July 21, 2020

FO: Lucy

Filed under:News! — Aileen @ 10:17

As we tentatively emerge from lockdown, many of us reflect on our individual experiences. A lot of people had the experience of that one thing. The little side project that they’d always wanted to try out, that gradually became anything between a minor fixation to a full-blown obsession. Some of us found gardening, others found bread-making and sourdough starters. I found fleece!

As I waxed (at length) in this post, I received a carder for my birthday at the beginning of May and shortly thereafter, procured two Jacob fleeces from north county Sligo. You can read all about the process of sorting it out and carding it all up in the post I linked there. My spinning has seen quite the rejuvenation this year! This is in part due to an overall creative replenishment, which the lockdown definitely did not diminish, and in part to a review of my approach to spinning. I thoroughly enjoy spinning specific yarns for a specific project, even if that entails a lot of ‘plain’ work.

I used the Unisex Yoked Pullover by Hannah Fetig as the base for my jumper. I have knit many jumpers from this pattern and have tweaked it gradually over each iteration. I prefer a closer crew neck, with a good 5cm depth of shortrows across the back of the neck to raise it up. As well as that, I omit the final increases across the back section of the yoke before I separate the sleeves off. This is easily done as it is knit from the top down. I have found that leaving out those increases along the back gives a good fit and reduces the ballooning at that point of the body that seems to be so common in round yoked jumpers.

I really like how the pattern on the yoke falls across the shoulder. I wish I could tell you that it was down to meticulous planning but it really was not.

The pattern seems to be fairly well centred so I will be happy with that! The pattern is an amalgamation of two stitch patterns that I found in one of my Barbara Walker dictionaries. One was just for the purled triangles, and the other was for the ‘lattice’. In her directions, you simply change whether you make a knit or a purl stitch to get the lattice effect. Because I wanted to have the contrast in texture between the purl and knit triangles, which would mean having some of the lattice on a knit section, I decided to use travelling stitches instead. In other words, when I came to make the row for the lattice go left or right, I would swap the order of stitches on the needle, much like for a cable. This makes the travelling stitches stand out really well.

I was intrigued during the knitting of the body. I mean, the yoke was immense fun. Between the excitement of casting on and the interest of working the stitch pattern, I had the yoke completed in an evening or two. But the body, though plain, had its own appeal. Only then could I see how the fabric of the fleece truly was. It is much browner than I anticipated; it has pooling of colour – something I did not expect at all from such a supposedly plain fleece; the ‘kemp’ and bobbles that I worried so much about during the carding and spinning process now give it a gentle texture that is so cosy.

You might like to know some real details! I knit it on 3.5mm needles and it gave a pretty dense fabric. The yoke, with its texture and high neckline, is extremely warm. I knit the collar, cuffs and hem on 3mm needles. I had to abandon my all-weather wooden needles and switch to metal ones because there was still so much oil in the yarn from the fleece and it was sticking like mad. I knit the 32″ size of the pattern which, with my gauge, gave me about a 33-34″ finished size.

I know that some people have perhaps grown tired of baking bread, or watering flowers. Or perhaps they have developed that kernel of interest into broader things like cakes and cucumbers! As for me, I am dreaming of what to spin my other fleece into.

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July 11, 2020

An Update on WIPs

It is surprisingly difficult to write an update on my works in progress, after not having written one in so very long. As one project ends, another is begun; invariably I have two or three projects in various stages of completion at any one time and it can be difficult to know when a good time to dip in and share progress is. It is curious how such small things can create resistance, and curiouser still how the rumination on such curiosity creates a self-perpetuating procrastination. Even that sentence is a procrastination. And this one!

How about some progress on Lucy? I got the body finished!

I cannot remember if I mentioned that my wooden needles were slowly doing me. The wool is still very oily from the fleece (deliciously so! It smells amazing! And not in a bad way either) and it was sticking to the needles. I took myself along to This is Knit, got myself a pair of metal tips and I haven’t looked back. (It was so nice to visit there again! You can make an appointment so you don’t have to queue or anything to have all those lovely wool fumes to yourself). I have since started…

..and finished a sleeve. There is a lot of knitting in a sleeve but thankfully, from the top down, they get smaller as you go so it’s a bit like going down the hill on your bike. I also tried the jumper on when I finished off the body and how glad was I that it fit so snugly! I expect that when I wash it in some wool soap that it will loosen out a bit and fluff up, so a bit of snugness is no bad thing. It is incredibly warm. I cannot wait to finish it!

As I near the completion of one thing, I think forward to the next. I have been mulling over Kate Davies’ Seavaiger since May. A drapey batwing sweater with two colours of stripes, I think the design was published in the Spring of 2019. It is interesting to consider the role that colour plays in the portrayal of a design – it can really make or break an otherwise excellent pattern. Case in point with Seavaiger, I think, as the original colourway was so disinteresting to me that I passed over it completely. She updated the pattern this Spring in a different colourway: two shades of teal and worn with a orange red skirt (more on that in a minute!). I was instantly hooked. Sometimes I am drawn in by the quirk of an item but on further consideration, conclude that it is not really my thing or not something that I would ever realistically wear. Testament to this design is the fact that I am still obsessing over it nearly three months later.

So, what of the orange red skirt? The colour has been another preoccupation of mine this Spring. It is one that I fall in and out of love with regularly. Being such a strong colour, I think that I struggle with what to pair it with, but seeing it with teal (a colour I wear a lot) really clicked for me. And let’s face it: there comes a time in your life when you have to accept that not only do you want an orange and pink jumper, but that you want the orangiest and pinkiest jumper – in the world – ever – since the dawn of woolkind!

I have spent the last three months searching for the perfect orange, which is in fact neither orange nor red. Does anybody know the name of that colour? Tomato red? Killer Flamingo? Let me know. Anyway, I finally found the colours in a new-to-me 4-ply at The Constant Knitter. It’s from a brand called Rial Filati. This 4-ply, Baby Supremo, comes in a fab range of colours, and you can’t really go wrong with 200m for €3.99. My only criticism, if you could call it that, is that it is extremely soft yarn. Great for a drapey batwing jumper, and for baby knits, but maybe not so great for a jumper that you’d be knocking around in. Really looking forward to starting this and it will be the perfect antidote to the oatmealiness of my Lucy jumper.

Yet more colour to finish up for today: a pair of colourwork socks. Despite my longstanding love for knitting colourwork mittens, I had not to date tried a pair of socks in the same fashion. About two years ago, I happened upon a book on Ravelry called SoxxBook by Kersin Balke. It is in German and published by a company called Topp. As you’ll see from the Ravelry link there, it is full of vibrant colourwork designs with a warm, retro aesthetic. It has since been published in English but seeing that it was quite expensive, as a hardcover edition, I forgot about it. Imagine my delight then, when I happened upon the paperback edition quite by accident in the Liber bookshop in Sligo when I was last there! Obviously it had to come home with me and obviously I had to cast on immediately.

The red is a Drops Fabel, the turquoise is West Yorkshire Spinners 4-ply in Bubblegum and the purple is Schoppel Admiral. All very affordable and the latter two come in big 100g balls so I will have enough for probably two more pairs! I must admit that I was concerned about my gauge and how the colourwork might make them unwearably tight. But no, they fit great and I have half of the second one knit already. More soon!

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July 6, 2020

Ongoing Tour de Fleece

Filed under:News! — Aileen @ 13:15

Happy Monday! I am back again today with an update on my spinning news. To many a spinner, the word ‘July’ sounds a lot like ‘Tour de Fleece’! The Tour de Fleece is a simply a little pun on ‘spinning’, which is not only a very enjoyable fibre past-time, but also a way to describe the exercise one takes on a stationary bike. The point is to spin along to the Tour de France as it is televised. (There are many levels of complexities, such as teams and challenges, depending on how involved you want to get!). I don’t think the actual bicycle race is even happening this year, but does it really matter? After all, when it comes to spinning or knitting along to an event, any link, no matter how tenuous, is all we need.

Allow me to go back a little in time to the beginning of May. I celebrated my birthday and to my great surprise, received a drum carder! ‘Carding’ is what you do when you comb a sheep’s fleece into a lovely little wool cloud, that you can then easily separate into smaller segments to spin. It is possible to card with hand carders – they look like a big pair of hair brushes – but it is very slow going. I could not possibly imagine hand carding an entire fleece. Hand carding is great if you want to try out a sample of something, or if you want to blend a small quantity of differing fibres together, but on the whole, hand carding an entire fleece is just not for me. Enter the drum carder! If you would like to see what one looks like, and more information about how it works, here’s a link to the Ashford website.

I had one small issue: I needed to find a fleece! After a quick scout online, I found a woman selling washed fleece near Markree, which is not very far from where I grew up in Sligo. You can find her online shop via Etsy.

I got two fleeces as the postage was quite reasonable. One, that you can see exploding with excitement from its parcel above, is a light grey-brown Jacob, and the other is a mixed Jacob, with dark brown, grey-brown and cream. They were about €20 and approximately 1kg each. I am aware that you can buy much cheaper fleeces (on ebay, for example), but the main reason I chose these over something cheaper was because they were washed and scoured. I decided to go with the light fleece first, as I wasn’t really sure how to go about dealing with the mixed one. Here it is fully unpacked:

You can see that it is all in fluffy clumps, which I suppose is the way that it comes off the sheep when it is sheared. This is what one of the clumps, or locks, looked like before I carded it:

You might spy the bits of dried grass in it. Even though the fleeces were lovely and clean, they still had plenty of vegetable matter throughout (not to mention a few crispy beetles, clearly gone to their own fluffy, woolly heaven). I carded a little bit of it. All that involves is turning the handle and feeding the locks in slowly. The two drums, both of which have combs on them, pull the fibres apart and tease them out so that they lie parallel to each other. After doing that for a while, I quickly came to the conclusion that I needed to sort out the fleece. I think that this is called ‘skirting’. I sat down and systematically picked out all of the twigs and briars, shook out the grass, and most importantly, picked out the dyed parts (from where the sheep had been marked), the parts damaged by weather, and the parts that were just really felted from where the sheep had been rubbing itself against a tree or lying down. In all, about a quarter of the fleece was not worth carding, so I put that aside and I have kept it to use for stuffing.

This was the very first wool cloud that I carded.

I quickly got the hang of it and every day or so, would make another…

…and another…

Very soon, I had enough to spin, and it became clear that I would have more than enough for one jumper out of the fleece. In the last year, I have found a satisfying sense of purpose with my spinning that, up until now, I lacked. I have realised that I enjoy spinning much more, and am far quicker and more direct about it, when I spin with a specific project in mind. When I started spinning first, and typically when I would come back to it from time to time, I was drawn to the blend of colours and the mix of fibres. These are both fantastic aspects, but unfortunately usually resulted in a yarn that I had no idea what to do with. Now, I start with the end product in mind, and then work backwards to have a clear idea of the type of yarn that I want to make.

When I thought ‘jumper’ for this fleece, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a dense sport weight yarn that would be very warm and show off the fleece’s beautiful oatmealy variegation. Here’s what I spun up:

The two outer bobbins are singles (one strand) and the inner bobbin is a 2-ply of the singles. Looking at them now in the photo, I think that a 3-ply in this yarn would be very snug indeed. I wound the 2-ply off into skeins and soaked them.

The final step was to swatch – I figured a 3.5mm needle, which gives a lovely woolly, drapey fabric – and then to cast on!

That whole process took less than a month. When I first received the fleeces, my initial thought was, ‘Ohhhh, I am never going to get through these!’ But actually, leaving the carder set up on the kitchen table, it became such an enjoyable little activity whilst waiting for the dishwasher to finish, or for coffee to brew (let’s be honest, more often the latter than the former!), and I finished up both fleeces last week. I spun only enough of the grey fleece for what I think I will need for my jumper. Whilst it is tempting to spin the whole lot up, I think that leaving it unspun at the moment will allow for more flexibility down the line – like to make a 3-ply for some winter hats and boot socks, for example.

I really love the variegation of the wool and how it shows the texture. The fabric is, by its nature, uneven. This fleece, much more so than the darker, mixed one, had a lot of little lumps in it (I think the word is ‘kemp’, but I might be wrong about that). I picked a lot out of it as I was spinning it, but some I left in for the fun of texture. Some people might not like that, but I love the result, and in any case, it is not overly-lumpy anyway, as you can see.

The jumper itself is a top-down yoke based on Hannah Fettig’s Basic Round-Yoke Unisex Pullover (link to Quince & Co. website for details, as Ravelry is dealing with accessibility issues right now). Thinking about how nicely the yarn shows texture, I wanted to incorporate something that showed off that aspect. I am not sure why I didn’t just throw in some ordinary cables, or draw upon my Norah Gaughan cable book. For some reason, I really had it in my head about using a knit/purl contrast. I found a page in one of my Barbara Walker dictionaries that had a pattern for the triangles in purl stitches, and alongside it, a pattern for the lattice that makes the diamond shapes. I decided to amalgamate the two, although I must admit that seeing it knit up, I am not entirely convinced. The purling creates a pleating effect. In fact, in the Walker book, she mentions how this type of stitch pattern was often used to knit pleated skirts. Maybe it would look better with just the lattice. I altered the lattice pattern slightly from the book, using the method of switching stitch order, as one would in more intricate cables, to create the travelling stitches and make them stand out more.

Seeing as the whole thing is an experiment, I am going to leave it be and see how it blocks out at the end. I think that it could be quite interesting. I have had an idea for what to do with the darker, mixed fleece, so I am looking forward to getting started on that and sharing the results with you soon.

Wishing you all a happy, productive week!

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April 30, 2020

Altheda

Filed under:News! — Aileen @ 10:55

Here’s the jumper that I mentioned last week in relation to garter stitch hems and cuffs. I finished this either just before or during Christmas. It was the perfect sofa knitting! The pattern is Altheda by Jennifer Steingass (Ravelry link). Now here is the woman that is almost single handedly responsible for the wave of colourwork yokes that swept over us in the last few years! A bit like Hannah Fettig of top-down-raglan fame, I think that, although she was in the right place at the right time, there is no denying the appeal and knittability of her patterns. I also think that much of her popularity is due to the fact that she regularly offers her patterns at a 30% or even 50% discount to make them more accessible. The going rate of a jumper pattern is about $7 – nearly $10 if you’re talking Brooklyn Tweed (which, I’m sorry, is just too much for one pattern). So, knowing that if you hang on for a while, you’ll probably snag one of her patterns for under $5 does add to the appeal.

As you will see in time to come, I have knit quite a few of her patterns. They’re grand: typically only two colours and all the fun usually being at the start, working from the top down, they’re that ideal intermediate knit. For me, I think much of the appeal is the fact that this type of construction seems to fit me a lot better than other types, like a raglan, so I can’t promise that I won’t be knitting more of this kind!

The yarn I spoke about here recently – it’s part of that pile of Lopi Plutolopi that I got last Hallowe’en. This pattern was actually the instigation for the order. I love how light, airy and warm it is. The astute amongst you may notice that my back neckline is different to the pattern. I did knit it as written but upon finishing, found the back of the neck far too low for comfort. So, I snipped a few stitches under the collar band and popped the stitches back on the needles. I worked a good 5cm of short rows across the back and then knit the collar again. The reason I cut it was because it had been worked from the top down and there is just no point in trying to unravel a cast on! It is probably partially due to my poor choice of cast on but I am often displeased with the final look of the cast on for a garter band, and much prefer the sturdier edge provided by a cast off for garter.

I love the long cuffs! So snug. I am also glad that I lengthened it the way that I did. This was mostly because I realised that I had loads and loads of wool, but also because I find that style of tunic-jumper to be snug to wear around the house. So yeah, it was a good match of pattern and yarn! I could be tempted to knit it again in a different colourway. Using a dark main colour would make it pretty different.

Wishing you all a lovely bank holiday weekend! Maybe you’re like me and you don’t expect any change of note in our current level of restrictions. Even so, I have noticed that the tendrils of new ways have started to grow – little cafés in my neighbourhood are re-opening and offering take away and small businesses are finding new ways to make deliveries possible. A small glimmer of hope! Hang in there.

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April 27, 2020

Quarantine Make #2

Filed under:News! — Aileen @ 07:00

Happy Monday! I hope you had a lovely weekend, whatever you got up to. I know that it is easy these days to dwell on what is currently out of reach – I guarantee you, I miss my flat white and quality library time as much as the next student! – but there is still much to enjoy.

I knit these in January but didn’t really get into the habit of wearing them until the quarantine really kicked in. They’re slippers!

You might have spied them in my post last Thursday. They’re the Simple House Slippers by Temple of Knit (Ravelry link). The basic pattern for these is free and there is a $3 pattern which gives multiple sizes. Obviously, if you go looking online, there is an infinite number of simple slipper patterns. (Total tangent: I learned a while ago, through the BBC’s brilliant series, A Brief History of Mathematics, that there can be different sized infinities. So, in defence of my hyperbole, I’ll say that the infinite number of slipper patterns is probably a small infinity…).

As you can see, they’re a pretty easy make. Actually, they would be a great beginner project to get used to knitting in the round. What makes these special for me is that I spun the wool that I used to knit them. Unfortunately, I have no evidence of the tops or the yarn when it was spun! I can tell you though, that I bought the tops, which is Exmoor Sock Top from John Arbon, from This is Knit some time in the last year and I spun it up immediately. I love John Arbon’s tops. Because it’s tops, as opposed to roving, practically no preparation is needed to spin it other than splitting it up into the thickness that you want. I also love the ethos of their mill. They’re a small independent company that sources its fleeces from local breeds and herds. I wish we had something similar here but I don’t think that we have the same diversity of sheep breeds that exists in Britain. In any case, I like to support them and I find that their products are quite reasonably priced.

The Exmoor Sock Top is 60% Exmoor Blueface, which is a fairly hardy type of fleece, 20% Corriedale, which I know is very hardy and ideal for socks, 10% Zwartbles, which gives it that dark heathered touch, and 10% nylon, because socks. It spun up really light and bouncy for me – I love it.

You can see that they’re getting a bit worn now. I knit them on 4mm needles but I think that if I went down to a 3.75mm or even a 3.5mm, a slightly denser gauge would help with wearability and warmth. They’re not exceptionally warm, more like an extra pair of socks.

Where I find they really win is that they are perfect for travelling. They roll up like socks and are great for when you’re on a plane or overnighting in a friend’s house. I think that the plain foot lends itself to lots of variation, from cables to lace to colourwork.

I referred at the beginning there about being a student. Yes, I took the plunge! I left my job in the university, where I had worked full time since 2015, and started a doctorate full time instead. I have found managing my time surprisingly difficult. This has been in large part due to the fact that 2019 and into the start of 2020 was my busiest concert year to date and that was in fact my full time occupation. So although that was easier to balance having left my university position, it was not easier to do the amount of reading that I wanted and needed to be doing. In a way, Covid has solved that for me, as I can’t see myself being busy with concerts for the foreseeable future, and I now not only have the space to concentrate fully on this aspect of my work, but also to return to pursuits such as writing here and taking photos.

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