Thursday, 21 July 2011

Knit Nation, part the second - class!

On Friday I had a full-day class with Lene Alve, Finnish knitter extraordinaire. It was a 6-hour class, and at the end of it I was so full of new information my brain stopped functioning. Seriously. I asked Himself to get me my phone from the "couch", where couch is spelled a-i-r-m-a-t-t-r-e-s-s. I could not make sentences.

Ok, so first there were samples. Lots and lots of samples, both mittens and non-mittens. Lene very kindly allowed me to take some photos of her samples, as well as letting all of us try them on! Then we had a wee chat about yarn (sticky wool is good) and gauge (the tighter the better). After the chat, she had us cast on for a sample. The sample was painful - I have never tried to knit heavy worsted on 2.5mm needles. For comparison, that's the needle size I normally use for Monkey socks, and they are considered tight. I ended up borrowing some 3mm needles from my charming seatmate so that I could finish the sample without cramps in my fingers.

I should have sucked it up and stuck with the smaller needles. The gauge on this is way too loose, which is why the colourwork is so sloppy. Still, it'll do perfectly as a coffee cozy - my wrists are so small that it'd never do as wrist warmers.

In the afternoon Lene judged us all reasonably competent at the technique and set us off on the wristlets while she talked about modifications to the technique and applications. Here's the beginning of my wristlets - this is fingering-weight yarn on 1.5mm needles. No, that's not a typo. Fortunately I had needles small enough in my collection!

So, a little bit about the technique. It's a bizarre and freakish amalgam of stranded colourwork and intarsia. There are 11 bobbins of colour on this mitt, one for each column of colour in the pattern. They are mounted on the long straight needle in such a way that they are centre-pull butterflies. Mounting them means that it's impossible to tangle them if you are knitting the mitts correctly. A tangle is actually really useful for spotting problems. The technique is based on decreasing and increasing simultaneously in the same stitch. It's marvellously simple once you've seen it a couple of times, but I can't really explain it without knitting in my hands. The oddest part is retraining oneself not to weave in the floats as you go along, because the technique does it for you. If you try, you'll get a tangle.

For once my unique method of manipulating my working yarn came in handy. Part of what you do involves dropping the working yarn every single time you change colours. The knitters who are used to stranding with both hands had a hard time with this, but I already drop the yarn when changing colours.

I'm looking forward to finishing my mitts (hopefully in time for Christmas) and seeing what else I can do with these patterns. I'm envisioning some fabulous sock shaping, for a start. It'll be great!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

You know you knit too much when...

... a friend emails you the day before a knitting event because she needs yarn for a class and doesn't have time to get some and could you help her out? And you just so happen to have the perfect skein in your stash, even though you never knit with white.

... your mother offers to buy you some cute summer dresses and you choose the ones that match yarn in your stash. It's wedding season after all, and we can't have all that cleavage on display in a church!

Pattern - 198 Yards of Heaven
Yarn - Rowan Kidsilk Spray, discontinued
Needles - 4.5mm circulars
Modifications - none.

The original pattern calls for worsted or aran-weight yarn, but given how much halo the kidsilk has I decided to chance it. It worked really well. The shawl only weighs 16 grams! It's shockingly warm, as well, which is good given how cool the summer's been.

Only problem now is figuring out to do with the 80 yards of yarn left over.

Knit Nation part the first - shopping!

Let's just be sensible and get the fiber porn out of the way first, shall we? The marketplace was fabulous this year. I could've gone with a budget of £10,000 and spent it all! My budget was of course not nearly so expansive, though I did do a wee bit of shopping.

First up, non-fiber. I bought a gorgeous shawl pin, made of stainless steel, from a charming chap whose business name I've forgotten. (Weaving Friend, it was the place to the left of the Loop stall - who were they?) It's lightweight and tiny, perfect for all manner of different shawls. I got the very last one! Isn't it pretty?

Next, the one and only skein of yarn purchased this year. I have a lot of yarn, I didn't really need anything else! This is Juno Fibre Arts Buffy Sock in the colourway Parched. Yarn is 100% superwash BFL and deliciously bouncy. There was a surprising amount of non-merino sock yarn available this year. It seems that the knitters have spoken!

The rest of what I acquired this year was all fiber. Yummy, squishy, pettable fiber. First port of call was Juno Fibre Arts, from whom I bought a braid of BFL/silk last year. This year I went knowing that I wanted ALL THE FIBER, so bought several things. This is 105g of angora/tussah silk, a 50/50 blend, in the colourway Emerald Light. It sheds like crazy, but is the softest thing I have ever felt. Had she had more of this in colourways that weren't shades of baby pink I'd have bought the lot.

Next up is a 100g braid of oatmeal BFL, colourway Rockpool. I love oatmeal BFL as a base, it does fabulous things to the dyes.

Last braid from Juno is BFL/sparkle, colourway Plum Sparkle. I don't normally (read - ever) go in for sparkles in my fiber, but this was so pretty I couldn't resist.

Another planned purchase was a second kilo of raw Gottland from Well Manor Farm. This will be combed and added to the kilo from last year and eventually turned into SCA garb.

This beauty is Old Maiden Aunt merino/bamboo, colourway Nothing Like The Sun. Also 100g. Also yummy. Also the only orange spinning fiber for sale in the entire marketplace!

Last purchase of the weekend was this braid from Sparkleduck - BFL/nylon, no colourway name. But lovely nonetheless.

But wait, there's more! As per last year C, hereafter Vet Friend, came down from Glasgow for knitting fun. I brought chocolate for her partner, she brought me gorgeous silk. Just over 50g of mulberry silk, which I will be hoarding and petting before I decide what I'm doing with it.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

FO - Darklight Shawl

I finished up the last five repeats of the edging on Sunday and blocked it on the same day - despite the amount of time sucked up by jam-making!
TdF2011 Day 2 002
Pattern - Aestlight Shawl
Yarn - Kauni Effektgarn, purchased in 2008
Needles - 4.5mm

I'm really, really pleased with how this turned out. For a start, it's significantly bigger than expected. That's a double bed it's sprawled across. It also softened up quite a bit after a thorough bath with some hair conditioner. I'm still not going to be able to wear it tight around my neck, but as an outer layer it'll be just fine. The skein was 130g, of which I used 100g. Just about 440 yards, which is more than the pattern calls for, even though I was using the recommended needle size. I must knit more loosely than the designer!

Monday, 4 July 2011

And now for something completely different!

This weekend my husband and I have been doing some jointly creative things. Namely, making plum jam!

Experimental wild plum jam, to be precise. We live in Central London, but there is a surprising amount of food growing in the area if you're looking. On Friday he went out and found about six kilos of wild plums, both red and golden, within a 10-minute walk of our flat. And on Saturday he brought home about a kilo of blackberries! The blackberries are in the freezer, waiting until the rest of the crop ripens. Once we've got another couple of kilos, we'll be making blackberry wine. For now, though, we have plum jam. It's slow to set - hubs mis-measured the pectin, so there isn't quite enough. But it is setting, and it tastes amazing. We're also going to make a batch of chutney, but we ran out of canning jars. Here's something fairly close to the recipe, which I cobbled together from half-a-dozen places.

Plum Pudding Jam

3 kilos of wild plums, washed and picked over
1 cup of apple juice
3 kilos of sugar
2 heaping tablespoons of cinnamon
Half a tablespoon of cloves
Half a tablespoon of allspice
Quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper
Enough pectin for the volume of fruit
Knob of butter to stop foaming.

Pit all the plums. Add apple juice and spices to chopped plums and bring to a boil, stirring so that it doesn't stick. Add the sugar one bag at a time, bringing it back up to a hard boil in between bags. Once the sugar is all in and dissolved, add the butter and the pectin. Boil hard and stir constantly. At this point, we used a slotted spoon to skim out the plum skins, since we were far too lazy to peel them. Having the skins come out also made it a lot easier to get rid of the skum. Once it tests to set, ladle the hot jam into hot sterilized jars, leaving a quarter-inch of headspace. Put lids on. Wipe off any drips and set aside to cool and seal.

We ended up with a dozen jam jars full, plus a small cup that wouldn't fit in. We just popped that one straight into the fridge and have been eating it on toast. It's more of a preserve than proper jam, due to the pectin fail, but it's really tasty. We used a mixture of just ripe and fully ripe plums, and it's got a gorgeous puckery tang over the sugar. The spices are quite strong. It really does taste like plum pudding smells, hence the name!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Tour de Fleece 2011!

Yes, in amongst all the writing and research and lace-shawl-knitting I am undertaking the Tour again this year. My goals are simple. I have four spinning WIPs, three on the wheel and one on the spindle. I would like all four of them to be farther along at the end of the Tour than they are now. Ideally, I'd like all four projects to be totally spun, plied and finished, but given how much else is going on right now it's unlikely.

I'm also aiming to spend at least 15 minutes every day of the Tour spinning. Today I have managed... 15 minutes. Some of my day was spent cleaning, as Saturdays are for cleaning. Some was spent grocery shopping. Quite a large chunk was spent picking over and prepping 4 kilos of wild plums for jam-making. Mostly, though? I've been knitting this blasted edging. The end is in sight, and I will block it tomorrow or die in the attempt.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Inching along.

A couple of weeks ago I finally got around to casting on with some Kauni yarn I bought a very long time ago. It was originally purchased to experiment with, because I thought I might like to use it for a sweater. I'm glad I only bought the one ball, because it's Icelandic wool - just like the slippers that brought me out in hives! So far it's just feeling a wee bit itchy. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to wear it, since unlike felted slippers I don't make a habit of rubbing shawls into my skin as hard as possible.

I thought I was nearly done a few days ago. This shawl uses a funky Shetland construction with a knitted-on border, and I finished everything but that on Tuesday. A couple of evenings should have seen me finishing, or so I thought. Turns out that knitted-on borders are really slow. I'm averaging about three-and-a-half repeats an hour, fewer if I'm also watching tv. There are 31 repeats to finish the shawl. Yeah. Talk about underestimating remaining work! Once the border's done I've just got a quick bind-off across the top to finish it. I'm hoping that it'll be blocking on Monday morning, if not sooner.