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!

Nuts and Knits

When we moved here 18 years ago, friends gave us a walnut tree. Or rather a tiny sapling that had sprung up in their garden. It has grown, and grown, and grown, and now provides a shady spot for lilies of the valley, ferns and wood anemones.

It also provides us with nuts. Last year, many were shrivelled up inside their shells. 2020 is a much better walnut year. Still, our harvest isn’t huge. It’s the magpies, you see. They love walnuts, and this year there is a large magpie family to feed. Fortunately they are generous enough to leave us a few, too.

This is our share of the walnut harvest this year.

Our big old pear tree has also done very well. Last year, it didn’t give us a single pear, but this year it produced masses. So many, that we couldn’t possibly eat even a tenth of them. So one evening, I loaded wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow with pears to share with everybody in the neighbourhood who wanted some. A great opportunity to catch up on all the local news, too!

And then there were still many left on the tree to share with a big and noisy travelling band of starlings.

Now, the tree is dropping its last few pears…

… and also starting to shed its leaves, now a dull brown. Among the pear leaves, there are some fiery red ones blown over from the Amelanchier, like chili peppers in the grass.

It is really starting to feel like autumn. The temperature is dropping, and it is getting dark soon after our evening meal. Although I knit all year round, for me this time of year always feels like the start of the ‘real’ knitting season.

I realize that I tend to write about my knitting projects mostly when starting and finishing them – the most interesting moments. Now, for a change, here are two of my knitting projects in progress.

Here is my Indigo Sea Shawl on the needles.

I’ve thrown it into a corner taken a break from it, because one of the skeins was colouring my hands and the white blouse I was wearing blue. Aaaargh!

After a while I ripped the offending part out, washed the yarn, rinsed it, gave it a vinegar bath and rinsed it again and again, until it (almost) stopped bleeding.

Now I’ve picked up the needles again and have almost finished it. I’m thinking of a slightly more interesting edge than just an ordinary bind-off.

I’m also still knitting on my Panel Debate cardigan. Progress is slow. For one thing, yarn and needles are very fine. For another, I’ve been knitting socks and other small items in between.

I’m now determined to speed the process up because I want to wear it. And also because I feel like starting something new – something warm, cosy and woolly.

Unfortunately, I can’t literally share our nuts and pears with you here. But I can share a recipe using them. Here is my simple Pear & Walnut Salad recipe.

Pear & Walnut Salad

Serves 2 as a side dish or starter

Ingredients

  • 50 g mixed salad leaves
  • 8 walnuts
  • ½ pear

For the dressing:

  • 1½ tbsp (olive)oil
  • ½ tbsp good white wine vinegar
  • ¾ tbsp honey mustard
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • Some freshly milled black pepper

Method

  • Roast the walnuts in a dry frying pan and leave to cool
  • Rinse the salad leaves and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel
  • Halve the walnuts. Leave some halves whole and chop the rest coarsely
  • Whisk all the dressing ingredients together until they form a thick and smooth sauce
  • Mix the salad leaves with the chopped walnuts and arrange them on a plate. Distribute blobs of dressing over it
  • Peel and core the pear. Cut into thick slices and arrange on top of the salad leaves
  • Finally, add the walnut halves

Serve immediately and enjoy!

PYO Garden

Hello there!

Following on from last week’s knitting sampler, I was going to show you my Mum’s embroidery sampler today. But I’m keeping that for later.

Instead, I’m taking you along to a Pick-Your-Own flower garden. It’s just outside our village – 10 minutes cycling at most. You can borrow a spare bicycle, if you like. All we need to do is adjust the saddle to your height and we’re good to go.

Through the tunnel underneath the ring road, left and left again and we’re in a lane leading past several farms.

A short stop to say hello to a few grazing cows. Hello girls!

Hop on again, cycle two minutes more, and we’re there.

‘Have a nice day’, the sign says. ‘Open 24/7’. And ‘Relax’ and ‘Enjoy’, too. And that’s exactly what we’re here for – to just relax and enjoy this beautiful spot for a few moments.

The owner comes up, apologizing that there isn’t very much to pick anymore at the end of Summer. I reassure her that it’s fine. We don’t need a huge bunch of flowers. Just being here is a treat in itself. And I can see that there are enough flowers left for a posy.

Besides, there are loads of ornamental gourds as well.

Displayed so attractively. And so many different shades, shapes and sizes.

Basking in the sun, on the very last day of Summer, the garden is filled with butterflies…

…bees and buzzing.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing down already – just what I need.

For me, it works like this: For a while I’m chugging along nicely. Then work/life gets busier, I speed up, am immensely productive for a while and think I’m doing great. But I start forgetting to take breaks, to exercise, and to relax intentionally in the evenings. And suddenly I’m not feeling so great anymore.

It’s an old familiar pattern. Nowadays, it usually isn’t too long before I recognize it, fortunately. And I’m better at thinking of ways to slow down again than I used to be.

So, that’s why we’re here in this PYO garden today. Let’s enjoy it a little more.

Everything shows that a lot of loving care and attention has gone into the garden. It’s not just the flowers and plants. Hidden between them are a few lovely surprises, too. Like this adorable chicken.

Well, it’s time to head for the wooden shed, where the secateurs, the guest book and the money tin are. It’s painted black as many traditional outbuildings around here are.

Inside, the same loving care as in the garden is apparent. It’s in the small, whimsical details.

Now, let’s hurry home, before the flowers wilt. I’ll quickly put them in a vase and put the kettle on. I hope you have time for a cuppa? I’d like to show you something else I did to slow down and relax – I cast on a simple pair of socks.

For me, sock knitting is one of the most relaxing things to do, especially using self-striping yarn.

I’m making these for a friend’s Birthday in early October. I haven’t knit with this yarn before and am not entirely convinced it’s suitable for socks, although it is sold as sock yarn. It’s Rellana Flotte Socke ‘Ariana’ – a single ply yarn with ticker and thinner (some really, really thin) bits here and there. Very soft and slightly fuzzy.

I’m giving it a try because of the beautiful colours. Time will tell if it’s a wise decision. My friend won’t mind being a guinea pig, I’m sure. If the socks shrink and felt, I’ll knit her another pair (or two).

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for visiting. And with everything that’s happening in the world right now and alongside everything else you’re doing, please remember to rest, relax, knit (if you’re a knitter), and look for things to enjoy.

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.

Domino Knitting

Hello!

After all the gadding about of the past few weeks, I think it’s time for some serious knitting again. I hope you’re up for it.

I first heard of domino knitting from a Danish woman I once met on a campsite in Rondane, Norway. She was sitting in front of her tent knitting back and forth on very short wooden needles. I was intrigued and asked her what she was making.

As is often the way with knitters, she was only too happy to talk about it. She told me that she was making a scarf for her sister-in-law from a pattern in the booklet Domino Strikk, by Danish designer Vivian Høxbro.

As soon as the booklet came out in English, in 2002, I bought it.

Høxbro didn’t invent the technique. In her foreword she tells us that it had been around for at least a century before she discovered it, only it wasn’t called domino knitting then. She was the one who made it popular, though.

The booklet clearly explains how domino knitting works with small modules, ‘knitted together while the work progresses, just as one “pieces” the tiles in dominoes’, and encourages us to try the techniques out by knitting potholders first.

I made a couple of potholders to give domino knitting a try. They turned out too big and floppy to be useful. I have never used them, but kept them as a kind of curiosity. Here they are:

I left it at that, went on to knit other things, and more or less forgot about domino knitting. Until I started knitting a cardigan called Panel Debate last month.

As the name suggests, it is made up of panels. After finishing the first three panels, I suddenly thought, Why does this feel so familiar? Wait, this is potholder number five!

Well, it’s more like a super extended version of potholder #5, but it follows the same principle.

Narrow panels (1-3 below) are knit back and forth in alternating knit and purl ridges. Then stitches are picked up along the long sides for the next panel (4), knit lengthwise. The panel next to that is a narrow strip again, attached by knitting it together with the stitches of the previous panel every other row, and so on and so forth.

Calling Panel Debate an extended potholder doesn’t do it justice at all, of course. What with the knitted-on sleeves and I-cord finishing it is much more than that. The designer has also added lovely short-row fans at the bottom of fronts and back.

It’s a lot of stitches on 2.75 mm needles, and after I’d knit the swatches I wondered if this cardigan really was a good idea and if I’d ever finish it. But because of the modular technique, Panel Debate stays interesting and makes me want to keep on knitting.

There are heaps more domino-knit type of garment patterns around. Many of them use variations on the mitred squares of my potholders.

It’s a technique particularly suitable for colour-shift yarns like Noro. I really love the way this sweater makes use of the colours.

As Høxbro warns us in her foreword, ‘Domino knitting is addictive.’ Why did it take me so long to get hooked?