Thursday, November 8, 2012

Stash Separation

In the past few years, I've begun to sense a theme for October, and that theme is crazy. This year, though, it turned out to be extra crazy.  I know I still owe the blog one last Scotland post, and there are a couple more finished objects to share with you before we launch into holiday knitting.  The reason this year has been extra crazy is partially election season, but mostly it's been crazy because Mr. Starryknit and I are moving into a new (larger! with a deck!) apartment.  Plus, the way the timing worked out I'll be going to Mitten School one week before our move.  For those of you playing along at home, that means that we move in about eight days and I'll be spending four of them out of town.  All of our stuff is in boxes, and I'm separated from my stash.  The yarn and fiber are all in large plastic bins with lavender sachets or bags of cedar chips, the pattern books are all in boxes.  The fabric stash is still a  weak underdeveloped thing compared to its yarn and fiber siblings, so it all fit into one small box.  The sewing machine is sitting in its dust cover in the closet.  I managed to have enough foresight to pull out yarn for three new projects in the meantime, in case it takes a long time to get everything settled.  The criteria for these projects were:

1. Variety: Different yarn weights (one sock, one lace, and one aran), different colors, different objects, different difficulty levels. When I'm finished with the current work-in-progress, I wanted to have some choices so hopefully something would be appealing enough to appease the need to stash-dive. 

2. A mix of direction and spontaneity: two of the projects have yarn already matched to patterns, while the third one has only a a vague constraint (it must be fingerless mitts). If I just need something to knit, I can pick up and start the sock right away.  If I want to use a little creativity or I just want an excuse to surf Ravelry, I can take time to search for the perfect mitt pattern.  

3. Portable: These projects need to be easy to carry, and hard to lose in the move.  They definitely need to fit in small project bags.  The mitered square blanket that takes up an entire jumbo-sized tote bag is right out. 

I spent an hour or two picking out these projects, then declared everything else fair game for packing up.  Then, while packing for my flight to Kansas this evening, I realized the my current project probably won't last me through the entire plane trip and grabbed the skein of yarn and realized:

We already packed the ball winder. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Knitting FO: Birthday Hat

Last year our knitting circle decided to organize a birthday swap of handknit cowls.  We had such a great time doing it that we're doing it again this year, only with hats.  Since there were a few birthdays that were happening quite soon, I volunteered to knit one of the first birthday hats of the year on a roughly three-week deadline.  The hat ended up being made entirely out of handspun, although I could never have guessed that this is what I'd end up using the handspun for!  It started out as a bump of fiber from Hello Yarn in the colorway Garden Walk:
Garden Walk Merino/Mohair
which I then tore into chunks of similar color, carded into batts,
Garden Walk Batts
and spun into into mini-skeins of individual colors.  Here they're all tied up together for washing:
Hello Yarn Mohair/Merino
Now, I wasn't 100% pleased with this yarn.  I'd originally intended to knit it into handspun Fiddlehead mittens, but didn't feel that the weight of the yarn was quite right, or consistent enough for the pattern. So the yarn hung out in the stash for another two years.  Enter the "With Love from Norway" hat pattern, some white undyed cormo handspun yarn, and destiny took over.
Super Secret Birthday Hat
I'm so in love with this hat.  It's a very cute pattern, and it looks great on its recipient. I was a little worried about the color in between the orange and green (it doesn't look too amazing all by itself, it's a little... barfy), but in the progression with all the other colors it looks great!
Super Secret Birthday Hat
My handspun is a little lighter in weight than the yarn called for in the pattern, so I added two hearts to the circumference of the hat and knit it on size 4 needles instead of size 6. The best part is that I've forgotten how much yarn it takes to make a hat, and I'm nearly certain that I have enough yarn to make another one. 

That's right, it's time to start thinking about holiday knitting.  Dun dun dun.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scotland: The Yarn

As soon as it was decided (back in February) that we'd be going to Scotland, the first thing I researched was how long it would take us to get to the Shetland Isles.  I wanted to pet sheep.  I wanted to visit a spinning and/or weaving mill.  I was going to come home with SO. MUCH. YARN. Sure, I knew that Shetland was on a separate island, but I've done the whole international travel thing before.  We'd have rental cars!  Surely there'd be a ferry or somesuch.

Turns out that Shetland was a little farther away than I was envisioning.  I'd imagined a two- or three-hour boat ride that would whisk me from Aberdeen or Inverness to Lerwick.  There'd a cabin below where I could order tea and sandwiches, and a deck above where I could gaze out to the horizon, the cold winds off the North Sea romantically blowing through my hair.  I'd pass the time knitting, of course.  It's funny now how easily my imagination plucked up the San Francisco-to-Sausalito ferry route from my memory and filled the surroundings with a colder ocean and less landmass.

In doing my research on the web, I found that while the British Isles might be small in comparison to the USA, they weren't quite as small as I'd thought.  The city of Aberdeen is located about a four hours' drive from our resort.  The actual ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick departs at either 5PM or 7PM (depending on the day of the week), and arrives at 7:30AM the next morning.  The see-all-the-sights travel planner in me couldn't bear to give up so much time to sitting in transit when there was the entire rest of Scotland to see. Oh well. I'd still find me some yarn.
In Aberdeenshire
This store does not sell yarn.  Sad face.
Once we got to Scotland, I realized quickly how deeply the culture is rooted in the manufacture of textiles.  I also quickly learned to distinguish what is typically meant by a "woolen mill".  We passed several during our initial forays, and after demanding that the caravan pull over once or twice I determined that most of the time a shop advertising itself as a woolen mill would NOT be selling yarn or spinning fiber, but finished sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, and blankets made of wool.   In one particularly frustrating experience, we had all just gotten into our cars and been driving for maybe two minutes when we passed a shop with a spinning wheel painted on its side. You use spinning wheels to make yarn!  I was SO CERTAIN that I would find some yarn this time!  Sadly, this was not the case. Once back in the car, I realized that the abundance of items produced from wool along with the (apparent) lack of raw materials probably means that the raw materials are all being used in the local industry.  It's not that there isn't a lot of yarn or wool in Scotland, it's that it's all being used, and there isn't a huge market for hobbyists.  This was the turning point in my understanding of the connection between Scottish textiles and the residents of Scotland.  If I really, seriously, wanted spinning fiber, I would've needed to seek out a farmer and see where they get their wool processed.  At that point, I'd need to be prepared to pay a much higher rate than the folks running spinning mills, and even then all the wool they have in hand would probably already be spoken for.  I wasn't going to be able to find yarn unless I found a yarn shop.  So, find a yarn shop I did. 
k1 Yarns, Edinburgh
This place DOES sell yarn!
 While walking through Edinburgh, I was on a mission.  After we located the shop, two of my traveling companions graciously agreed to entertain themselves in a nearby cheese shop.  The fourth companion came with me, to purchase souvenir yarn for his girlfriend.  The person working at the shop was wonderfully helpful, assisting him in choosing yarn that she wouldn't be able to find in the US, which left me free to browse around myself.  I, too, was on the lookout for yarn that I wouldn't just find on the shelf of my LYS.  I was also nearly finished with my Neep Heid hat, and had my eye open for yarn that would work in either of the other two patterns in Kate Davies' fantastic e-booklet The Hats of Midlothian. I found yarn of roughly the right weight from The Isle of Harris Knitwear Co., and settled down to choose colors. 
Tweed Yarn

All four of these are heathery yarns, and my photography doesn't do justice to the deep marine-blue-green of the ball in the lower left.  After I'd picked out these shades, I spied something really special in a little basket next to the Jamieson's yarns:   
The labels look as though they were printed at home and snipped into strips, which I love.  I'm not exactly sure, but I'm betting that these colors are undyed, the natural colors of the sheep raised on the Isle of Mull.  They had to come home with me as well.   I can't wait to spend a day with all my crunchy, wooly, Shetland-y yarn playing around with color combinations! 

In the midst of my yarn adventures, there also turned out to be some fabric adventures in Scotland.  I've decided that they need their own (shorter) post, so that'll come up soon after I share a few finished projects with you guys.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Scotland: The Countryside

The freedom provided by having rental cars allowed us to explore the countryside of Scotland, and boy does it have some spectacular sights. On two different days we drove through the Cairgorms National Park.  Although "national park" doesn't mean exactly the same thing in Scotland as it does in the USA in terms of usage and infrastructure, the views and beauty of nature rival anything else I've ever seen. 

Burn o' Vat in the Cairngorms

Everywhere you turn, the land is there, just sitting around being gorgeous.  This place, called Burn O' Vat, had a lovely little waterfall and two shallow caves. 

This spectacular view of the Falls of Docharty was taken literally from the side of the road.  Later in the week, we put a special "photos" rule in place while driving.  It was getting pretty stressful keeping a caravan of two or three cars together, so we opted to be a bit more explicitly relaxed about it, and agreed that if one car stopped and there was no phone call or text message, then they were just taking a few photos and would catch up.  It's the sort of thing that would go unspoken between the husbeast and me, and it wasn't until we figured out this rule that we realized how much we just wanted to be able to pull over on the side of the road ALL THE TIME!  The new photos rule was especially welcome on the part of the husbeast, as he's a big one for stopping at random places to get a really good photograph. 
Here's one of my favorite memories of the trip, in the Cairngorms. Scotland has an old tradition of its residents being able to walk pretty much everywhere, as long as they're not leaving a mess or disturbing other people.  There are trails and footpaths everywhere, and we saw people using them, walking in places I would assume were off-limits if we were in the US. We did a little bit of hiking, but if we'd planned for it we could've done much more.  I think Americans have this sense that Britain is a very small place, but it certainly didn't feel that way to me while we were there.  Edinburgh during festival season felt just as bustling and alive as San Francisco during fleet week, and the Cairngorms felt just as open and majestic as the High Sierras. 

Glen Coe
And then there's this aspect of the history of the land in Scotland.  We were originally going to drive to the Isle of Skye, but unfortunately it proved to be just a bit too far of a drive for a day trip.  Instead, we opted to go to Glen Coe, which several guidebooks mentioned as one of the most beautiful glens in the highlands.  We did get a chance to do a bit of real hiking here, and the sense of the place is strong and old in a way that is no less wild, but very different, to what I've seen in American national parks.  There's certainly a lot of history behind Glen Coe, and it's eye-opening to visit national landmarks that belong to someone else.  I can feel some deeper personal connection to Mt. Tamalpais or Hume Lake, and knowing that there's another set of people who feel just as strong a connection (if not stronger) to these places helps me feel connected to those people through a shared experience.  Seeing the world's natural wonders makes environmentalists of us all. 

As a small footnote, it's hard to look at the countryside of Scotland and not notice the sheep everywhere, which live off the land, and are an integral part of life for many people in the highlands. 

Next time: From the Land comes the Cloth

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scotland: The Cities

Cities will suck the life right out of you, but in a good way.  This is something I’ve learned is true all over the world.  London, Los Angeles, Munich, San Francisco, Genoa, Berlin, and Lyon have all left me feeling bone-tired and in need of a pint of something after spending a full day seeing their sights, and now I can add Glasgow and Edinburgh to that list.  The first time you see a new city requires a staggering amount of mental energy.  They demand that you take in everything they have to offer: their food (fast and cheap or slow and expensive but almost always good), their buildings (new, old, filled with stories and memories), and their people (folks that really aren’t that different from yourself, although they might speak a different language and have different pictures on their money). 

We saw Glasgow on our first full day in Scotland, which meant that we were still navigating the logistics of driving and caravanning with a large group.  We started at the Glasgow Cathedral, which easily rivals anything I saw on the continent in 2008.  Being a huge Harry Potter fan, I was delighted to learn that this church is also known as St. Mungo’s Cathedral. 

Glasgow Cathedral
Glasgow Cathedral (or St. Mungo's)

I loved the sacristy especially, which had several Bible verses spelled out in letter tiles on the floor.  The verses were all centered on the theme of walking and paths.  Around the central pillar it reads “Guide our feet into the way of peace”, and around the edge of the room there are four verses: “He that walketh upright walketh surely”, “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us”, “Hold up my goings in thy paths that I may slip not”, and “”. It seemed to me like the perfect place for pacing contemplation.  A few circuits around the room would be enough to stretch your legs, meditate on the words embedded in the floor, and take you past the fireplace once each turn. 

After lunch in the nearby café, the group split up to see things they each found interesting.  Being huge fans of the Arts & Crafts movement, we went on a trek through the main shopping drag to see the Willow Tea Rooms and the Glasgow School of Art, both designed by Charles Rennie Makintosh.  Sadly we arrived too late to get on one of the tours of the school of art, but we able to peer around some of the buildings.

Walking through Glasgow
Even though we didn’t go into many places in Glasgow, we did get to walk around a fair bit and see quite a lot of the city.  At one point we inadvertently walked through a small college in the middle of the city (University of Strathclyde), and unmistakably heard a student playing bagpipes in their dorm room.  Glasgow definitely felt industrial compared to Edinburgh.  If we hadn’t all been nervous about driving home in the dark, I think we would have stayed for dinner and a beer, but as it was we were still tired and turned for home before dark. 

If on our first day I took a few dainty sips of Glasgow, then I certainly tried to swallow Edinburgh whole on our second-to-last day.  August is the festival season for Edinburgh, and the city is notoriously packed, so we decided to take the train into the city early in the morning.  That would drop us off in the middle of everything around 10AM, and the last train back to Pitlochry (our starting point) left around 7:30, which we figured was enough time to hit the highlights.  An additional day in the city would have been nice, but I’d be saying that even if we’d spent a month in Scotland. 

After so much driving during the rest of the week, taking the train was a stroke of genius.  We had a short drive into Pitlochry around 7:30 AM, picked up our tickets from the counter, and spent out train ride discussing what we wanted to see.  Only half of our group wanted to see Edinburgh, so we had a row of seats to ourselves.  I worked on my knitting, and in another Potteresque moment, the husbeast bought coffee from the snack trolley.  We arrived feeling refreshed, and knowing that everyone could have a beer with dinner since nobody had to drive home. 

Pitlochry Train Station
The Pitlochry train station, nearly empty around 8AM.
It took some time for us to get oriented to the city, but we eventually found our way to St. Giles’ Cathedral, our first stop.  

St. Giles's Cathedral, plus festival tents

I have to mention the place we had lunch: The Outsider, on George IV Bridge Street.  The food and beverages were just delightful: I had coley (a white fish) with mushroom risotto and peas, and the husbeast had a tasty-sounding pork chop.  It was a really delightful place to eat in the middle of the bustle of the city.  Fortified with such excellent food, we got back on the Royal Mile and walked up to Edinburgh Castle.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t really timed it well in terms of the crowds.  We opted to take in the lovely views of the castle’s exterior rather than standing in the line to go inside. 

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle from the outside
The rest of the group was very kind in humoring me in walking back along the Royal Mile and taking a slight detour:
k1 Yarns, Edinburgh
An LYS! In the wild!
I may have bought a little bit of yarn, but more details on that later.  I was very pleased at the selection of Scottish yarns they had available, and the person working when we went in was very helpful in helping one of our party choose yarn to take back for his girlfriend.  The husbeast acquired some cheese while we were yarn shopping.  Our next stop was at the other end of the Royal Mile: Holyrood House Palace, and the Queen’s Gallery. 

Holyrood House Palace
Holyrood House Palace Exterior
Holyrood was very interesting, and the audioguide included in the ticket price was incredibly detailed.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the rooms inhabited by Mary, Queen of Scots and her portrait.  The ruins of Holyrood Abbey, open to the sky, are a wonderful end cap to the tour of the palace grounds.  I also opted to pay for entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, which had some very fine paintings.

Holyrood Abbey
Holyrood Abbey Ruins
At this point, I looked at the time and realized that I was not going to be able to see one of the items on my list: The National Gallery.  It would close in 20 minutes, and was back at the Castle end of the Royal Mile.  We decided to walk back at a more leisurely pace, and did a bit of souvenir shopping along the way.  Since we were all feeling a bit footsore, we opted to make our last activity dinner near the train station.  By the time we finished with dinner, it had started to rain quite heavily.  This made the final walk to the train station a bit harrowing, as we were nervous about getting there in enough time to find our platform (sadly, 19 rather than 9 ¾).  Plus, I was wearing less than ideal footwear, and kept slipping in puddles.  I was also the only one with an umbrella, so we were all quite soggy when we collapsed into our seats on the train. 

Between the rain, my shoes, and the entire day of walking, I was quite exhausted and a bit cranky when we got on the train, but it was nothing that a peaceful ride and a hot cup of tea from the trolley couldn’t fix. 
On the train back from Edinburgh
My super-sneaky side shot of the trolley, plus tea & knitting.
Like any good adventure in a big city, the day left us worn out but richer for the experience.  Next time, tales of tromping around the Highlands. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Scotland: Introduction

Well, I'm back.
Cairngorm National Park
We had a wonderful time in Scotland, and I'm planning out a few blog posts on our adventures.  I'm thinking one post will be about the country, one about the cities, and one about the yarn/fabric/wool tradition that really permeates the land and industry in Scotland.  This was our third trip across the Atlantic, and I found myself making many comparisons to our travels to Germany, France, and Italy in 2008, and our short trip to London in 2007 (which predates the blog).  In some ways, this trip wasn't as relaxing as those other trips: we had horrendous issues with our flights, and driving on the other side of the road was a bit harrowing for everyone.   Transportation hasn't been such an issue before; we didn't rent a car when we went to London, and everyone else in Europe drives on the same side of the road as we do.  I don't want to get into too many details on how stressful our flights were, but suffice it to say our journey home involved lost seat reservations, a cancelled flight, being awake for 23 hours straight, and an unexpected overnight stay in Newark, NJ.  And that was just on the flight home.  In other ways, this was a truly fantastic trip, better than any other we've taken: there was no language barrier as in Europe, we were more seasoned travelers than when we went to London, and we got to spend quality time with some very dear friends.  Plus, there's sheep everywhere

A typical view from the car
The strangest part of this vacation is that I didn't feel really rested, or energized, or any of those other sensations that you're supposed to get while on vacation until after it was all over.  Looking over our photos, re-reading my journal in preparation for writing these blog posts, touching the souvenir textiles we brought home, and doing more research on the interesting things we learned are giving me the energy to jump into a new semester.  I truly believe that learning about other parts of the world and getting to know the people who live there makes us better human beings, which is why we choose to travel both inside and outside the US.  I also have a deep-seated love of the British Isles, and I know this journey will add another set of very fond memories to buoy our spirits in the coming months.

Holyrood Abbey
Holyrood Abbey, Edinburgh

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sewing FOs: Ginger Skirts

Continuing my love affair with Colette Patterns was difficult, because I was apprehensive about inserting a zipper.  I'd purchased the Hazel dress pattern, and been gifted an invisible zipper foot for my machine for my birthday.  I had more of that lovely soft linen that I used for my Sorbetto tee in a pale lavender.  But I was very wary of going through the process of sewing a whole dress (and my first real dress, too) only to get bogged down in a zipper.  Knitters, I know you can relate: there's always that one really adorable sweater that you have languishing because you have to set in the sleeves or pick up the button band.  You know you can figure it out, but it sits there for a long time while you get your act together.  Same thing with this zipper, except I was putting off the whole dress because of my apprehension.

Ginger Skirt Class at Verb
The view out the shop window.
Luckily for me, Kristine offered a sewing class at Verb on the Ginger skirt, which calls for an invisible zipper!  And it was on a Friday, which was actually incredibly convenient for my schedule.  I signed up for a whole day of sewing class.  I actually had enough time to insert my zipper during class, and sure enough I did it wrong the first time. It was frustrating to have to rip it out, and using the invisible zipper foot was a little non-intuitive, so I'm glad I had a teacher to lead me through the process.  It certainly didn't help that my fabric was a mediumweight navy blue wool, which made it difficult to tell the right side from the wrong side. 

I made version #2 of this skirt, which has a very cute curved waistband.  I wasn't 100% sure that it would show up well in a heavier fabric, but it turned out just fine!
Ginger Skirt
All hemmed and pressed!
I had just finished putting in the zipper when our class time ended, and all the while had been contemplating putting in a lining. Verb's sewing instructor Jessie was incredibly helpful, and talked me through what that process would look like. Once I got home I realized I had a lovely white-and-blue striped cotton voile that was perfect. So I cut the two skirt pattern pieces again, sewed the side seams, and basted the lining to the seam allowance of the waistband. Since I hadn't yet attached the waistband facing, it was just the right stage to make a decision about the lining. I had to wing it at several stages, especially when fitting the lining fabric around the zipper, but it looks fine. And the skirt feels soooo comfy with a smooth cotton lining! I had originally wanted to add pockets as well, but decided it was better to not try too many new things at once.
Ginger Skirt
Lining!  So cute!
The hem, as you can sort of see in the above photo, is very deep.  I made the skirt a few inches shorter than it appears on the model photos on the Colette website to suit my taste.  One thing I've learned about skirts is that they have to end above the widest part of my calf muscle.  I actually made this one shorter still, so it ends right around my knees.  Just like my Owls sweater, the navy blue is a classic color that will merge well with the rest of my clothing.  I've already worn the skirt out to nice dinners twice, and it'll definitely be a good workplace piece as well.  I have ideas for future versions as well: changing the a-line for a more straight or pencil shape, different waistbands that are included in the pattern, adding pockets, and I spotted a beautiful deep red nubby woven wool that would make a great addition for winter.