden by masks.

Well, that’s all for today. I’m hurrying back (slowly) to my tidying up. Wherever you are in the world, and whether you are slowing down (of your own free will or not) or are extra busy at work or at home, I hope that you are okay. Thank you for reading and see you again soon!

Monogrammed Guest Towel

Hello!

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember that I’ve inherited two samplers – an embroidery sampler and a knitting sampler. The embroidery sampler was made by my Mum, aged 8, in 1941. I don’t know anything about the date or the maker of the knitting sampler.

The samplers spent decades in my parents’ attic, and after that, over twenty years in a deep dark cupboard in my home. High time to give them the attention they deserve. I’ve been studying them closely and thinking about the people who made them, and I’d love to find out more about the knitting sampler. But first and foremost, my hands were itching to DO something with them.

The word ‘sampler’ is related to ‘example’, and that is exactly what samplers like these were meant for. To provide the girls who made them with examples to be used later in life, for useful and beautiful textiles for their families and homes.

For my first sampler-based project, I’ve stayed close to that idea. Combining and adapting elements from both samplers, I’ve designed and knit a monogrammed guest towel, using the yarn left over from the monogram for a small face cloth.

For the first version that I made, I also stayed close to the original colours.

From the knitting sampler, I borrowed the second stitch pattern from the bottom – mini-blocks. That was simple.

Translating the embroidered letters into knitted ones was less straightforward, because a cross stitch is square while a knit stitch is a flat rectangle. You know what it’s like when your tv screen has the wrong picture format and people’s faces get squashed? That’s what would happen if the letters were simply copied from the embroidered examples in knitting.

So, to begin with, I stretched the letters out. As a result some of the ‘legs’ looked wrong, and I had to alter those. When I tried knitting them, I found out that the letters still didn’t look quite right, and I tweaked a few other details until I was happy with them.

The second problem I ran up against, was that my Mum’s sampler didn’t have a complete alphabet – it had only 19 letters. It did have an M and a D (for Merula Designs), but it lacked several other essential letters. Looking at similar samplers, I finally pieced together a complete knittable alphabet. Phew, problems solved.

Or so I thought. Because when I started knitting more swatches, I soon realized that the back of the monogram wasn’t going to look very attractive. Uh-oh.

In the end, I solved that by adding a nice little surprise to the back.

I tried out several loops and decided on a bit of I-cord. Then I knit another towel, and another one – each with a matching face cloth. Here is a close-up of the loops…

… and one of the monograms.

Each towel & face cloth set was knit in a different yarn.

I’d like to go greener in my knitting, but that isn’t always easy. First, because there are some old yarn friends that I’m strongly attached to. Second, because the choice in organic yarns is still very limited. And third, because organic yarns can be rather expensive. In the end I came up with 3 options:

  1. An old friend: Rowan ‘Handknit cotton’ (linen/red version)
  2. An affordable organic yarn: Lana Grossa ‘Linea Pura Organico’ (cream/taupe version)
  3. An inexpensive sustainable yarn: Drops ‘Paris Recycled Denim’ (blue version)

If I’m honest, the organic version is my favourite. It is very soft and supple.

But the other ones are really nice, too.

I’ve written out the pattern for anyone who would like to make a monogrammed guest towel of their own. Personalized with the recipient’s monogram, I think a guest towel & face cloth set would make a lovely Christmas, Birthday or Wedding Anniversary gift.

The pattern includes:

  • Clear knitting instructions and charts for towel & face cloth
  • A complete knittable alphabet
  • Instructions and an empty grid for designing your own monogram
  • Tips for knitting the monogram and the I-cord loop

The Monogrammed Guest Towel pattern can be found here on Ravelry
(available in English & Dutch, also to non-Ravelry members)

Now, what else could I make based on my inherited samplers? Hmmmm……

As always, thank you for reading and take care! Xxx

Thús 2

Hello!

How are things going in your part of the world? I really hope that you are safe and well, and have enough to do to keep your hands occupied and your mind free from too many worries.

Here, in the Netherlands, we are still spending an inordinate amount of time at home, or thús, as the Frisians say. And what better thing to do at home than knit? It’s utterly comforting and relaxing. Plus you end up with something nice for yourself or someone else.

So, high time for a new version of Thús, a pattern I published earlier this year. Here it is – Thús 2!

The original version of Thús was a one-skein project, with an all-over stitch pattern of rows of interconnected houses.

Thús 2 is covered in the same tiny houses, but is wider and longer. And it is a scarf instead of a loop – a bigger symbolic hug for yourself, a friend or a relative.

I hate having my pictures taken, but my beloved photographer was patient, I called upon my inner Doutzen Kroes (who also grew up in Friesland, by the way), and we actually ended up with a few in which my eyes aren’t closed.

Thús 2 is long enough to be worn wrapped around the neck.

Or folded in half with the ends pulled through the loop.

Thús 2 may look like a lot of knitting, but it isn’t really. It takes four 50-gram balls of fingering-weight yarn. That is the same quantity as two pairs of socks. I won’t say it is done in a jiffy, but on 3.5 mm (US 4) needles it is a fairly quick knit. And an enjoyable one, too, I think/hope.

The yarn I used is Pascuali ‘Balayage’, a blend of 20% organic merino wool and 80% baby alpaca. The wool is certified organic. The alpaca isn’t certified, but is produced sustainably. Both fibres are produced in Peru, where the yarn is also spun and dyed.

This was a delicious yarn to knit with! (I’m not sponsored to say this – it is my own honest opinion.) It is very, very soft and smooth. To my mind, the yarn has the best of both worlds. It has the drape and smoothness of alpaca, but thanks to the wool content it isn’t as ‘limp’ as 100% alpaca can be. I think it is ideal for lace and will also show up other stitch patterns very well. I don’t agree with the yarn producer that it is suitable for Fair Isle knitting, though. Imho it is too slippery and not stretchy enough for that.

Something that doesn’t show in my dark plummy shade, is that part of the alpaca is grey, which gives the lighter shades a lovely heathered look.

Although I have a shade card (I love shade cards!) it works best for me to choose colours in real life, in the skein or ball. From the rainbow of gorgeous colours at the not-so-tiny-anymore yarn shop I recently wrote about, I chose a shade called ‘Lima’ after the capital of Peru.

What always helps me choose, is seeing colours in relation to each other. Take the gradient of pinks and purples below. Lima is on the darker end of the spectrum. Compared to the burgundy to the right of it and the eggplant to the left, it isn’t really purple or red, but something in between.

I made this Thús 2 for a friend, in lieu of a real hug. She has a cardi in the same kind of red-purple that looks very good on her, and I am fairly confident that she’ll like it.

(That I wrote about the yarn I used in so much detail, is just because I’m a little obsessed with yarn. Please don’t feel that you have to use the exact same yarn if you’d like to make a scarf like mine – 200 grams of another, similar fingering-weight yarn will be fine, too.)

Here is a tip for starting a new ball and weaving in the ends invisibly. (This also applies to the original version, and any other shawl or scarf with garter stitch edgings.) In my experience the best place to do this is on the inside of the narrow bands of garter stitch along the long sides. This is what I mean on the wrong side:

And if that picture isn’t clear enough, this is the place indicated on the right side (the actual weaving-in is done on the wrong side).

Well, I think that is all I can tell you about it for now. After the original Thús, I hope you like Thús 2, too.

Oh, and like the original version, Thús 2 is a free pattern – a small positive gesture in this challenging time. If you’d like to take some positive action in return, please consider making a donation to an organisation supporting refugees, other homeless people, or children/adults in unsafe home situations.

Thús 2 can be downloaded here from Ravelry
(available in English AND Dutch, also to non-Ravelry members)

Thank you and happy knitting!