Quince-lets

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Sorry, nothing to do with the yarn! I know this is meant to be a knitting blog of sorts, so apologies for the digression. I haven’t really done a lot of knitting this past week, since we have been primping and pimping our flat in order to get it onto the market. All those jobs, left undone for literally years, have been compressed into a few days, and I am ashamed to say that some of them took five minutes and very little effort. But such is life…?

The tiny harvest above comes from a shrub in my garden: the Japanese quince (Chaenomeles). You might have one in your garden, and never really give it a second thought except when you see bright crimson or pink flowers on its bare stems in February. It’s the earliest plant to flower and sort of gives you a bit of hope just as you are desperate for spring to arrive. (Don’t zzzzzz, I do like gardening but I also like booze. Keep reading.)

In autumn, these small fruits begin to ripen to yellow. Bring them inside and sit them in a bowl in a warmish room, go away and bleach the grout in the bathroom or something equally fascinating, then come back into the room and inhale deeply. The scent is amazing. It’s like a citrussy tropical fruit mixed with a few sprigs of mint and orange flower.

You can if you want to cook them up and make jam or membrillo (quince paste for eating with cheese…usually made with the other sort of quince, the tree fruit which smells similar). Then I read about a sort of Japanese liqueur called karinshu. The recipe looked like my sort of recipe: chop quinces, add sugar, add vodka, leave for months, shake occasionally.

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Aren’t they pretty? I cannot emphasise how easy this all was. I am not really adept at writing foodie posts which romanticise the recipes. Here is a photo of the amount of sugar you need:

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Behind that jar is a tub of varnish stripper. My next job is renovating our charity shop ex-church chairs. I don’t think this will sell our house, but while I’m on a roll I’m going to get it done.

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And here is the whole thing, nestling on a shelf, out of the sun and settling in for the next three months at least. This means we might have delicious sweet-and-sour vodka for the New Year. The quince-lets were about the size of plums, and to that dish worth I added one cup of sugar and two cups of vodka.

None of the blogs I looked at have updated with a report on how the stuff actually tastes. I will. I aim to be helpful. And after all that effort (ha!) it had better be good. If it isn’t, all is not lost, because next year what I shall do is take them indoors and sit them in bowls and just inhale. (More than I usually do, I mean.)

Update, 9th December: It’s wonderful stuff. We tried it last night and can report that one shot over ice tastes a little sweet, a little perfumed, a little sour, very complex and fruity. It’s like tasting a new cocktail; you take a sip and immediately start trying to identify the ingredients. Will definitely make more of this!

Yarn Yarn More Yarn and Some Dales

I had the feeling last week that I needed something new. Do you ever get that feeling? Everything’s a little bit sluggish and boring and you think ‘och, I wish I was somewhere a bit more something’ (it’s quite a nebulous feeling this one) or possibly ‘och I wish I was someone a bit more something’?

So together with Mica, and for highly professional reasons of research and not at all to do with getting out of the city and ogling wool (oh no), I got up at sparrow’s fart and caught the 6:08am train to…oh…somewhere in Yorkshire. Skipton, ultimately.

Here is me, a 5:30AM selfie:

At Sparrow's Fart

The next train was full of people on their way to Skipton for Yarndale: knittery brooches, Yarndale bags, needles out etc. We got there at about 10:30, walked through the park — by this point I was lamenting my Edinburgh uniform of leggings under jeans and woolly socks, because it was sunny and balmy and generally lovely. There were bits and pieces of crochet everywhere:

There was almost no queue to get in, and the place was not yet as busy as it would get, but that was all right.

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We managed a really good look around and crucially, a good catch up with some of the stallholders we’d welcomed to Edinburgh last March. It was great to see Susan Crawford again, Jon and Claire from Natural Born Dyers, Jennie Howes (Sky Blue Pink Designs and now co-ordinator of the St Abbs Fibre day on 2nd November), I missed but caught a glimpse of Skein Queen (wave!) and there was simply no way to talk to anybody from Textile Garden as the stall was just as I remember: busy. I’m know I’ve missed people out. It was great to see new (to us) people as well and with a bit of luck and a following wind we will see them again ;)

Both Mica and I bought loads….I’ve been inspired by Ysolda’s new book (The Rhinebeck Sweater) which captures something lovely about going to events such as these: you get a lot out of the day when you go and find something new, buy a whole sweater’s worth of yarn, perhaps put it away for a while. But then you happen upon it again, and you haven’t just got one or two odd skeins which need a purpose, you have a whole proto-sweater. Hooray for that bit of justification for yarn-buying! I did exactly that, I bought a gorgeous deep green Shetland/Jacob/Alpaca heavy 4-ply, enough for a sweater, and brilliantly woolly. It came from Jillybean Yarns, and I was impressed that she had things which were that bit different; more unusual blends in particular. The wool is slightly overshadowed by my very welcome 5pm pint:

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But before I get ahead of myself: for lunch, we took one look at the queues and legged it into Skipton in the sunshine, found a bakery cafe, and didn’t think twice about this. I know from having done this sort of thing that no venue wants to allow you to bring in outside catering (even outside the venue) if they have a café. It makes no logical sense, but there it is; sometimes Britain is pretty frustrating but there are always ways around not getting what you want. What would have been great, if only we’d thought of it, would have been a picnic in the sunshine in the nearby park. Next year, this is my plan. I’m booking the sunshine now.

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Anyway, what else did I buy after lunch? Silver stitch markers. Coopknits’ book of sock patterns (and met the lovely Coopknits herself). A pattern for lace weight undies from A Stitch In Time, which made my husband’s eyes roll, possibly not in a good way. (He thinks I’m mad, but really I’m just usually cold.) A silver Toft alpaca pompom and some matching yarn, for, oh, you know, a hat or something. And probably more besides, only it’s strewn about the house now… I would have bought a yarn bowl, only I’m not fond of the glazed stoneware ones, but that’s a whole ‘nother post about fussiness right there. I could probably do a whole series…sigh.

Our train was at about half past five in the evening, so it was a long day for us, coming all the way from Scotland: but it was worth it. I’ve hardly been to Yorkshire. This is my second visit this year, though, after the brilliant Deer Shed Festival (music and machines, not actual sheds for deer). And it’s beautiful. I’m half plotting that next year around this time I’ll come down and stay, do a bit of walking, take the family, send them off to look at rocks or something while I fondle yarn.

I cannot see a thing wrong with that plan.

 

(PS Can’t believe the response to my Northern Summer Shawl pattern sale…Thank you to everyone who has bought it. I woke up to the number 16 spot on Ravelry’s ‘Hot Right Now’ and loads of sales…I am telling myself that while I slept, I was in the top ten, ha ha I know, it doesn’t matter…)

Northern Summer Shawl

Northern Summer Shawl

 

A few years ago, I worked for a time in a yarn shop: a job which brought me into contact with thousands of knitters (and a few crocheters, let’s not forget them) from all over the world. When you do that job — there’s a parallel with teaching here, which I did for years — you realise that people have pretty similar needs, and you become practised in being able to recommend techniques or materials which will solve their problems or move them on to the next level.

The owner stocked a few colours of Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift, and asked me to design a shawl pattern to sell alongside the yarn. At the time I was seeing a lot of shawls which had a stocking stitch triangle with an edging in one stitch pattern. I loved a lot of them, but I’d never knitted one. I guess I just liked to do something pretty early on in the shawl and I knew I would put my knitting aside before I got to the interesting and beautiful stitch pattern. And I wanted to address a need that some of the customers had expressed to knit something lace, which wasn’t all lace — all lace could be scary, in their view.

So I chose three different stitch patterns — from the Shetland tradition, because of the origin of the yarn — and a relatively simple edging to go with it. There would be some stocking stitch, and some lace: the best of both worlds. Oh the calculations….the calculations went on forever. It was a while ago, but I vividly remember one long day where I had perfect peace at home and I spend the entire time in my pyjamas calculating row counts and working out exactly where to put the repeats and how best to factor in the increases. This is relatively easy if you design a shawl which is made up of two right-angled triangles: you increase at the same rate pretty much everywhere. If you’re increasing faster at the outer edges than at the spine, and making reasonably complex stitch patterns fit in happily, it gets to be a lot more work. (A lot!) By the time the pattern was written and knitted, I almost never wanted to see it again.

But to cut a long story short, it’s been a great pattern for me. I get happy messages saying what a pleasure it is to knit, and never boring (hmm, the edging does go on a bit though, prepare yourselves!).  There are loads of fabulous projects on Ravelry and it’s a real buzz to see a new one appear, every time. The colours are gorgeous — there’s a green version, photographed against a snowy landscape, that I covet — and some of the two-colour versions are inspiring.

Autumn is definitely here: it’s almost time to swathe myself in my big mustardy woolly shawl again. I’ve put the pattern on sale at £2.25 ($3.65 ish) for the whole of October, which is a 40% discount. The shawl takes about 585m/640yds of a 4-ply yarn (maybe a little less, depending on your tension). The woollier the better in my view, but have a look through the projects linked above and you’ll see that smoother or finer yarns work too. I really look forward to seeing more wonderful Northern Summer Shawls* popping up. Happy Knitting!

*About the name. Summer in Edinburgh is often a short, dreary affair: a few days of warm sunshine followed by weeks and weeks of speculation. “Well, we’ve had our summer…That was it, eh?…Och it didnae used to be like this, it’s that global warming…” I knitted this one in July 2010, which was mostly grey and cool, and the timing plus the golden wool made me hanker a bit for better things: a proper Northern Summer. We got one this year, and I can report that life was a lot better for it!

Eclair

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This is my friend Liz’s version of my new hat pattern, Eclair. She used Malabrigo Arroyo, a sport-weight merino yarn, which is a lot smoother than the two yarns I used. As a result you can really see the stitch pattern pop (I love it); you can also see how the pattern works in a slightly variegated yarn. It’s a very pretty thing, and massive thanks to Liz for doing it (she is very thorough, you know, and caught a couple of errors and bad wordings, all fixed now).

I’m working away on a sweater with a front panel which is a variation of this stitch pattern. So far, really good…It’s chartreuse green though, and I’m not sure if I can get away with that colour. Still, I am busting stash that I’ve had for over six years now, and that feels good. (At this point I’m going to wallow in smugness and forget about this week’s trip to Mei’s shop, Be Inspired Fibres, that I’m planning with another Liz. Shhh.)

Bobbles

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I feel as though autumn is just around the corner. The apples on my young tree are swelling and ripening; I’m the sort of person who has to check them every day, for no reason at all. Just to look forward to them, I suppose. It’s still really warm and I think we need some thunder and lightning to say goodbye to the summer — which was the best I remember in Scotland — and to let autumn in properly.

I’ve got lots of ideas for sweaters I want to make, but first, a hat.

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This one is a design I’ve had floating around for a while now. It’s called ‘Eclair’ (i.e. ‘flash’, not ‘cream cake’) and it’s pretty nice knitting. I finished the orange version, and went straight into the blue one with only a short trip to John Lewis for the yarn.

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The orange version is made in YarnPony Highland Pony, which is suri alpaca and wool spun to a sport weight, and so light and lofty and soft, it’s delicious. I love the butterscotch colour. I know Mica has sold a fair few of these skeins, so if you’re holding on to one and don’t know quite what to do with it: here you go. There may be more of it in future, and I kind of hope there is, because it’s genuinely lovely to knit. It has great yardage (300m/100g, I think, I may have misplaced the label…) and it takes the dye in such a way that it seems to glow. It’s beautiful to wear and just fuzzy enough. I’m quite a fan.

UPDATE: yeeessss! Mica has dyed more of the Highland Pony, and in October and November has a few events coming up: see her website here for more details. The Open Studio event takes place at St Margaret’s House, near Meadowbank, Edinburgh; all details are on the Yarn Pony Facebook page.

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The teal version (teal again, eek, half my wardrobe is some variation on that colour…) is Rowan Tweed, a DK weight single, so it’s heavier than the Highland Pony, but it works just as well. The hat is denser, as you’d imagine, substantial and yet very soft. The yarn is rougher on the hands than the alpaca, but it does soften and give a really wearable fabric. I now want a sweater in this colour (because I only have three or four teal sweaters in my wardrobe…) but I fear finances might get in the way of that plan.

I love the way the pattern works in both yarns in slightly different ways: in the Rowan Tweed version, it’s a little more of a texture than a design; in the YarnPony, it pops out more. This would work well in something like Manos Del Uruguay Silk Blend, as well, so long as it wasn’t too variegated. Or a nice simple light DK wool.

My friend Liz has very generously taken on the job of test knitting, and as soon as she’s done, I’ll release the pattern. Meanwhile, I’m pondering a bright pink version with some raspberry-coloured YarnPony 4-ply, held double. I worked with this yarn in between camping and shepherding and amusing my son all summer: I knitted a whole shawl, decided the design needed finessing, began again, wasn’t happy, began again, still wasn’t happy, and have now totally lost the love for my design. I know it’ll come back, and I have all the notes, but the mojo is gone, you know? I think the yarn needs to be made into something great so it isn’t just sitting around in kinky little balls, mocking me…

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One last shot!

Skies

Summer this year has been just a small bit better than last year’s. I’ve discovered about myself that although I feel the chill very easily (one of the main reasons why I knit), I don’t need to be in hot weather to feel ok. Which is lucky, since where we live is not hot at all.

The upshot of it not being (too) cold and grey this year is that as a family, we’ve actually done loads so far in the great outdoors. It was kick-started when I went to Harlyn Bay in Cornwall with some knitting pals. Apologies for the messed-about-with photos, I had great fun with Snapseed…

On the last day of the trip, I went for a long ramble with one of my friends. It was one of those days which sort of makes a holiday. The sun shone on us, the rain rained behind us, we chattered the whole way (fantasising about some of the houses…), and ended up sunburnt in the pub, where the rain finally caught up with us. The path around the coast is so easy, it didn’t feel like walking at all. The beaches are all amazing, and though you feel sad to leave one behind, you know there’s another just around a corner or over a headland. All things considered, it was that walk which got me back to my happy self.

I made up my mind that getting out into the countryside is pretty much vital for my wellbeing. Winter was so long. It was good to banish it. So back in Edinburgh with my family, at the first opportunity, we took the bus out to Gullane. It’s a small village, possibly not the most interesting of places, but it has a branch of Falko Konditormeister – a totally fabulous German style bakery – and they do lunch. Great. In theory they do lunch. We did get lunch, and we did get it there, but my god we had to work for it. We counted six members of staff in that tiny shop/restaurant. Let’s just say service is not proactive and leave it at that. Eye contact is not their thing. The sausage, bread, cake, however, was worth it. I do recommend it for quality, but it’s not your usual type of place where people help you and find out what you want and bring it to you in return for money.

We found the beach and sauntered down (in quite a strong wind) and then walked all along…past fossilly rocks and groups of people having (windy) parties, then in glorious sunshine all the way to Aberlady Bay. The route got a bit crazy there as they are keeping people away from nesting birds, but the result was that we ambled along what seemed like an ancient path in the early evening sun. The highlight was a deer, browsing by a thicket as though we didn’t exist.

The following weekend, we went out the same way to Yellowcraigs, near North Berwick. Our friends’ son was having a birthday party. The sun shone, the wind blew, the food was lovely, there was wine and good company and the children played and dug and ran in and out of the sea with buckets: pretty much idyllic. I didn’t take my camera that day, but I did take it…

…Camping! (I haven’t been camping since A and I went on a trip to the West Coast when I was 22. We carried everything. Only, split between two rucksacks, we found that he can carry quite a bit and I get blisters on the soles of my feet if I have to carry the same amount…And the midges and clegs (horseflies) are no joke. Also, call me a lightweight, but I like a loo.)

But this time was different. For one thing, we borrowed a big tent from our friends, plus some über-comfy sleeping mats. And we didn’t have to carry three days’ worth of food and clothes. And the campsite (Pillars of Hercules: I almost don’t want to recommend it in case everyone flocks there) has fab loos, showers, a great shop and a veggie café. It’s not the same as wild camping, but I’m grateful for that, and it was refreshingly cleg-free.

This converted me to camping. Yes it was a bit uncomfortable but ok once I’d stretched in the morning. Yes it rained but only a bit. Yes there were midges but Smidge repellent is very good. I somehow found myself with a smile on my face practically the whole time. I loved being in my tent (mine is the little one, I had it all to myself). I didn’t even mind the smell of woodsmoke or the very bad hair day on Sunday.

I’m so looking forward to the rest of the summer – I feel like I have to store up all this sunshine and outdoorsiness somehow for when the days shorten and the temperature drops and it gets to next May and we’re still surprised that the leaves haven’t opened much. So here’s to a long happy summer ;) with more camping, most likely.

(More wool in the next post…)

Keep the Sun Off…

It’s really warm and really sunny here in Edinburgh. By ‘really warm’ I mean about 17 degrees C. In my little suntrap garden my thermometer has been up past 30: this is rare! And very welcome! But the downside is that my pale, pale Scottish skin can’t really cope. I’ve just burnt my neck by sitting out without suncream for an hour. Oops. (Actually, that is me not coping: I know I burn within an hour, I just somehow can’t accept it…I’ve slapped on some factor 50 now.)

I like to/have to wear a voluminous cotton scarf in summer, basically to keep from frying in the sunlight, if we’re lucky enough to get any. This year, however, those scarves seem to be made mostly of viscose or polyester, and I’m far more crunchy and natural than that. I read that the price of cotton has soared, so this is why it’s actually pretty hard to find clothes which haven’t got some modal or viscose in the mix, but sadly the fact is that I don’t much like the creasing they bring, or the strange, thin, cold feel of the fabric. Anyway you need a scarf with a bit of heft to it, otherwise it just flubs around your neck like a limp rag.

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So I bought myself a bit of cotton fabric in a cheery stripe with all the blues in it, and a bit of cream and taupe. It’ll basically go with everything I own. As you can see, I’ve been very conscientious and pre-washed the fabric. I then cut the piece in two, perpendicular to the selvages. One of the selvages is noticeably dodgier than the other: I put the pieces together (no right-side/wrong-side issues with this fabric), pinned, and then sewed a French seam to encase that rough-ish edge. Next time I’ll definitely do a flat fell seam, but my sewing machine’s in storage so I was skimping on the amount of hand-sewing I might have to do.

Then I tackled the raw edges down the sides. Some time ago, when we worked together in a yarn shop, Kristen made a fabulous scarf by taking some fabric and giving it a crochet edging. My crochet skills are not fabulous, but I can manage an edging with no shaping or complication. I used some old Yarn Yard cotton/tencel blend, poked through the forgiving fabric with a 2mm hook, then switched to a 3mm for the row which made the ‘ladder’. Kristen’s instructions have a third row, which gives a good scallop to the edge, but I really liked how the ladder and the stripes worked together, so I left it there. It’s so simple, as many of the best things are. I really like it, in a summery, Toast sort of a way.

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It still took aaaages to work all along the two sides. Not that I’m complaining, the result is worth it, but man that first row where you’re rolling the edge of the fabric and poking through…not fast. Fiddly but satisfying when done. I’ve bought more fabric (some plain linen in…ta dah! Teal, like nearly everything I’ve bought this year) so I obviously wasn’t put off the thought of ever doing it again, but it’s kind of a box-set commitment. Link to Kristen’s instructions here. Highly recommended (she has a good blog, too)!

Next up will be my Agnes sweater. Since I began writing this post (a couple of days ago) the weather has, predictably, turned. Go Scotland. I’m going camping very soon and I have a feeling I will need a crunchy, chunky, woolly jumper with pockets, since all self-respecting Scottish people need one pretty much all the time, just in case. (I’m a bit wibbly about camping. First time since I was 22. Hmm.)

Acer

Done! I had a chunk of time yesterday so I got down to the task of ripping out the (too high) neckband, narrowing the button bands, fashioning proper buttonholes, and lengthening the sleeves. You can see the point where I started reknitting the sleeves and just how much longer I needed them to be (a good inch and a half to two inches). I also decreased so they’d be an inch narrower at the cuff. I knew when I made this initially that having flappy, short cuffs was a bad idea, and yes I cursed during the winter when my wrists were cold…I should note that the original pattern didn’t suggest having flappy, short cuffs. It was a combination of using heavier yarn and probably a bit of winging it with the instructions at this point. And underestimating my arm length.

Tidying up all the ribbing has had the effect of making the cardigan much neater all round. The rib is still 2×2, which I marginally prefer to 1×1, but all the same it’s quite chunky and rustic and very handmade. I like that in this yarn, for this particular garment, but I can’t say it looks refined. However, the fit is better, which matters a lot to the finished item.

The main thing I’ve learned is that it’s worth doing surgery like this, even on something you’ve been wearing for nearly a year. I always felt this cardigan was good for throwing over pyjamas on a cold morning, but not much else. I feel a lot better about it now.

 

Surgery

Some time ago, I made this cardigan: Acer by Amy Christoffers.Kinda frumpy

The design is for DK wool, so of course I ignored that, used aran weight, didn’t swatch, winged it totally. I did top down, short row sleeves, and I love the neatness. The result was pretty good and to be honest, I’ve worn it a lot and it’s stood up really well. Turns out Rowan Felted Tweed Aran is hard-wearing and doesn’t pill much at all. It’s quite hairy and not my favourite to knit with, but it definitely does its job and I might be tempted again.

Anyway, there are quite a few things wrong with the finished item and I can see them every time I put it on. Firstly, the ribbing at the neck is too wide. I’m bad at estimating how wide a neckline should be, and this one sits, itchily, slightly too high. I have to take the neckband off completely before I can attack the next problem, which is that…

…Secondly, the button band ribbing is too wide. I made it wide intentionally, as I felt the cardigan would be quite tight and at least I could wear it that way. Well, it loosened, or I lost weight. I think it just relaxed a bit as I wore it, and the thick button bands look wrong. Never a good decision to widen the button band.

Thirdly, the buttons look teeny. Narrowing the button band will sort that. Resewing twelve (vintage bakelite) buttons? Well it has to be done.

Fourthly, I skimped on making proper buttonholes and just did yarn over, k2tog. What a prat. The reason was that I couldn’t be bothered reminding myself how to make lovely buttonholes, and I thought I just couldn’t do them anyway, since I’d always had bad luck. After re-reading the instructions in Ysolda’s book (Little Red In The City: has a great bit on this) I realised I’d completely missed one of the instructions to slip a particular stitch at a particular point, hence why they never worked out. Actually, fabulously neat buttonholes are easy. I am now looking forward to making this bit look perfect.

And fifthly, you’ll have to take my word for it, but the sleeves are about an inch and a half too short. I have looooong arms, I’ve no idea why. I get so very cold in winter, and I need sleeves that do at least cover my wrists. I do try these things on as I knit, I’m not completely lax, it’s just that somehow what seems fine when on the needles ends up too short, every time. I should have sussed this by now. I’ll unravel the ribbing completely, knit down, and do a shorter cuff on a smaller needle. Tidy.

It’s still going to be a chunky cardie for cold days, not the slinky fitted version the pattern suggests, but it should be a bit less, hmm, earthy? And one thing I love about this whole project: you can make these mistakes knowing you’ve made them, knowing you ought not to, knowing what you should have done right, what you should have taken the time to fix. But this will be easy to make good. I really welcome the simplicity of that.