Sunday, September 10, 2006

Of Soft Shetland Shawls and Suicidal Stash Slimming Sessions

Oops, bit of a mistake on the Irish crochet lace project. No, I hadn't forgotten about it at all: in fact it was just the size to keep on the side of my desk so that I could pick up the current motif and do a few stitches while waiting for the computer to boot up. However, when things got frantic on the sock front, I needed to carry round a fine crochet hook for any dropped stitches and grabbed this one. Then when the socks were finished, of course, being the tidy creature that I (occasionally) am, I put the crochet hook neatly away in the appropriate box. Now I can't remember what gauge I was using! Only thing is to try several and see if they look right - but the motto is, always, ALWAYS take notes at the time. I know, I know, you do that out of habit, but I tend to dive in with such enthusiasm that note-taking is the furthest thing from my mind. I have a great batwing jacket that I'm working from cuff to cuff (a copy of one I bought years ago and love the colour scheme) and halfway through I needed the circular for something else so slipped it off on to another, and then needed that one too, so it progressed to another... yes, that's right, I now haven't a clue which size I started with!

I love Angeluna's story that a friend of hers takes a tiny weighing scales to the yarn shop to make sure she gets the best weight for her money. That is so ingenious! I must try to track down one of those little hanging scales which would be ideal for suspending a skein. I know you can get them in some US post offices but they're certainly not easy to find here.

And speaking of skeins - look what arrived the other day from Gill at Woollyworks!

Some utterly divine suri alpaca laceweight from Cherry Tree Hill in the Silver Streak colourway, and another skein of that lovely Blue Heron beaded rayon. I'd already got a skein of the latter, but realised that it needed a companion to be really happy. And I couldn't resist the suri alpaca in that colourway. It speaks of birch trees in the snow and Northern winters and all kinds of beautiful things. It will make the most stunning shawl. I wonder what pattern you'd use, Lene? And I wish Gill would stop listing such irresistible yarns on her Woollyworks website. Every time I go on I see something I can't live without. Are you listening, Gill?

Actually, Anne's queries about hap shawls, and then Lene's posting about her own new shawl made me realise that I couldn't live another instant without one too. I know, I know, I've already got quite a few, but this was to be in the soft Shetland or Faroese style, that I could wrap around and tie at the back, you know the kind? 'Cause we don't get really cold winters here very often, so it is to be something that I can pull on in the early mornings for additional warmth when I take the dogs out, or shrug round my shoulders when the evening is getting slightly chilly.

But didn't dare to start on that aristocratic suri alpaca. It requires some suffering, some experience beforehand, before I can humbly approach its beauty and calm. So I went rummaging and found a big cone of a really lovely dark soft Italian yarn that I'd grabbed on a visit to one of my pet mill outlets a few years ago and hadn't found the right use for yet. It could be either dark brown or dark green, depending on the light, and it's fairly fine. Then I needed a lighter yarn for contrast - grey didn't seem to work properly, so I hauled out a friendly cone of pure Cheviot wool - actually from the same mill outlet and in what looks and feels like roughly the same thickness.

This is the pattern I'm following. It's from Cheryl Oberle's Folk Shawls. It will be my first time trying to follow a chart so I hope I can do it. The main central part is just increasing in garter stitch, then the borders are in varying colours and have the feather and fan pattern. Nothing ventured, nothing gained - here we go!

This is as far as I've got. And hey, can you see those stitch markers peeping out? I decided it would be a good idea to have one either side of the central stitch, even though it looks pretty obvious . When you're knitting at speed, it's fatally easy to miss that centre. And then, do you know, I felt a bit fond of those stitch markers and wondered if it would be a good idea to incorporate just a couple more, so that I could keep track of whether I had the correct number of stitches on either side (in this pattern, as in most, you increase every row at the edges and every second row at the centre, so the potential for wildly varying counts on either side are considerable). Of course the entire box of stitch markers got wildly excited at the prospect of another outing and started chickering and jumping up and down and hopping out and running all over the table until I thought I'd never get them back in and tucked up. 'All in good time,' I told them sternly. 'You'll all be needed at some point, but not just yet. Wait till you hear your names called.'

Fingers crossed for the (charted) pattern section. I've had a glance and can't make head nor tail of it. It might be a good idea to look up a written version of Feather & Fan and use that as a kind of translation guide until I get used to chart reading.

I'd seen a beautiful swatch for an Aran pattern on Francesca's site and asked her what it was; she thought it was Jo Sharp's Silk Road, so I headed right over to Ozeyarn and ordered a ball. Yes, yes, just one ball, until I see what it's like and how it works up, but while I was at it, since the postage from Australia was the same, ordered all the Jo Sharp shadecards too, to give me more cause for temptation. And, since it's going to take some time to arrive from the Antipodes, I succumbed to aforementioned temptation in my LYS the other day and bought a ball of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino to try swatches of some Starmore Aran patterns while I'm waiting.

You know I never went in for this swatching thing before. Always a jump-right-in-cast-on-and-go-for-it kind of girl, accepting the frequent catastrophes as just an unavoidable part of life's rich tapestry. But then I got looking at all your weblogs and seeing these exquisitely knitted and blocked swatches I felt like I'd been playing in the street a bit too much while the rest of you were at the Conservatoire learning to play symphonies, so thought I ought to get into it myself. And anyway, Starmore's cabling designs are so intricate, it probably makes sense to try them out in swatches first. I can always hang them up as works of art afterwards, so they won't be wasted. Muffy would probably love one over her basket - as you know, she's deeply into knitting. (Sophie is still in the sweatshirt and trainers stage, and Tasha prefers old velvet and diamonds, plus a reticule with a vicious snap to its closure, where she hides her gin bottles.)

I was in the local discount store the other day (we call them Euro shops since everything is supposed to cost one Euro but usually doesn't). They had a big display of those cheap fun yarns - you know the ones, in bright colours, eyelash and furry - and I noticed they'd now given them two full shelves of space which is a good sign (yes it IS a good sign if you live in a yarn desert like West Cork!) And better still, they had got hold of some knitting needles and hung those up next to the yarn. Hope is on the horizon! I saw this girl browsing and looking longingly at some bright pink, and made encouraging noises. She said she couldn't really justify buying it, as she already had one or two balls tucked away under the stairs at home, waiting to be used. Ooooh, here was fertile ground indeed! I not only opened her eyes to the joys of stash enhancement but also told her to look up the Yarn Harlot on the Net when she got home, and take it from there. She looked a little worried (this weird bat waving her arms and telling her to look for a harlot...?) and wandered off, but as I was leaving she came up (yes, with several balls under her arm) and whispered, 'Was it 'Yarn Harlot' you said?. Girls, I think we have another convert on the way. What I hope is that she will start with Stephanie, move out to other weblogs, and then take off and fly with her own wings which is always the ultimate goal.

DH hasn't been too happy recently. His boss said he needed an upgraded mobile phone and got him one so clever it can probably make the tea, check the cricket results and work out a plan for world peace all at the same time. Trouble is - he can't work out how to make calls on it. It's just too clever! My suggestions for smoke signals and Morse code met with stony silence.

Now you won't believe this, but I have actually done something about my ever-growing stash. I have taken the bold step of listing some skeins on eBay.! Now these are not to be confused with the designer yarns which I create every so often and only one of which (The Children of Lir) is currently being eBayed. These are those huge big cones of lovely one-offs from mill outlets and factories which I can't possibly resist but which are taking up rather a lot of space. I hate getting rid of even 100 gr. but to be practical I know I'm not likely to use every inch - and so I wound up some skeins, knitted up a swatch or two, and listed them under Celtic Memory. There's some Italian mohair boucle (in both natural and blue) an intriguing merino in oranges and browns that feels like velvety chenille, a really high-loft variegated pink mohair - oh, and a slub cotton in a most attractive denim shade.

This is the mohair boucle in natural - actually it's a little yellower than this, like clotted cream if you've ever experienced that delectable delicacy.

And this is the Italian merino in browns and oranges. I've never seen anything like that one before. Well, we'll see what the eBay buyers think about them. I'd feel less guilty, certainly, if I got rid of a few hundred grams. If I can sell some of these, I reason, I can then justifiably FEED MY HABIT and go on scouring the corners of the earth for rare and beautiful yarns. It's the finding and buying and bringing home that I love most, don't you? And I am starting to run out of space. All the same, I don't really want to let them go. They're mine, mine, my preciouses, all of them. A new owner wouldn't love them like I do...


Anonymous said...

I'm laughing like a mad bat ..first at hubbie's new mobile .Then you doing what I do i.e evangalise about some yarn or site to a timid knitter at an L.Y.S who obviously thinks I've just been let out .I'd swear that naughty Gill has some patterns for Suri on her site . I also snitch the needles from a project replacing them with the wrong size ,go back and curse ..a lot ! I love spontaneous people , swatching is all very sensible but sense is not a major character trait of mine ! I just managed to 3/4 finish a 1940's looking capelett for Holly using "Freedom" and "Firecracker" but only three skeins am chuffed as she loves it .

Tan said...

At a lace class with Myrna Stahman I learned to put leashes on those overactive ring markers. Just use 6" or so of fine waste yarn (preferably slick and undyed, and definitely not mohair) and loop it though each one (like adding fringe to something), then let the ends hang. As you knit the ends get woven in, and when the markers pop off (as they will), there they are on the leash like impatient puppies.

Charity said...

I love your new shawl! I haven't yet knit from a chart, either, so will enjoy watching your progress. :0)

Have you looked at your itinerary? Any chance you're travelling up to the frozen north?

Anonymous said...

I love shawls. Here in Southern California, we also have very mild winters and I find a shawl to be perfect, you can hug them around you when it's cooler and drop them off the shoulder if it a little warmer. Mine are a little heavier, I knit them out of my homespun that is somewhere between a sport wieght and a knitting worsted wieght. They usually have garter stitch for the top half (for warmth) and a wide band of a lace stitch along the bottom. But with everyone on the internet showing off their beautiful lace weights, I'm going to have to get busy and make one for myself.

I have tried clotted cream. Yummy!

Vicki in So. Cal.

Anonymous said...

hi jo! forst of all, here is a link for the kind of scale i think you mean—it is a pen scale

and then, about that gray shawl—it knits up beautifully, but the tails are VERY very long—my friend made it and the tails were always dragging on the ground. they are supposed to be lang like scarves, but in reality, they are long like . . . just looong. i think it is possible to just stop early on those, but keep you eye on it just in case!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, charts. I am doing my first bit of lace from a chart, Swallowtail Shawl, and was rather intimidated by the thought, but in fact, nothing could be easier. I did get a magnetic board with strips that you can move to mark your row. Cat Bordhi also gave me some clever colored highlighting tape which you can lift and move around, think it came from a kindergarten supply store. I like my Denise needles for lace, because there is this little hole in the needle where you can hook in a fine yarn (I use embroidery thread) and pull it through as a lifeline while you knit. Which is so easy, I ended up running lifelines every other row. I then had the bright idea to use different colored lifelines to indicate which row I was on. So far, so good.
Needle theft. I was constantly stealing needles and then forgetting what size had been used. Got some little paper discs at the office supply, price tags or some such, and now just slip one onto whatever is holding the abandoned stitches and mark the needle number. Quick, cheap, and no more problems.
And you are a bad influence (like I need much encouragement) waxing rhapsodic about SeaSilk. Several vendors finally got a new supply of SeaSilk (there has been quite a dearth) and I bought another colorway...Pumpkin, to sit next to the Paris I had. As soon as I finish the current 4 sweaters, 5 pairs of socks, 4 shawls, 1 felted bag, 3 washrags and 2 baby sweaters I am currently working on, I'm gonna do something with that SeaSilk! It deserves the respect of a focused mind.
Good luck with your shawl and your stashbusting. BTW, Ozeyarn is great, very fast service, and I love Jo Sharp SilkRoad. Two of those unfinished sweaters are in Jo Sharp. What a wonderful idea to give your swatches to Muffy, who will deeply appreciate them.

jdknits said...

Just posting to say how much I'm enjoying your blog (I was a Yarn Harlot convert and have been lurking since your mention).

I love the knitting, love the writing, and love hearing the local lilt to your phrasing (I'm a Scottish exile in Pennsylvania and it's nice to read an authentically non-American way of putting things. Makes me feel at home).

Oh, and the photographs...

All the best,

Kit said...

When it comes to charts, I find it easiest to get a magnetic board and use it to keep track. I'm afraid I don't know where to find one in your area, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't be too hard to find.

And you're making me actually yearn for yarn! I haven't done that since I went through a stash-busting expedition and realized that I really didn't want more until I used up what I had. :)

Anonymous said...

I've had great success knitting from Folk Shawls. There are corrections posted for your pattern at

Anonymous said...

I can certainly sympathize with the cell phone! We just got new ones and the kids have figured them out way before my husband and I will ever figure out what to do with them! As for introducing someone to 'stashing' - my daughter teaches a little girl knitting every weekend. The poor thing just has acrylics in her stash. We were trying to encourage her Mom to take her shopping for some 'stash enhancement' but were informed that she had enough yarn already - Mom isn't a knitter, could you tell? Anyway, we said, "She needs some natural fibers!" We were grasping, but I think it worked! I wouldn't be surprised if the stash grows just a little in the weeks ahead! I LOVE your blog! My husband has been to Ireland on business once and loved it. The kids and I will have to stow away next time he goes!

Unknown said...

nice stuff!!Shawls and Scarves