Saturday, February 11, 2017

Houlland 2

And, finally, I have finished Houlland.  It is one of those patterns which takes forever to start with, then finishes in a rush.

So, supposing you were wondering whether to knit Houlland or Uncia from "The Book of Haps."  How would you choose?  Well, Houlland is a traditional shape, so it is obviously much more wearable, in a kerchief sort of way, as a pop of colour at a neckline.  Uncia is a challenge to wear as the shape is unbalanced, although undoubtedly very beautiful.

As a piece of lace knitting, consider this:  there are literally three lace stitches used in Houlland: KO, K2 tog., and SSK.  That's it: three.  Essentially the fir trees are just made by combining yarn overs with a left or right leaning decrease. To knit Uncia, there are at least thirty different combinations of stitches, some of which you will never have tried before.  There are multiple charts and three different keys to what the symbols mean.  It is a major challenge.

But how did they feel to knit?  Houlland begins with a long strip of edging lace from which you pick up 315 stitches.  The early rows seem to take forever and it took me more than one go to even pick up the stitches.  Then, the pattern is so simple that it is easy to underestimate the importance of counting while setting the pattern. Being out one stitch, or mistaking a wrong-side for a right side row is all too easy at this stage. Unpicking those long rows takes some time.

Uncia, however, starts with a very narrow tail and builds out from there gradually, so the longest rows are at the end when you are more familiar with its ways.  Once past the start-up rows you have to read the chart religiously, and therefore you are far less likely to go badly wrong.  But it does take your full attention.

Most of the lace pieces which I have knit before have been a challenge to master at first, then settle into a satisfying rhythm, before the rather tedious slog of the final third where the pattern is only too familiar.  This was certainly not the case with Uncia, where the lace transitions every couple of inches, but it was true of Houlland to some extent.  When I finished Uncia, I would happily have knitted another, because of the challenge.

So, here's an odd thing.  I used a single 100gm skein of Filigran merino lace-weight, 600 metres in the skein.  The pattern suggested 100 gms of Shetland lace-weight, 800 metres in total.  As I worked up the body of the shawl, I began to have doubts as to whether I had enough yarn to complete the piece.  I had bought the Filigran in a closing down sale a couple of years ago, so no hope of just buying another skein.  Ravelry showed a knitter in Germany who had two skeins of the right shade for sale, but of a different dyelot.  I decided to continue hopefully.

Finishing last night, I weighed the remaining ball of yarn: there is just under 25gms left - that's a lot of lace-weight, but better than being a few metres short.  It is true that I bought a 3mm needle where the pattern used 3.5 mm, but still...  Mine must have used just under 500 metres.  Other knitters have had wildly varying results in terms of quantities used.

The finished, fully blocked piece is light, airy and delicate - as lace should be.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Scrubbing Out

Where I was brought up cleanliness was definitely next to godliness - or rather keeping a clean front step was important even though you were as poor as church mice.  Scrubbing out, on your hands and knees, with a scrubbing brush, was a part of the weekly round of household chores.  Now, I don't even own a scrubbing brush and give my floors a pretty cursory wipe down with an anti-bacterial cloth when they look like they need it.

My first paid job was at a local hotel during the summer holidays.  I was fifteen.  Generally we were put in pairs to clean the rooms, changing the beds and cleaning bathrooms as required.  There were stints of washing up pans at the sink or preparing salads en masse for wedding receptions.  But the worst thing was scrubbing out.  We started at 7.30 am by cleaning the bars and front hall, where the tiled entrance needed scrubbing.  But then there was the Gents' toilet.....  on a Sunday morning, after a busy Saturday evening....  Never again, I thought.

However, on Thursday I spent all day on my hands and knees scrubbing the parquet flooring of the coffee shop at the National Trust property where we volunteer.  We are in the period known as "The Winter Clean" - the property is closed to visitors until March.  A team of us gather and work methodically through each room in turn, removing cobwebs, cleaning windows, dusting objects and applying polish to furniture and floors.  This week we reached the coffee shop, where the floor needed serious attention.  I can tell you that scrubbing out uses muscles you had forgotten you had.

A pair of tan fingerless mitts, using patterns from Sheila McGregor's collection of Fair Isle designs.

And what may even be the last of that blue yarn, knitted on the journey to the Cotswolds last week.

So, what of Houlland?  Progress continues, although I'm now playing what is sometimes called "Yarn Chicken"  ie not at all sure that I have enough to finish the piece.  My yarn is laceweight and there was 100gms, but unfortunately the yardage is lower than that of the yarn used by Donna Smith, the designer.  Someone on Ravelry, in Germany, seems to have two skeins of the same shade available, but it is a different dye-lot.  I find it impossible to gauge how much of the piece remains to be knit since it is an outside-in construction.  We'll see.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Real Books

As I may have mentioned earlier, I have been an avid reader all my life.  Recently, a number of innovations have given me particular pleasure.

I was not an early adopter of the Kindle, but I am committed to mine now.  A friend will mention a book title in an email or a blog post, and, in an instant, I can buy that work and it will arrive, as if by magic, on my machine - no hunting in bookshops, no ordering up in libraries - instant gratification. 

Once, I would stock up with paperbacks on offer and read my way through them.  Then they would pile up.  But not now, as the Kindle stores them all invisibly.  Of course, one can no longer pass them on to others, but how often did that happen anyway?  I used to cart mine off to Oxfam.

The other day, I had left my reading specs behind.  Just by going up one font size on the Kindle I was able to manage perfectly well.

I recently finished reading Juliet Barker's biography of the Brontes, all 850 pages of it, and a very worthwhile read it was.  I decided to move on to her book on Wordsworth, a similar tour de force.  But not available on Kindle, oddly.  However, here's the next wonder of modern life: for 0.01p I bought a second-hand copy on-line.  Even with £2.80 postage, that is a huge bargain.  It duly arrived, and its bookmark reveals that it had been bought at Dove Cottage originally.

But now:  This is a hard-back book, as long as the one on the Brontes.  That one slipped invisibly into my Kindle, which maintained its heft as a slim volume weighing almost nothing.  The Wordsworth biography is a solid brick of a book weighing, amazing, but true, three and a half pounds.  It accompanies me around the house like a small pet.  And the print size - non-adjustable, of course - is very small, going to minute for the extensive quotations from the works.  I certainly can't imagine reading this book outside the house.

Of course, in a real-life bookshop one is led to titles  and authors previously unknown.  The front cover - indeed the title - can be very persuasive, in a way which does not happen with the Kindle.  Books with a visual element are wasted on it.  I continue to buy knitting books as books.

This is my progress so far on Houlland.  It's not been the easiest of starts, even after I managed the pick up.  I think you could call the pattern deceptively simple, as it has been only to easy to slip out of line (Twice) or even mistake a wrong side for a right side row (once).  The yarn I'm using, Filigree Lace, is a merino single and rather unforgiving to unpick.  I think I have the measure of the pattern now, but we'll see.

Finally a fingerless mitt, knitted while waiting for good enough daylight to unpick a couple of rows of Houlland.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Remember this?  It's the edging lace for Houlland, a hap shawl from "The Book of Haps".  I completed the 64 peaks of the lace and then got stuck.  The next instruction was to pick up 315 stitches along the flat edge, right side facing.

I did this, fairly successfully, but then I noticed that the right side now had quite a solid ugly ridge, while the wrong side looked much better.  Clearly I had picked up the wrong row somehow.  I tried again, but got stuck.  There was no consistent row to pick up and there were several shifts in the line, probably caused by me making small errors as I knitted the lace and not noticing.  I put it down after several attempts and gave it up as a bad job.

Recently I mentioned this on Jean in Edinburgh's blog and a knitter from Holland quoted the designer's advice on the matter - the designer, Donna Smith, lives in Shetland. This is how the knitting community works these days.

Now I have not only got the stitches picked up, but I've also realised something else.  I don't care for knitting on circular needles.  Stitches are hard to count against the cables and there is an awkward shift between the cable and the needle section.  But Donna Smith advises using sixteen inch needles.  Shetland knitters traditionally would have used wires ie long, thin, double pointed needles for whatever they were knitting.  So yesterday I bought a pair of long 3mm needles and the relief is palpable. 

So we emerge from the enforced break of the holidays.  Many years ago I remember a friend at college stating that she believed she could exist perfectly happily in isolation with Radio 4, some tapestry and a well-stocked library.  At eighteen, I have to say that I was doubtful about this - it seemed to leave out a few essentials.

However, with the gym closed and our usual activities on hold it has felt a little like that here.  I've been reading Juliet Barker's biography of the whole Bronte family, which runs to some 850 pages.  Just at the right time, up came Sally Wainwright's  brilliant film, "To Walk Invisible", on the same topic.  And then, the serial of "Northanger Abbey" available on catchup in two omnibus instalments...

A little tapestry to work while listening.  The extra crewel wool finally arrived and I was able to complete the design. Now I am just working the background stitches, which is much less fun.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Finlaggan mittens

Ten pairs of mittens now for Knit for Peace.  I'm trying to use up some of the vast hoard of oddments which I have in stock.

This is my latest effort.  I have subscribed to Kate Davies' "Inspired by Islay" Club, the notion being that each week a pattern is released.  I don't see myself knitting kilt hose, but the chart for the cable is very appealing.  Why not make use of it, I thought.

I used a 4ply wool yarn from Natural Yarns, and a 3.25 needle.  I knit them flat, and just placed the cable by increasing 1 stitch in 4 on the panel in a set-up row.  I used that simple rib edging I have used before on the Celtic waistcoats - two rows garter, two rows rib and two rows garter.  It makes a neat edge.

I put in a thumb gusset and completed the thumb on dpns.  At the top of the cable I closed it off by slipping stitches and passing them over.  This gives a finished look to it.

These feel very warm and are a snug fit. 

I will be trying to give my thumbs a rest over the Christmas break.  Luckily the tapestry yarn has arrived to finish the little Celtic panel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A good read...

One of the many delights of being retired is the freedom to enjoy reading in that immersive fashion which just doesn't work when you read a page or two each night before dropping off.

As a child, I read a lot.  This was partly because electricity had yet to reach us, so we had gas-light, but no television.  We did not read in bed as the lighting there was in the form of Kelley lamps - small oil lamps which gave just enough light to undress by.  It sounds like another century, as indeed it was - the twentieth century.

In the top juniors I discovered the works of Rosemary Sutcliff, which I wolfed down.  My elder sister, never an avid reader herself, was already at the grammar school in town, from which it was possible to access the Town Library at lunchtimes.  I remember reading "Dawn Wind" in an evening.  My sister protested because changing my books every day seemed a bit excessive to her. She had a point.

Now, of course, I just switch on my Kindle and there the whole of Sutcliff's oeuvre is waiting to be downloaded.  "Warrior Scarlet", "The Eagle of the Ninth", "Frontier Wolf", "Outcast", "The Mark of the Horse Lord" - the list goes on and on.  Those familiar themes of the central character, maimed or disabled in some way, as she was herself, trying to make his way in the world.  And the astonishing way in which she uses details of the Roman world as though she had lived that life.  Everywhere detailed descriptions of landscape, trees, plants and the changing of the seasons.

Just one or two of them, perhaps for younger children, seem overburdened with period detail for the sake of it, but mostly she creates a fully realised world.

I had not read her adult fiction.  Here she is more likely to adopt a female perspective, as in "Lady in Waiting", telling the story of Walter Ralegh from his wife's viewpoint.  Or "The Rider of the White Horse" about the English Civil War and Thomas Fairfax.

Sutcliff's memoir of her own childhood, and the agonising story of her early, doomed love affair, "The Blue Remembered Hills" gave some insight into her studies of loneliness and endurance.

If you have not read any Rosemary Sutcliff, or not for some time, you have a feast in store.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Celtic stranded and Fair Isle

Some more pairs of fingerless mitts.  I'm trying to use up a batch of Jaeger yarn I have had in my stash for many years - it just seems to keep multiplying.  The camera does not seem to want to pick up on the contrast between the deep turquoise main and the pale mauve contrast here.

Two of these have Celtic patterns taken from Co Spinhoven's "Charted Celtic designs" and the other is a classic Fair Isle from Sheila McGregor. 

Knitting Fair Isle patterns like this one follows a totally predictable rhythm which is very easy to learn and satisfying to knit.  eg k3 main, k3 contrast.

Celtic patterns tend not to do this.  They have asymmetric qualities, so the chart has to be to hand.  Longer floats are required.  But they do often achieve a three dimensional effect, even with such a simple repeat as this one.