Shades of Green

A while ago, I decided to mend my ways and finish things immediately after the actual knitting, instead of leaving them lying around half-finished. With my green mohair and silk scarf that was easy. I only needed to darn in two tails (at the beginning and end of the scarf, because I’d knit in the others at the colour changes), give it a soak and allow it to dry.

The pattern told me to roll up the scarf in dry towels, after soaking it, and gently squeeze out the moisture. That’s the advice that’s generally given for delicate yarns, to prevent them from breaking. But I just put my scarf in the spin dryer. (No! Really? Shock! Horror!). Yes, really! I know from experience that this yarn doesn’t come to any harm, as long as it stays in for just a short time. (I have a separate spin dryer, and haven’t tried the spin cycle of the washing machine, though.)  The yarn is thin, but it is stronger than it looks, especially when two strands are knit together.

After spin drying, I just spread it out to dry on the floor at first. But on second thoughts I decided to block it on my foam mats, with blocking wires along the insides of the border. And I must say, that was worth the effort. It dried up nice and straight along the sides, and the fabric became loftier and more even than it would otherwise have been. It ended up really, really soft and fluffy, as you can see:

The pattern I used is the Color Play Mohair Scarf by Churchmouse, a yarn and tea shop on Bainbridge Island on the west coast of the US, near Seattle. I love their simple and stylish patterns. The CPMS is very easy to knit. Basically it is nothing but a stocking stitch rectangle with a seed stitch border. I could have knit it without a pattern, but I bought the pattern anyway. Why?

Because the pattern tells me exactly how much yarn I need (for this scarf as well as for a bigger wrap version), which needles to use, how many stitches to cast on, and when to switch colours. It is nice when somebody else does the thinking for me now and then. Besides, it has gorgeous colour photos and useful tips.

The scarf is knit in four shades of green, with two strands of yarn held together. This gives such a lovely effect:

Several years ago, I knit the same scarf in a red/orange/pink colour combo, and it’s still one of my favourites. If I had a limitless yarn budget, I’d knit ten of these, all in different colours.

The only thing is, I’ll have to wait for a few months before I can wear it, because it’s much too warm now. I often seem to finish things in the wrong season. At least, the wrong season from a temperature point of view. Colourwise it is exactly the right season!

The month of May has been like an explosion of green. Part of our local wood has a green (and white) carpet of Lily of the Valley.

I knelt down to take some photographs from closer up. And to breathe in the heavenly scent of the flowers, of course.

During the past few months, the CPMS was my take-along project. It accompanied me on visits to friends and relatives. And also on an outing to Münster, Germany, where we spent a rainy morning at the Botanical Gardens. Speaking of green…

We didn’t really mind the rain. It made everything smell nice and fresh. And look how beautiful the raindrops gathered on the leaves of the Lady’s Mantle (this is a small alpine variety):

The Botanical Gardens had a big pond, with a weeping willow with bright green young leaves in the centre. It looked more like a lawn than a pond, though, with its surface covered entirely by duckweed.

A Mallard and several ducklings were swimming around in it. The beak of the little duckling in the picture is covered in duckweed, which made me wonder if they actually eat it. I looked it up and – yes, in addition to insect larvae, snails and so on, they also eat duckweed.

(Looking this up, I also found out that scientists are investigating duckweed as a possible food source for us, humans. And why not? I can see duckweed soup, duckweed smoothies and duckweed pesto in my future.)

And then suddenly, in between all that green, a spot of red! A squirrel with a bushy tail, nibbling a nut.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my shades of green. Many of us in the Netherlands have a long weekend ahead of us. I’m going to immerse myself in as much green as I can and I hope you have the opportunity to do so, too. Have a great time!

April Allsorts

It almost hurts the eyes, doesn’t it? That blue, blue sky with those bright white flowers of the June berry. I was taking a spin on my bicycle when I took this photograph. Something was bothering me, and I thought a bit of exercise and fresh air might help clear my mind. The air was certainly fresh, not to say icy. I was glad I was wearing my woollen gloves. But what a glorious afternoon!

There were lots of lambs in the fields:

You’d expect the air to be filled with the sound of bleating, but it wasn’t. The sheep and their lambs were quietly dozing or grazing – or following their grazing mums around – and watching each other.

We all know that ewes and their lambs can recognize each other’s voices. But we don’t know (or at least I don’t) if they have other ways of communicating. One ewe and her lamb, lying with their heads close together, made me wonder about that. Do they communicate with other sounds besides bleating? They don’t seem to have many different facial expressions. But what about eye contact? Or perhaps they communicate in ways that we humans have no idea of.

What a wonderful bicycle ride! It was no more than 45 minutes, but I’d seen so many lovely things. And although I hadn’t consciously been trying to solve the problem bothering me, just cycling along had solved it for me – I knew what I had to do when I got home.

Apart from some cold and bright days like these, April has given us all sorts of weather. We even had an afternoon of snow and hailstorms! I don’t know if you can see it on your screen, but the leaves of these dwarf lilies in our garden are filled with hailstones.

Last Sunday, the day after these wintry showers, was a little more spring-like. Not as warm yet as it is now, but really nice weather for a woodland stroll.

I was wearing my new socks. Maybe you remember them from a previous post – the ones with the wide stripes:

I tried to get the stripes matching on both socks. I’ve tried to do that before, with varying success. In theory, it should work if you find a clear place in the stripe pattern, note down where you are starting on the first sock, and start at the same place in the stripe sequence on the second sock.

The emphasis here lies on ‘in theory’, because sometimes there is a knot in the yarn (*#@!), or the stripe pattern suddenly skips a section for no clear reason (*#@!!!). This time it worked, though:

I give lots of socks away, being fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who want to wear them. But I’m keeping these.

The yarn I used is Regia 4-ply in a colourway called ‘Nissedal’. This stripe pattern was designed by Arne and Carlos, the sympathetic Norwegian guys (or is one of them Swedish?) who gained world fame with their knitted julekuler (Christmas baubles). They’ve designed lots of other knits since then and have a YouTube channel with some 60.000 subscribers. I must admit that I’ve never watched any of their videos myself, but that’s not Arne and Carlos’ fault. It’s just that I’m not much of a video watcher in general.

One of their latest ventures is a collection of cushion patterns for yarn brand Rowan, which is presented in Rowan’s latest Spring/Summer Magazine (number 65):

Some cushions have geometrical designs, others have intarsia flower patterns, and all of them have ‘Scandinavian knitting design’ printed all over, don’t you think?

Word of Warning: Don’t buy this magazine just for the cushions, because the patterns are not included. I don’t regret buying it, as it is filled with lovely spring and summer knits, including four designs for garments and accessories by Arne and Carlos. Everything is beautifully photographed, the patterns for all the other items are included, and I love leafing through it for inspiration. But the cushion patterns need to be bought and downloaded separately from the Rowan website.

I’ve almost come to the end of what I wanted to show and tell you today. There’s just one more thing. I’ve finished knitting Granite, the cardigan for our daughter. I struggled with the right way to measure the stretchy knitted fabric, and was worried that I’d get it wrong. So I didn’t sew the pieces together yet, but just pinned them.

During our visit on Sunday she tried it on and…

… it fits! Yay! Can you see the pins sticking out at the armhole? Now there’s just the ends to weave in, the seams to join and the buttons to sew on.

Well, that’s all for now. I wish you a lovely weekend. And if the weather is as spring-like in your part of the world as it is here, I hope you have plenty of time to enjoy it.

The Shepherds of Balloo

On Sunday morning we decided on a whim to pay the shepherds of Balloo a visit. It was a lovely day for a walk and I hoped we would see some newborn lambs.

When we arrived, the doors of the sheep fold were open. We could see that it was empty and the sheep were out, which was only to be expected in the middle of the day.

In 2011, the old fold was destroyed by a terrible fire. Fortunately, enough money could be raised to rebuild, and there is a new, very light and airy fold now.

Looking inside we could see the fresh, golden straw on the floor and the wooden feeders filled with hay. In cold and wet weather the ‘windows’ can be closed with a kind of roller blinds.

The area where these sheep roam is not very big, so we should be able to find them. The wind was a bit nippy, but otherwise it was a lovely dry and bright day. The start of our walk took us along a cycle track:

Very soon we turned right, onto a sandy path and the heath. Although spring has arrived in our garden, the landscape here still looked bare and wintry.

I haven’t discovered how to share the sounds and smells of our walks with you here other than catching them in words, so that’s what I’ll try to do. Well, I don’t know about the smells, but for a soundtrack to this walk think of the soughing of the wind and the song of skylarks, climbing higher and higher into the sky. Nothing else. No cars, no planes, no traffic noise at all.

We didn’t have to walk very far before we spotted the flock of sheep in the distance:

Walking on, we lost sight of them for a while. Why? Well, in my pictures the landscape looks flat, while it is in fact slightly undulating. But soon enough, climbing a hillock, we suddenly saw them again. And sitting in a sheltered spot, leaning against his rucksack, was one of the two shepherds who own this flock, keeping an eye on his sheep.

And he was not alone. His two sheep dogs were with him. One of them is a border collie, like many other shepherds in this area have. And the other one is an Australian Kelpie. Meet Woods:

Oh, what a lazy dog! Just lying around enjoying the sunshine instead of minding the flock. Or is he? Look at his ears – they are not resting at all, but on the alert all the time. And as soon as they register something he sits up:

The shepherd told us that Woods is a dog with a natural instinct for herding. A really reliable dog. ‘If we get back to the fold at the end of an afternoon and Woods keeps looking back, you can bet your boots that there’s a stray lamb left behind,’ he said.

Talking about lambs – where are they? Well, as it turns out we were a bit early in the year. There were only six lambs as yet. They were hidden among the adult sheep, but I was able to take a snapshot of two of them. Can you see them?

These sheep are again of the Drenthe Heath sheep breed, about which I wrote in A Chat with a Shepherd. And here, too, their main job is nature conservation.

The shepherds of Balloo have the biggest flock in this part of the country, with over 400 sheep before the lambing season. As is usual for Drenthe Heath sheep, their colours range from (almost) white to black, with other colour variations in between.

What interests me, of course, is what happens with the wool. In the Middle Ages wool was an economic factor to be reckoned with, and the wool trade brought great riches to parts of Europe. But we live in different times.

At my knitting group, last week, I was shocked to hear that another shepherd with Drenthe Heath sheep receives literally nothing at all for his fleeces! His fleeces are shipped to China, as some kind of waste product, to be used in the carpeting industry.

At Balloo things are looking better, I’m glad to say. Along one wall of the fold I saw stacks and stacks of plastic bags filled with fleeces.

Fleeces in all of the colours Drenthe Heath sheep come in are offered for sale. Each bag has a label describing the specific properties of that particular fleece. I read things like: ‘Ideal for felting’, ‘Good quality for spinning’, ‘Fleece with especially long locks’, etcetera.

An entire fleece would be  too much for me, at the moment, but fortunately I was able to buy a smaller quantity of wool. I am looking forward to trying out how it feels in my hands and how it spins up. I need to finish spinning and plying some other wool on my bobbins first, but when I have something to show, I’ll definitely let you know.

More information

There are two websites dedicated to the Balloo sheep. I don’t quite understand why. One seems to be the shepherds’ own website, and has information about the flock and the wool studio (more about that some other time). The other website provides similar information about the flock, as well as a description of the landscape.

A Chat with a Shepherd

By far most of the sheep surrounding us are of the well-known Texel breed. Stocky, white-fleeced sheep, like the woolly lady enjoying a bit of wintry sunshine in the picture at the top of this post.

When I started spinning, decades ago, I only spun Texel wool at first. Simply because it was the only wool I could get at the time. Since then I’ve tried out various other sorts of sheep’s wool and non-sheep fibres. Even some nutria (also known as coypu rat). Ugh, never again! But let’s not get distracted – back to sheep.

We do have other sheep breeds in the Netherlands – 67 other breeds, in fact. (I didn’t know that. I looked it up.) One of these is the Drenthe Heath sheep. There are several flocks of Drenthe Heath in our part of the country, and we sometimes meet them when we’re out walking.

On one of our Sunday walks I already spotted them from a distance. How nice that they’re here today! (We never know exactly where they are – it’s always a surprise.) But when we came closer, something seemed different. Strange. Wrong.

Normally they roam freely over the heath, but this time they were all huddled together.

Huddled really, really closely together. Look:

That was decidedly odd! And where was the shepherd? We stood watching the sheep for a while, wondering what was up. Meanwhile I took some close-ups of individual sheep. Most of them are whitish with a brown or golden head and legs, but there are also some grey and black ones among them. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Then the sheep dog, a Border Collie, came back with the shepherd close on its heels.

We asked him (the shepherd, not the dog) what was the matter, and he told us that one of the sheep had broken a leg, jumping into a ditch. He’d had to carry it back to the fold and herded the rest of the flock closely together to keep them safe while he was away for a while.

He also told us that the flock consists of 380 sheep now. In spring, after lambing, it grows to 700-800. The sheep’s job is nature conservation. Their grazing keeps the heathland open, like this:

Every sheep eats about 5 kilograms of plant material a day. So, in winter the flock eats 380 x 5 = almost 2000 kilograms per day! Without the sheep, the area would soon be overgrown with shrubs:

The shrubs would be followed by trees. And the heath, with all its rare flora and fauna, would be gone within a decade. Thank you so much, dear sheep, for preserving this beautiful habitat for us.

Although these are the native sheep around here, I’ve never spun any of their wool. To be honest, I actually know very little about Drenthe Heath sheep or their wool. So when we got home I got out my Fleece & Fibre Source Book.

Yes! They’re in the index – go to page 313. And what does it say on page 313? The breed is mentioned under Zwartbles, as one of its ancestors, ‘the horned and hairy-fleeced Drenthe (outside the scope of this volume)’. Not very helpful.

Well, I’ll have to go looking for more information elsewhere. There’s always the internet, of course. Or I could visit some of the flocks and chat with other shepherds. I know that the Shepherds of Balloo have a wool studio, but I’ve never been there. A visit during the lambing season would be something to look forward to.

And maybe I could try spinning some Drenthe Heath wool. I don’t know what it’s like or if it would be suitable for knitting. Do any of you reading this have any experience with the wool? If you do, I would really appreciate it if you’d tell us about it in a comment.

To be continued…

Perfect Knitting Weather, but…

Hello again! Welcome to a white and snowy world!

It started to snow at three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon. Exactly at the predicted time. We live in a very well-organized country. A code yellow warning was issued by the meteorological service. Train timetables were adjusted long before the first snowflake fell.

So the snow wasn’t a lovely surprise. But lovely nevertheless. We don’t get snow all that often, and although it usually isn’t more than just a few centimeters, I always find it exciting and exhilarating. I just have to share some of all that white loveliness with you.

With my camera in hand, I stepped out the back door, where our pots with herbs are. The most fragile ones are safely under glass, the others will hopefully survive.

I walked round the house for a look at our bird feeders. If you look closely, you can see that this great tit has a sunflower seed in its beak. Great and blue tits and sparrows fly on and off, picking up one seed at a time, eating it in a quiet and safe spot on a branch, and then coming back for more.

First, I took a stroll through our village and noticed this little tree, snug in its stripy knit coat:

Then I walked down the road outside the village, past a stack of wood waiting to be picked up.

And finally I came to the wood at the end of the road.

It looks like a very quiet place, but I was definitely not the only one enjoying it. There were lots of people around, with or without dogs, children, sledges and even skis.

How I love this weather! The snow, the pale light, the cold. Perfect knitting weather, but…

… my knitting more or less seems to have come to a standstill. There isn’t much knitting going on at all. I really don’t know why. Am I suffering from a winter depression? No, I don’t think so. I love winter and I’m feeling perfectly all right otherwise.

Waiting for inspiration I’ve been knitting some socks.

At first I said to myself, it’s only natural after all the gift knitting. Just take your time. Relax a little. Knit another pair of socks. Some ideas will come to you, just wait and see. But now I’ve almost finished three pairs of socks.

There’s just the toe of the third pair to finish and the ends to weave in. Apart from that, I’m struggling to get the pockets of a nearly finished cardigan right. And that’s it. There’s nothing else on my needles.

High time to actively go hunting for inspiration and something to knit. Something interesting. Something a little more challenging than socks. High time to dive into my yarn stash and leaf through some books in my knitting library. I’ll let you know when I find something.

Meanwhile I’m thinking of all of you travelling to and from work by car or by train in this weather. I hope that the roads are not too slippery and the trains are on time. And I hope that you can also enjoy the snow a little.

Most of all I’m thinking of my knitting friend Monique, who gets onto her bicycle every day to deliver the mail whatever the weather. I really admire her for that. And I also admire her for her knitting. Monique knits and designs some of the finest and most beautiful lace you’ll ever see. If you’re into lace knitting, you must take a look at her website. She has just published the second issue of her free digital magazine ‘Fine Shetland Lace’. (Scroll down a little and you’ll see a download link.)

Reading through the magazine, I came across an inspirational quote that seems like a fitting end to this blog post. It’s from Irish lace knitter and designer Aisling M. Doonan:

Sometimes… you have to sit down and begin for the ideas to come.

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.