Nøstepinne

Hello!

I have no idea how many people own and use a nøstepinne. Maybe you have owned and used one for years and what I’m writing today is nothing new. It’s for those of you who do not have one and maybe have never even heard of it that I’m writing about the What, Why and How of using and choosing a nøstepinne.

What is a nøstepinne?

Nøstepinne is a Scandinavian word that can also be spelled as nöstepinne, nystepinne or nøstepinde, depending on whether you are in Norway, Sweden or Denmark. It is often translated as ‘nest stick’, but that is just silly. As far as I know, nöste or nøste means ball of yarn. And my Swedish-English dictionary tells me that ‘nysta’ means ‘to wind’, or ‘make up into balls or a ball’. Pinne means pin or stick. So nystepinne (or however it’s spelled) simply means ‘ball winding stick’. And that is what it is, a stick for winding yarn balls on.

I am the proud owner of two nøstepinner:

The darker coloured one is a souvenir from Shetland that I’ve had for almost a decade. I think it was hand-made by a Shetland woodworker, but it didn’t come with any information about the name of the maker or the type of wood used. The lighter coloured one is from ChiaoGoo and is a recent acquisition.

KnitPro also has nøstepinner and there are many lovely handmade ones to be found on Etsy.

Why use a nøstepinne?

Before answering that question, here is a picture of 3 balls of yarn wound in different ways viewed from above:

From left to right: an ordinary hand-wound ball, a yarn ‘cake’ wound on a cranked ball winder, and a ball wound on a nøstepinne. Each method has it’s pros and cons. So why use a nøstepinne?

  • It makes centre-pull balls. This can be useful for various reasons; to name a few:
    • The ball doesn’t roll away if you use the thread from the inside.
    • It is possible to knit with two threads held together, one from the inside and one from the outside of the ball
    • In spinning, a 2-ply yarn can be made by plying the thread from the inside with the thread from the outside.
      A cranked yarn winder also makes centre-pull balls, winding yarn by hand without a nøstepinne does not.
  • It is slow. Much, much slower that using a cranked yarn winder and also slower than winding a ball in the ordinary way. Is that an advantage? If you ask me, absolutely! Winding yarn into a ball with a nøstepinne is a meditative, peaceful thing to do. It is good for the soul.
  • It is easy to take along and can be used anywhere.
  • It makes wonderfully aesthetically pleasing balls of yarn. Again, good for the soul. Just look at the before and after pictures of some sock yarn remnants below and I think you know what I mean.
Before
After

How to use a nøstepinne

First wrap the yarn several times around the thin notch at the top of the nøstepinne. (If it doesn’t have a notch, make a loop at the top, or hold the yarn in place with your thumb near the other end of the nøstepinne.)

Then wrap the yarn around the shaft of the nøstepinne as shown below. Wrap 4 or 5 layers of yarn around a width of about 2.5 cm (1 inch).

Now start winding the yarn around this beginning diagonally, from bottom right to top left. Keep winding in the same direction all the time, while slowly turning the nøstepinne towards you.

A brief video by Ann Kingstone showing the process very clearly can be viewed here. Her method is slightly different from mine. That’s fine – everybody develops their own technique over time.

Watch your little ball grow…

… and grow.

Especially with self-striping yarn it is very satisfying to see layer upon layer of yarn build up on your nøstepinne.

Finally, when you’re almost at the end of your yarn, wrap the yarn around horizontally several times, tuck the end in under the horizontal strands, and remove the ball from the nøstepinne.

Nice, no?

How to choose a nøstepinne

You don’t really need a ‘real’ nøstepinne to begin with. To try out whether you like making yarn balls in this way, other things that can be found in any home can be used, like the inner tube from a roll of cling film or aluminium foil, or a thick marker:

A real wooden nøstepinne is much nicer to the touch, of course. So if you like winding balls in this way and decide to go looking for a wooden one, here are some things to consider:

  • The smoothness of the wood
  • The colour – do you prefer lighter or darker wood?
  • The style – simple or more elaborately turned
  • The size – in my experience a thicker nøstepinne is easier for a beginner; when starting a ball, it is harder to make the yarn catch behind the horizontal beginning on a thin nøstepinne
  • The ball shape – the thicker the nøstepinne, the rounder the ball, and the thinner the nøstepinne the more egg-shaped the ball tends to become:

Well, that’s all I can tell you about nøstepinner. If you’d like to try making yarn balls in this way, too, please take your time. It is really simple, but it takes a little practice for it to become a natural, flowing movement. I hope you’ll enjoy making these neat balls of yarn as much as I do.

Scraps and Mini Skeins

Hello!

Here (above) is my entire collection of scraps and mini skeins of sock yarn. I’m fairly sure most of you will have some stored away somewhere, too. I keep mine in a plastic carrier bag. Not just any old plastic carrier bag, but one from that wonderful Norwegian institution Husfliden. Besides the yarn, it holds happy memories.

In it are two bags filled with sock yarn remnants, more or less sorted by colour.

Because I am allergic to dust mite, I store all my yarn in plastic. Not very attractive, but I just can’t go around wheezing and sneezing all the time, especially now.

Emptying them out, there is a heap of mainly pinks and purples, and another heap of mainly blues and greens.

On my bookshelves there is a book called Color in Spinning.

It contains a lot of information about and inspiration for choosing and combining colours for blending, spinning and plying your own yarns. It works with the colour wheel.

Although I usually choose colours intuitively, it is interesting to look at them within the framework of the colour wheel for a change. Arranging my sock yarn remnants in this way, it looks like this:

A hugely unbalanced colour wheel. Many, many blues. Some bluey greens, pinks and purples. Just one ball of bright yellow (whatever did I use that for?). And hardly any brighter greens, oranges or reds.

My collection of neutrals is tiny, too.

But there is more in my carrier bag. A selection of naturally dyed mini skeins that once entered my house through a subscription. The Natural Dye Studio (which no longer exists) sent me several small skeins in different fibres and colours once every week or so for a while. Here they are, also laid out in a sort of colour wheel.

A very different range of colours from my sock yarn remnants – much more balanced. But here, too, there is a gap in the wheel. Why? Where are the pinks and purples? After some digging, I found the missing section in a different bag.

Although I loved looking at and petting the hand dyed mini skeins, I have never actually done anything with them. I didn’t know what to do with such small quantities (10-20 g each) and some of them were really not ‘my’ colours.

Apparently I did have a plan for the pink and purple section of the colour wheel. They are wound into small balls and numbered. And I even made a colour card. There are no further notes with it, though, and I can’t for the life of me remember what I was going to do with them. Well, never mind. I’ll mix them in with the rest of my collection.

I have very clear preferences, easily summed up as blues…

…and pinks.

But the world would be a dull place without yellows…

…oranges…

And reds.

In many respects, I think the world would be a poorer place without the entire rainbow. But when it comes to knitting, I don’t know.

Although I feel dubious about some of the colours, in a sense I feel like Smaug, with my hoard of yarnie gold.

But unlike Smaug, I’m more than happy to share my treasure with others. In the past, I have given my yarn scraps away to sock yarn blanket and dolls’ clothes knitters. Now I’d like to knit some gifts with them.

I think it’s going to be a real challenge to make something beautiful with these small quantities of yarn. Well, maybe ‘beautiful’ is raising the bar too high. Let’s say something really nice. Gifts that won’t force the recipients to lie about how much they love them.

Will I be able to do that? And will I be able to step outside my colour comfort zone and use those bright green, orange, red and yellow mini skeins? I’m not sure, but I’ll give it a try.

I took the picture below, of a roundabout just outside our village, several days ago. Not my colours in knitting, but on a roundabout? Wow!

Not So Tiny Anymore

Hello!

Every time I start writing a blog post, I close my eyes and sit quietly for a while. To focus on what I want to show and say, but also thinking of you reading it. Sometimes it’s hard to find the right words.

Over the past two weeks I’ve been watching BBC’s Autumn Watch. At the start of this year’s series, presenter Chris Packham said that they hoped their nature images and stories would be like a warm and colourful blanket for viewers in these difficult and uncertain times. I don’t remember exactly how he phrased it, but that was the drift.

I hope that in my own modest way, I can do something like that here, too. I can’t offer you spectacular footage of badgers, seal pups or otters. What I can offer is a colourful and comforting story about a yarn shop. Do you remember the tiny yarn shop we visited in July? Well, it has grown. Look!

The yarn shop is housed in part of a former farm building. Until recently, the rest of the space was taken up by a bicycle shop. When that closed Saskia grabbed the opportunity to enlarge her premises. Originally her shop was only 15 m2, now it has almost tripled in size. It still isn’t huge, but it is not so tiny anymore either.

A few days before our Autumn Break, I was on the doorstep early in the morning, just before the shop opened, hoping for a quiet moment without other customers. I was lucky and had the shop to myself for a bit, so that I didn’t have to choose yarn in a hurry and also had the time to take pictures.

Wol zo Eerlijk still specializes in organic, sustainable and fair-trade yarns. The main components of these yarns are wool, cotton, linen or alpaca. But some contain more unusual fibres, such as yak, nettle or hemp. The sock yarn below is a blend of wool, biodegradable nylon (huh?!) and hemp.

The beautiful colours are a feast for the eyes – some really autumnal:

This is an organic wool-and-cotton yarn from Portugal.

There are also many yarns in lovely neutrals. As my own colouring is becoming more and more ‘neutral’, I don’t wear these shades anymore. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like them.

This is a very soft blend of organic cotton and alpaca:

Among the shop samples, there is also a stack of sweaters in off-white and grey.

And next to that is a mannequin wearing a sweater with a very interesting neckline.

While I am browsing around the shop, Saskia is processing online orders. You can see her at work in the background, over the top of this vegan yarn composed of cotton and Lyocell.

On the other side of the display is this rainbow of colours. It’s a new yarn called ‘Balayage’ – a very soft wool-and-alpaca blend and one of the reasons for my visit.

Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s so nice to be able to browse around, see the colours in person and have a chat. It feels surreal and uncomfortable that there is a plastic screen between us at the till and we are both wearing face masks. I don’t go out enough to get used to that, but if we can keep the virus from spreading this way and keep ‘non-essential’ shops like these open, you won’t hear me complaining.

After my visit to the shop, I had a quick stroll through the old part of the village. (Is there such a thing as a quick stroll? It was quick because it was raining and I needed a loo. That can be a bit of a problem with all restaurants and cafés closed.)

Unlike some other villages, Vries still has a good range of shops, with two clothes shops, a supermarket, an antiques seller,

a butcher,  a baker,

and a flower shop with a lovely display of crysanths and pumpkins outside.

And best of all a not-so-tiny-anymore yarn shop!

This is what I came home with:

  • Several balls of purple wool-and-alpaca yarn for a scarf that knits up quickly and is almost finished now.
  • Two 25-gram balls of red wool from Yorkshire for a project that is nothing but an idea yet.
  • Sock blockers in two different sizes that have been on my wish list for quite a while and will be tried out as soon as I finish my current pair of socks.

More about these over the coming weeks or months. All the best, stay safe, and see you again soon! xxx

A Tiny Yarn Shop

Hello! It’s good to see you here again. For this week’s summer outing, I’m taking you to Vries, another small village in our part of the country. Vries isn’t as picturesque as last week’s destination Giethoorn, and I doubt if it sees many tourists, but it does have some attractive spots.

Generally, the church from the middle of the 12th century is considered the village’s main attraction. Granted, it is beautiful. Surrounded by trees, it wasn’t easy to photograph, but here is a view from the side:

The church is dedicated to Saint Boniface and has doors in a particularly attractive shade of red.

But to me, Vries’ biggest attraction is the smallest yarn shop I know. And when I say small, I mean tiny. It is called Wol zo Eerlijk (Wool so Fair) and is so small that it can only welcome one customer at a time with the 1.5 meter distance rule in place. This little gem is tucked away in a small corner between two other buildings.

Wol zo Eerlijk specializes in sustainable and fair-trade yarns, produced in animal-friendly ways and without child labour.

This may conjure up images of drab and scratchy yarns, but nothing is further from the truth. There are some neutrals, too, of course. But all in all, the first impression is a very colourful one. Let’s go inside to take a look.

Although the selection of yarns is fairly limited (it is a tiny shop, after all) there is a good range of materials, from cotton and linen to different kinds of wool and even yak.

To start with, here is Erika Knight’s ‘Studio Linen’ in some of the loveliest shades imaginable.

What makes this yarn sustainable is that 85% of it is recycled linen. Pure new linen makes up the remaining 15%.

The yarn in the photo below is mYak ‘Baby Yak Lace’. This is a heavy lace-weight yarn spun entirely from baby yak hair, also known as yak down, from Tibet. Soooo soft.

In my mind’s eye I saw those poor little baby yaks shivering and bleating after being shorn, but fortunately that isn’t how it works and there is no need to feel sorry for them. They are not shorn – the down is collected by combing. In fineness and softness this yak down is similar to cashmere.

Selling their yak fibres, enables the nomad families of the Tibetan plateau to continue herding their animals as they’ve done for centuries, in a way that keeps the fragile ecosystem intact. A further sustainable aspect is that the yak down is not bleached or decoloured, and that shows in the skeins. The overdyed natural colours give beautiful, slightly heathered shades.

And here is another yarn in some lovely colours – Rosários 4 ‘Belmonte’.

‘Belmonte’ is an organic wool-and-cotton blend in a dk-weight. Spun in Portugal, this yarn is GOTS certified, which means that it meets the toughest international standards for organic textiles.

Wol zo Eerlijk provides swatches of all the yarns in their shop.

I think this is a wonderful idea. It gives a much better impression of what the knitting will look like than just seeing a yarn in the skein or ball.

And here is one final yarn – ‘Pip Colourwork’, British wool spun and dyed in Yorkshire. Beautiful vibrant as well as more subtle colours in 25 gram balls. Ideal for fair-isle or similar stranded colourwork, but I wouldn’t mind knitting an entire cardigan in duck-egg Bramley Baths, turquoise Lotherton or raspberry Rose window.

I didn’t photograph each and every yarn at Wol zo Eerlijk. Please visit their website (in Dutch and English) for more information and yarns. (As always: I’m not sponsored in any way – I just love looking at, knitting with and talking about yarn. Besides, I think small, lovingly curated shops like this one deserve all the support they can get).

Well, shopping is thirsty work. High time for some refreshments. Take care, and see you next week!

Wool Stories

Now and then, I come across something in my diary I wrote down months ago. For last weekend, my diary said, ‘Knitting & Crochet Days Amsterdam’. Under normal circumstances, I would have taken an early train to the capital and then taken the ferry across the IJ for a day of meeting up with friends, chatting with yarn sellers and dyers, and finding new inspiration. I would also have taken pictures and shared them here with you.

I know that there are worse things in life, and I’m 100% behind the government’s decision to cancel all events until at least September, but I did feel slightly disappointed that I had to cross this event out (I’m only human).

I soon found a good alternative, though – I paid an online visit to a lovely dye studio and yarn shop in my part of the country.

It is called Wolverhalen, or Wool Stories in English. I also revisited the pictures I took during a visit in October 2019 (the ones you’re seeing here), and had a lovely long phone call with the owner, Catharina. She kindly sent me this photo of herself:

Catharina is a woman of many talents. Before she started her shop and dye studio about a year ago, she was an ambulance driver for many years. And before that, she ran her own flower shop.

I can’t say that the ambulance driver part of her career is reflected in her business, except in her friendly and caring presence, but the flower shop part certainly is. In addition to yarn, knitting books and tools, and Swedish woollen blankets, she also offers a great selection of plants and pots.

They give the beautiful light and airy space a relaxed and homey feel. For us, knitters, the most important part is the yarn, of course. Adjacent to the shop, there’s a sparklingly clean, well-organized and well-lit dye studio.

Here Catharina dyes her wool, silk, mohair, yak and suri alpaca yarns. (Don’t these materials just sound like music to your ears?) During my visit last autumn, there were some freshly dyed skeins in very bright shades on her drying rack. They were meant to be wound into sock minis – small skeins to be used as accent colours.

In addition to these bright and cheerful shades, she also produces sophisticated neutrals, refined pastels as well as gorgeous charcoals, deep blues, purples, greens and browns.

When I asked her why she decided to start Wolverhalen, Catharina told me about her life-long love of making things, and that she had been dyeing yarns as a hobby for several years before turning it into a business. Guess what her favourite colour is? Green, of course! I needn’t have asked.

Some of the yarns are dyed with natural dyestuffs and some with acid dyes. Environmentally friendly citric acid is used as fixative for the latter. (Acid dyes are not themselves acidic but require an acid to set them.)

The environment, sustainability and animal welfare are important to Catharina. (That sounds like music to my ears, too!) She avoids the use of plastic as much as possible, chooses recycled or recyclable materials for packaging, and all her wool is mulesing-free.

Well, let’s browse around the shop a little more. Below, on the right, is some økologisk Hverdagsuld and Tynd Lamauld from Danish brand CaMaRose.

(I don’t remember what the yarn on the left was.) I have no experience with these, but I love the range of colours and bought a few balls during last year’s visit to try them out. They’re still waiting patiently in a basket.

And here is some BC Garn Baby Alpaca, also from Denmark.

Not my colours, but oh so soft!

During my recent online visit, I ordered one skein of yarn that definitely IS my colour. It came wrapped in tissue paper with a lovely plant print, accompanied by a handwritten card with a personal message. Such a treat! I have an idea for it, but can’t tell you about it yet for fear of jinxing my creativity.

This blogpost is one of the ways in which I try to help small businesses survive this crisis. The world would lose so much of its colour if they were to disappear, don’t you think? I know it’s just a small drop in the ocean, but many small drops…

I hope your local yarn shop is still open for (online) business, or will be again soon. If not, there’s always Wolverhalen. The website is entirely in Dutch, but Catharina does ship worldwide and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to answer any questions.

Miss Lazy Daisy

The route to the meeting I was going to attend in the city of Groningen ran right past a yarn shop. Because it isn’t every day that I visit Groningen, I packed my camera and took an earlier train to have some time to browse around and take pictures.

After a short walk from the railway station, I stood in front of Juffrouw Lanterfant (which translates into something like Miss Lazy Daisy). It is a corner shop with an old, tall and narrow door and other lovely old details. 

As soon as I entered, I was dazzled by the wall of brightly coloured skeins of yarn. I’m not entirely sure, but I think these are from Hedgehog Fibres:

Just the thing for a Stephen West design. I have met Stephen several times and know first-hand that he is a very friendly person as well as an incredibly prolific designer. Although we have very different tastes, I think what he is doing is really, really interesting and highly original.

On a coat rack there were several shop samples of shawls, loops, cardigans and sweaters. The short-sleeved top with the attractive all-over pattern and lovely neckline is ‘Sanctuary’ from Pompom Quarterly #29.

And, oh, that beautiful rainbow of colours in the small cupboard to the right of it! That must be Appletons crewel wool.

And what do I spy on the top shelf?

Several gift boxes filled with ArtYarns’ luxurious fibres embellished with beads or sequins. I once splashed out on one single skein of those, a silvery yarn with beads AND sequins. ArtYarns are a bit too blingy for an entire shawl to my taste, but in combination with other, quieter yarns – yum!

At the other end of the spectrum, the shop also stocks Icelandic Létt Lopi. A rustic, really woolly, sheepy yarn.

The shop lady was knitting a humongous shawl from it, in black, grey and white with fluorescent pink accents. She said it would be about 4 metres long when finished. Here it is, laid out on the reading table:

I love it when a yarn shop has a big table like this, even though (or perhaps especially if) it is rather messy. Nowadays, yarn shops aren’t just about buying yarn. They are also great places to find inspiration, leaf through new knitting books and meet other makers.

Having said that, I did buy something – one beautiful skein of yarn to complement several others I once bought in Germany:

If you’re ever in the area, do pop into Juffrouw Lanterfant. Their address and most (but not all) of the yarns they stock are on their website.

This blog post isn’t sponsored in any way. I sometimes write about yarn shops because I love chatting about the materials I choose and use, and also because I think it may be of interest to other knitters. I feel a bit silly repeating this every time, so I have now altered my ‘About’ page to explain once and for all that I don’t have a hidden agenda.

A Morbihan Shawl for Every Budget

‘Pssst! Hey! Take me home with you!’ the ball of yarn in a gradient of blues whispered. It happened at our regional annual crafts fair. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said, ‘You’re far too expensive, and what would I do with you?’ The yarn ball wasn’t impressed. It kept up its insistent whispering, and after walking around it for about a dozen times, I said, ‘Okay, I surrender. I can’t deny that you’re gorgeous, and you can come home with me.’

It would have been so nice to tell you a romantic and poetic story about the inspiration behind Morbihan, my new shawl design. About how I was inspired by the sea – by its myriad shades of blue and its waves lapping the shore. But you may already have gathered from my previous post that it didn’t work that way. It was the other way around. It was the yarn itself that made me make this shawl, and it was only later that I made the connection with the sea.

The yarn that seduced me was Lang Yarns ‘Puno’, a blend of wool, alpaca and silk. What I love about this yarn is, first of all, its gorgeous colours, and also its drape, its softness and its subtle sheen.

And after knitting and blocking, I noticed how beautifully the lighter bits of this semi-solid yarn undulate along with the waves of the lace pattern, especially in the simple stocking stitch sections of the shawl.

This yarn cost € 49.90 for a single ball (or rather ‘cake’). Gulp! Granted, it was a generous 200 grams and 800 metres, but still… Not exactly a bargain.

Because I didn’t have any spare yarn for swatches (I wanted to use up all of this precious yarn for my project), I first tried out my ideas with some yarn scraps. When I had a clearer picture of what I wanted to make, I still hesitated about using the Puno. I didn’t want to spoil the yarn by ripping out my efforts several times. So, I bought some inexpensive yarn for a trial version, and it looks like this:

This is Drops ‘Flora’, a blend of wool and alpaca, with a similar weight/metreage ratio as the blue yarn – four 50 gram balls of this yarn are the equivalent of one ball of Puno. This was a bargain. I bought 4 balls with 30% off for the grand total of € 7.44.

Although this was only meant as a trial version, it has become a lovely shawl in itself. What I like about this yarn is its woolly cosiness and how beautifully it shows the lace pattern.

And it didn’t end there. After I’d decided to publish the Morbihan pattern, I wanted to make absolutely sure that there weren’t any errors in it, so I decided to make another one to check it.

This time I used a cotton yarn. I wouldn’t normally choose cotton for a shawl, but during a very hot period this summer, I started looking for yarns that wouldn’t stick to my hands and found this. I don’t know if your screen is big enough to read it, but the card behind the yarn cake says ‘handmade’.

Huh, handmade? Yes, this yarn cake really is handmade! And it’s organic too!

Saskia, the owner of Wol zo Eerlijk, a yarn shop specializing in fair trade, organic and otherwise sustainable and animal friendly yarns, makes these yarn cakes herself. She combines several threads of a very thin cotton yarn and winds them into fabulous colour gradients. There are over 25 colourways to choose from.

The colourway I chose is called Planet Earth, and goes from a medium green through blue to almost (but not quite) black.

The thin threads that the yarn is made up of, are not twisted around each other, and I was a bit concerned that the yarn would be hard to knit with. I expected to stick my needle between the threads and miss one or two here and there, but personally, I didn’t have any problems.

Because this yarn is handmade, the cakes do not all have exactly the same weight. The ball band says ‘approx. 225 grams’, but mine was 235 grams. This meant that I could add quite a few extra rows to the border (the pattern explains how to do this) and it has become quite a big shawl.

At € 29.95 per cake, this yarn is rather more expensive than that of the grey Morbihan. But considering that it is handmade and organic, and has a generous metreage, I think it really is a bargain, too. It would be an ideal choice for warmer climates, vegans and people allergic to wool.

Well, those are my three versions of Morbihan. I think it will work in almost any yarn – cotton or cashmere, sheep’s wool or silk, viscose or vicuña, alpaca or acrylic… Wait, no, not acrylic! That’s about the only yarn type that I wouldn’t choose. I don’t think it’s very suitable for lace knitting, because it will bounce back after blocking.

Should you decide to make your own Morbihan, in whatever yarn takes your fancy, I wish you happy knitting!

 You can find the pattern here on Ravelry.

Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. The descriptions of the yarns are based on my own experiences with them, and represent my own honest opinions.

Autumn Colours

Autumn is mushroom time. It’s a terrible cliché, I know, but it’s true. As soon as it was officially autumn, mushrooms started springing up like, well, mushrooms in the woodland on our doorstep.

Or perhaps I should say mushrooms and toadstools. I keep having difficulty with the distinction. In Dutch we call them all paddenstoelen, which literally means toadstools.

I’ve been taught that mushrooms are, on the whole, the ones you can eat, while toadstools are the poisonous ones. But what if you see a beautiful specimen and don’t know if it’s edible or not? What do you do then?

‘Look, what a beautiful… errr’

‘Hang on a minute, I need to look it up in my field guide first. Yes, here it is – I think it’s a blusher. That’s edible, so, ‘What a beautiful mushroom!’ (Or, wait, it may be a false blusher, which is poisonous, so…)

Maybe other people aren’t bothered by this, but I am. I may have left the translation world last year, but the translator inside hasn’t left me. I’m still very much focused on words.

It’s not just the mushroom/toadstool distinction that’s bothering me. It’s also the word toadstool itself.

On one of our recent walks I nearly stepped onto a toad.

Can you imagine it sitting on one of these fragile stools?

Or on one of these?

It would never work. The only fungus that would hold a big fat toad without breaking that I can think of, would be a cep. But that’s a mushroom.

It’s all very confusing.

It’s the same with some knitting-related words, like sweater, jumper, pullover and jersey. Very confusing.

Ravelry, the big online knitting platform most of you will be familiar with, helps a little. In its vast pattern archive it uses ‘sweater’ (124,663 patterns!) as an umbrella term, and in that category distinguishes between ‘cardigan’, ‘pullover’ and ‘other’. But what about jumper and jersey? And why are sweaters called sweaters?

I don’t know. But there’s one thing that I do know, and that is that it’s sweater weather again. Looking for some inspiration, I bought Kim Hargreaves’ new pattern book – Covet.

Kim Hargreaves started out as a designer for Rowan, but has been working as an independent designer for many years since. I like her designs a lot because they are timeless classics with great attention to detail.

There are 12 designs in Covet: 5 cardigans, 5 pullovers, 1 dress that can be shortened to a pullover (which Kim calls a sweater) and 1 granny square crochet wrap in a bulky yarn. No hats or scarves this time.

I love the cable designs and also the seemingly simple ones in stocking stitch. I’m not a big fan of the new bell sleeves, though, and I can’t see myself or anyone I know wearing the figure-hugging knee-length dress in a very warm wool and alpaca blend knit on 6 mm needles. With a polo neck. Just thinking of it makes me break out in a sweat. Taken literally, sweater would be a better word for this design than dress.

A design that drew my eye immediately was ‘Devote’, a cardigan with a stunning shawl collar.

Beautiful! And it also has some lovely decorative decreases on the sleeves, too. But the shape is not suitable for me, alas. Too short and tapering down to a narrow waist. I could probably adapt it, but this time I was looking for something to knit straight from a pattern.

So I got out some of her older books. Even books from years ago don’t look dated – that’s quite an achievement. Earlier this year, Kim let us know that some of her books won’t be reprinted anymore, so if you’d like to add some to your knitting library, don’t wait too long. You can find them all here on her website.

One of my favourite Kim Hargreaves books is Pale, which was published in 2018. There are several patterns in it that I’d love to knit. To start with, I’ve chosen a cardigan pattern called ‘Fair’.

It’s a simple little cardi in stocking stitch, but with a great fit and lovely details, like integrated pockets with rolled tops, a neat button band and side vents. It’s designed for a new yarn – an airy cotton and alpaca blend – that I’d like to give a try. It’s called Alpaca Classic and it looks very light and soft.

Now to choose a colour.

Autumn is the season of oranges, yellows and reds. I love these bright spots of colour in gardens and woods at this time of year.

The brightness of the yellow stagshorn (above) is a sight that makes me very happy. And it’s the same with the orange lanterns of the Japanese Lantern.

And then there’s red, from the bright red of the fly agaric at the top of this post to the deep dark red of these beautiful heart shaped leaves.

These are cheerful accents in a world that is gradually turning brown, but… apart from some shades of red, I never wear autumn colours. They just don’t go with my hair and skin tone. Fortunately the yarn for the cardigan I want to knit comes in many shades. I dithered between several, but finally chose blue (again – it’s my go-to colour).

The yarn producer, Rowan, calls this shade ‘Peacock’, but I don’t think it looks like peacock feathers at all. To my eye, it is somewhere between turquoise and sky blue. Could I call it ‘Autumn Sky on a Sunny Day’? I’m looking forward to knitting with it.

Coming back to the ‘real’ autumn colours, although I will never wear them in large doses, I can see me using them in small quantities, as accents in combination with other colours. I’d like to get out of my colour comfort zone a little and to experiment with them in that way. So last weekend, I chose a few small balls of yarn in autumn colours to play with.

I bought these during a visit to two very special yarn shops I’d never been to before. Now I’m in doubt as to whether I should write about these shops – or yarn shops in general – on my blog.

On the one hand, I’d love to, and I think it could be interesting and useful. For me, it’s about more than shopping and buying. It’s also about creativity, colour, inspiration and meeting like-minded people.

But on the other, won’t it seem terribly commercial, as if I’m advertising for these shops? (Which I don’t want to do – I prefer to stay independent). Will people in other countries want to read about yarn shops in the Netherlands (and some in Belgium in Germany perhaps)? Does anyone want to read about yarn shops at all, for that matter?

I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, but so far have been unable to make up my mind. If you have any ideas, thoughts or opinions on this, I would appreciate your input very much. Thank you for reading. Have a lovely week and until next time!

Sweet Peas and Summer Knitting

Before launching into a discourse on summer knitting yarns and projects, I just have to show you our sweet peas first. They are doing so well. In just a few weeks they grew from tiny little seedlings to tall flowering plants.

I expected lots of different pastel shades, but almost all of our sweet pea flowers are the same – a velvety dark purple combined with a deep burgundy. In reality the colours are even darker than in the pictures. Very different from what I expected, but lovely nevertheless.

Among the dark flowers, there are a few pale pink ones:

We have to keep picking them if we want the plants to keep producing flowers throughout the summer months. So, from now on there will be posies of sweet peas on our table, perfuming the room with their heavenly scent. Simply luxurious!

That’s one thing I like about summer – sweet peas. They’ll go on my list.

List? What list? Well, summer is my least favourite season. I know this may sound weird, as most people seem to love it, but the truth is that I don’t feel at my best during the summer months. For years I’ve tried to ignore it and told myself to stop moaning. But this year I’m trying to find out exactly what makes me feel this way, so that I can do something about it. Plus I’m making a list of things that I do like about summer, and sweet peas definitely deserve a place on it.

One of the things I’ve found out so far, is that I miss my knitting. When temperatures rise, I tend to put my knitting aside, because the yarn is too warm in my hands and on my lap. I find other things to do instead, like reading and crochet. But that’s not quite enough for me. I still miss my knitting!

So what would make knitting possible on hot days? After giving it some thought I came up with two simple criteria:

  1. Yarn for summer knitting should be either cool and crisp or fine (and have zero mohair content), so that it doesn’t stick to clammy palms
    AND/OR
  2. Projects for summer knitting should be small, so that they don’t feel like a warm blanket on one’s lap

Pretty obvious, really. With these two criteria in mind, I first looked at what I had in my stash and came up with some leftover yarns that I could use for small projects. This is some yarn left over from a shawl I once knit:

It’s Tosh Merino Light in five matching shades. I’m using these little balls for another Tellina cowl. This yarn doesn’t fall into the category ‘cool and crisp’, but it’s smooth and fairly fine, so OK for small projects even on warm days.

The yarn I used for the original version was a fine fingering-weight. Now I want to try the pattern out in some heavier fingering-weight yarns, like the Tosh Merino Light you see here.

After finishing the purpley one, I am also going to make one from some average, ordinary fingering-weight sock yarn:

By knitting several versions, I’m testing out how many stitches and how many rows are needed to get approximately the same size cowl with various yarns. I think it’ll be a great little project for all kinds of leftovers.

As I didn’t have any yarn worth speaking of in the category ‘cool and crisp’, I browsed around on the internet and in a brick-and-mortar yarn shop. Usually I don’t give the ‘cotton corner’ a glance, but this time I specifically headed for it. And although I think I will always prefer wool, I must say that I found some beautiful non-wool yarns, too. There are so many summery yarns available now! Not just all kinds of cotton, but also linen, hemp, viscose, yarn spun from recycled jeans and much more.

In the end I chose a mixture of cotton and linen in plain white:

It’s going to be a plain white Tee. Do you remember that band, The Plain White T’s? With their sweet song ‘Hey There Delilah’? That’s the song that I’ll be humming when I’m knitting this oversized summery T-shirt.

Another idea for summer knitting that ticks all the boxes comes from a comment on a recent blog post left by Marieke. She recommends a booklet by Helle Benedikte Neigaard:

It’s a charming, inexpensive booklet that’s widely available, and I bought it straightaway. Thank you for the tip Marieke! In English it’s entitled Easy Knit Dishcloths. (When adding the link, I discovered that it’s not all that inexpensive in English – Sorry.)

Handknit dishcloths seem to be a Scandinavian thing – I’ve come across them in Norwegian and Danish books and magazines before. This booklet is also by a Danish author. And I recently heard about a Danish designer who built up an entire yarn emporium around these humble cloths. What’s the attraction? I’m going to find out!

Finally, I’ve bought a big yarn cake in a colour gradient:

It’s cotton, and I’m going to use it for a new design I’m working on. I’ve already knit it twice, but want to try it out in at least one other yarn before I publish it.

Uhm, exactly how many weeks does a summer have again? Together with the cooler weather knits still on my needles and the shawl with a crochet border I wrote about last week, I now have so many plans for summer projects that it’s beginning to look slightly unrealistic that I’ll actually finish them all. Well, we’ll see. At least I feel good about using up some leftover yarn, and I’m very happy to have so much to look forward to.

All around us, people are busy packing for their holidays. We aren’t, because we’ve decided to stay home this year. We will be taking some time off, though, for a ‘staycation’. That may mean that I’ll be blogging less frequently or on different days of the week, or write shorter blog posts. Or maybe I’ll continue as usual. I just don’t know yet. So if things are different, or you’re not hearing from me for a while, don’t worry. I’m just sitting in the garden, knitting, reading, enjoying the flowers and the birds, and gathering fresh inspiration.

Whether you’re going away or staying at home, I wish you a happy and relaxing summer!

Knitting at the Sugar Factory

Last Friday I took the 8 o’clock train to Groningen, to visit the Northern edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days. I’d planned to add a few centimeters to my take-along project, a scarf in 4 shades of green, or perhaps even finish it. But after knitting less than a row, I discovered that I’d dropped a stitch quite a few rows down. I hadn’t brought a crochet needle to fix it, and as this particular yarn (Rowan’s ‘Kid Silk Haze’) is notoriously difficult to unravel, there was nothing for it but to stuff my knitting back into its bag.

Oh well, just looking out the window at the familiar landscape rushing by was very nice too. Along the route I met up with a friend, and together we arrived at the Old Sugar Factory, where the fair was held.

Sugar production is an important industry in Groningen, a city surrounded by large fields of sugar beets. I still remember the sweet and musty smell wafting through the air from September to January from the time I studied here. What you see on the photo above is only part of the original building – the rest of the factory has been demolished.

The rough edge of a partly demolished wall frames the window of the trendy in-house café, where my friend and I sat drinking endless mugs of tea.

For me, this edition of the Knitting and Crochet Days was very much a social thing, with lots of familiar faces from the North of the Netherlands, the region where I grew up.

Queuing for our tickets, we hugged our first knitting friend. The next familiar face was the cousin I am forever grateful to for teaching me my very first knitting stitches. And then there was a knitter whose blog about her knitting, walks with her dog and life in general I’ve been following for over ten years. And after that…

No, that’s quite enough socialising. Let’s get back to what we’re here for – knitting materials and inspiration. The fair as a whole was rather underwhelming, to be frank. But, focusing on the positives, some stall holders had outdone themselves with beautiful displays of yarns and knitting projects.

Here’s an impression (click on images to enlarge):

My favourite of all was Atelier Lindelicht, with its rainbow of hand-dyed colours:

The owner, Marianne, lives in a neighbouring village. She started out as a designer of felt ornaments, but now also dyes yarns in very small batches. (Sadly for those of you living further away, she only sells her yarns at fairs and markets.) What I like about her yarns is the quality of the materials and the depth of her beautiful jewel-like colours.

My eyes are drawn especially to her blues, pinks and purples (see the picture at the top of this post, too).

This time I didn’t buy any of her lovely skeins, though, as there are several in my stash waiting to be knit up. In fact I didn’t buy any yarn at all at this fair.

What I did buy was a set of interchangeable circular knitting needles:

I already have one exactly like it at home, so why buy another one? Well, I use some of these needles almost every day, and sometimes need more than one of the same size at the same time.

The set (Twist Red Lace small) contains 7 pairs of 13 cm long needle tips ranging in size from 2.75 to 5.0 mm, as well as three cables in different lengths. There are also 2 end stoppers (the white rectangular things), 2 keys (for fastening the tips to the cables) and a cable connector, 12 stitch markers in 2 different sizes, and a needle gauge (the white ruler).

It’s quite an investment, but I know that I’ll enjoy using it for years to come.

Before we knew it, it was time to go home. One last picture of some of the inevitable graffiti on the factory building:

The bicycle parked against it, gives an idea of the size of this work of art.

To be honest, I felt slightly out of my comfort zone in this industrial setting. I didn’t name my website for the blackbird (Turdus merula in Latin) for nothing. We (the blackbird and I) are birds of woodlands, gardens and other green spaces. I tried very hard to approach this days’ urban surroundings with an open mind. And my mind could really appreciate the raw aesthetics, but my heart… not so much.

My heart said: Ah, so happy to be back in my natural habitat!


Note: This post isn’t sponsored in any way. I just write about things I like because I like them.