Thursday, 12 December 2013

Gifts for Knitters

Our little knitting group had their Christmas party the other night. This year we chose to have a potluck house do over a restaurant meal and I think the idea worked really well! It allowed us to bring food we all enjoyed and have a setting where we could easily knit and chat and really catch up with each other.
The lasting impression of the evening I think was one of carbs. Oh so many carbs....oh so tasty...

The concept was a little new to us as a group so organisation wasn't quite fine tuned. Somehow everyone brought doughy, bready or cakey things.  I tried valiantly to add vegetables to my pasta salad but not even those could cut through the general wheaten goldness of it all. Best of all, when organising the party, it seemed like everyone was going to bring hoummous for our token the end, noone did!

Nonetheless, it was all delicious. I parked myself next to these gorgeous Arab pastries and didn't move for the rest of the night. I even squirelled some away to take home and had them for breakfast the next day!

The other great success of the night was our round of Secret Santa. We do try and help our Santas by filling out a little questionnaire beforehand with things like colours we love or hate to work with, our favourite fibres, complete no-nos and non-knitting things we might also like. My tip if you are buying for a knitter? Stay clear of pastels and fun-fur, those made everyones no-no list! My other tip? Ask them if they've got their eye on something in particular. It may seem like less of a surprise then, but it will be something they will definitely use and probably think of you each time they bring that tool or book out for a moment of crafting. Knitting and other crafts are often thought of as a bit of a frivolity and new tools or fancy yarns can fall quite far down the budget priorities in every day life, so receiving something as simple as a cutting mat and roller (as one of the girls asked for, within our £10 budget) as a present is really special.

Here are a few of the other lovely gifts that we exchanged:

Personally hand-dyed yarn for someone with a love of purple:

Bright chunky non-animal yarn and home-made vegan chocolates:
My choice of fibre from Hilltop Cloud fibres, a shop I know my giftee loves....I may or may not have accidentaly bought something for myself while I was there...oops

And the gift that I received and that really took me aback by being the most perfect pick for me from the more obscure section of "non-yarn things I also like": A set of small, hand thrown pottery bowls from St Ives

Most surprisingly of all, the person who gave me these has never been to my house or seen the Shelf Of Brown Pottery!

So there we are. We knitters, we like presents and food, we do.

Friday, 6 December 2013


Here is something that you do not see every day: Mark, wearing an actual warming garment around his neck.

For eleven years, I have offered and begged that he let me knit him something nice and all this time, he has been convinced that anything placed around his bare, freezing neck would result in his immediate strangulation.

So I gave up on the idea and went back to experimenting with my rigid heddle loom. So far, weaving for me has been more about rough, hard wearing textures, like wall hangings or rag rugs, but I've seen lots of really inspiring projects on ravelry and decided to try weaving with nice merino sock yarns. I used two colours of Malabrigo Sock for this - I was hoping to achieve a checkerboard pattern but have found out since that I wasn't using a dense enough reed, so it ended up just stripy. That said, hand dyed colours really come up completely differently when woven instead of knitted, so that was beautiful to see.
The idea was to make myself a cowl that I could loop around twice. I thought I had enough length in the warp but forgot to allow for the springiness of the yarn - once no longer under tension on the loom, the length of fabric shrank considerably to a silly, in between sort of length. Very pretty, but not quite useful. So it stayed draped on the banister for a while. Then I brought it downstairs to try and figure out what I wanted to do with it. And then, one night, Mark started playing with it and *gasp* draping it around his neck, as if to judge its size somehow.

- Honey, would you like a cowl out of that?
- Meh, maybe, if you're not using it for anything else...

Casually, like he was doing me a favour and taking this thing off my hands.
Because I am still new to weaving and every inch of fabric is precious and I can't imagine actually cutting any of it off, I have folded it into all kinds of intricate origami and sewed it up for him.

I, on the other hand, am never shy of wrapping up. One of my favourite buys from this years Wonderwool was some glorious, pure cashmere fibre - at first I thought it was just a natural pale colour, but it was actually a really subtle blend of soft beige, creams and greys. It was so beautiful to spin and even more wondeful to knit....just nothing but fluffy, silky softness, like knitting a cloud.
I wanted something that could fold down in lots of layers, and that reflected the lightness of the yarn, so I chose the super-easy Twist Your Soft Neck Warmer and even challenged myself to knit on larger than needles than the yarn required, something I've never been particularily brave about. I just  kept knitting til I was nearly out of yarn and the thing started to look ridiculously long. It's superb and I love it...I barely take it off when I get home!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Quiet preparations

Happy First of Advent to you all!

For us Swedes, the date marks the beginning of Christmas preparations in earnest - I have been really disappointed to see neighbours around us putting up lights and fully decked Christmas trees half-way through November this year...I know the shops all do it, but seeing it in a residential setting just takes away the magic completely. But as we are now in December for real, I look forward to driving home tonight and discovering all the twinkling lights on the dark way home.
I've even made a stand and brought a little festive cheer into the office this year!

In shop news, I have finally found the formula for my perfect green! Khaki is my favourite colour in the world, yet so far in my yarn dyeing, I've never been quite happy with what's come out of the pan. Until now, that is. As I was developing the different greens for the Woodlands embroidery yarns, I found a simple, reliable khaki....and here it is: Elfyn's Lace in Little Green


I got so excited about it, I also dyed my very private stash of Gower Wool Fibre in it. I'm really enjoying knitting with my own hand spun yarns at the moment, and I've been keeping the fibre for a special project since the rest of it sold out in no time earlier this year, so this is now ready and waiting to be my special Christmas break project. I've been planning a Glacier Sweep for some time - I even started a version last year but wasn't happy with the way it was knitting up.


So there we are. Still all sorts of secret Christmas knitting going on that I can't show you, but the first candle is lit, and the Christmas cake is baked and being copiously fed whisky, so here is wishing you happy and stress-free Christmas preparations!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A little knitting

Hrm, blogging in the run-up to Christmas is proving a little trickier than I thought! I have plenty of projects on the go, but can't actually write about them at the risk of spoiling the surprise for those who might be reading this!

So I'll just share my own little indulgences:


The first one of my Bunty Mitts - the pattern is so Orla Kiely-tastic that it's a wonder I haven't made these sooner! The yarn is Shilasdair 4ply, a gorgeous vegetable dyed blend of merino lambswool, angora, cashmere and baby's like butter through the hands, and the shifting colours are mesmerising. 

As the weather is turning colder, I find myself in work daydreaming of rushing home to a cup of tea and a big, chunky, proper woolly knitting and so I've finally made a start on my very own hand spun sweater. It's one of the first yarns I spun when I started learning last year, having carded together 3 natural shades of Norwegian breed wool. It was inspired by the lady who delivers our eggs here in the village - she's not a known or conscious crafter as such, but she wears this wonderful, battered, organic-looking sweater on her rounds which she says is the result of her plucking a sheep, spinning the wool on a wheel she happens to have at the farm and knitting it up "just to see if it would work". 
Mine is far from  the best yarn ever spun: sections of the fabric are a little skewed where the yarn isn't properly balanced and there are bigger specks of white where I didn't quite card the fibre properly but the whole thing just feels so earthy and interesting to watch as it grows.

I am planning on sewing this lovely braid woven by friend Jan around the cuffs once it's done, to really complete the home-made-ness of it. 

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Day release

Wednesday morning, I had an appointment at the hospital in Abergavenny, some 25miles of scenic drive away from home in the opposite direction from my job in Cardiff. As Abergavenny is a town that I like going to, and the appointment was at an awkward time to be able to return to work afterwards, I decided to book the day off altogether and have an outing.
Walking in from the car park, I was immediately greated by some seasonal alterations to the Shepherd and Sheep statue:

Good job too, as the autumn days are finally turning decidedly crisper.

I was amazed at how busy the town was with plenty of people milling around. I had expected a small town up in the Valleys to be all quiet mid-week, but a combination of half-term and cattle market meant that it was as lively as any Saturday.
I headed towards the old Market Hall as the Wednesday Flea Market was on, again, much bigger and busier that I had expected. They also had wonderful new harvest-time decorations hanging from the ceiling:


 The flea market itself was not bad at all, stock was a little older than the kind of thing I go for, but certainly quality items and a pleasant athmosphere.

Living close to Cardiff as I do, it's easy to assume that the rest of the country is just sleepy valley towns, but it is testimony to the ongoing importance of farming in Wales that a town so far from the motorway and shiny modern offices still comes alive with people and trading on Cattle Market day.

Of course, no visit to Abergavenny would be complete without stopping by Ginevra and The Wool Croft with some feeble excuse to just spend time in her lovely shop. Turns out that the Wool Croft are indeed the mischief-makers behind the woolly socks on the sheep statue!
I picked up some interchangeable tips for a future project, and a little ball of Noro Kureyon for my blanket (which I really need to do some more work on) and by then there was a slight lull in business so I could finally take some pictures inside!

the very last of the Gower Wool - hoping to bring Ginevra
and all of you more very soon!

As is my habit when driving anywhere around the Valleys, I got lost on the way home. Actually, I wasn't really lost as the signs were telling me that I was heading towards Newport all the time, but on a road that I had never been on before and I didn't recognise any of my surroundings until I emerged from a roundabout 5 miles from home! But of course, getting lost driving in Wales is not quite like getting lost in other places. You are rewarded with stunning views of autumnal valleys and even the odd staggering statue such as this: The Guardian of the Valleys, a 20 meter high memorial to the Six Bells mining disaster near Cwmtillery.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

When bad felting happens to (reasonably) good people

This was going to be the post in which I showed off my newly finished, lovely sweater for this autumn. I've been working on it on and off for nearly a year: 4ply Swedish pure wool in a very scandinavian choice of 3 greys with occasional green and mustard stripes, all in garter stitch in an unusual construction. I'd done all the knitting and edging and found it hard to take it off whenever I tried it on, it was so cosy. All that was left to do was to run it in the machine just to full it out a little and shrink it a touch as all that garter stitch was showing sign of stretching well beyond the end of my arms.
It's not the first time I've put knitted garments in the machine and they have all come out magically improved for it.
Not this time.
Oh no.
I'm not sure what I did differently - I remember hesitating a minute before putting soap in - but what came out was very stiff, half inch thick, solid felt....about 1/3 of the size of what had gone in. This was not slightly shrunk in need of a good stretch. This was beyond all salvation unless I could find a five year old that wanted a jacket they wouldn't be able to bend their arms in.

I've done all kinds of bodging and rescuing projects before, but never messed something up so badly that it was completely unusable. There were tears, I'm not afraid to admit.  There was a lot of swearing. And then I turned around and saw this:

The thing wasn't even dry yet, but the thick wooly felt was just too much for one little kitty to resist.
So there we are. I didn't get a new sweater for work tomorrow, but apparently, this is the best thing I have ever made ever in the whole universe.

Pictures taken  within 10 seconds of my attaching the last thread - he was sitting on the table watching me with a "is it ready yet?" look on his face.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


For those of you who don't like to wallow in the autumn gloom and are instead looking for something to brighten up the murk and darkness:

Elfyn's Lace in First Leaf, Tainted Love, Orla, Dark Denim and natural Winter White

All available in the etsy shop now :)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Weaving 2.0

So you may remember that a few months back, my friend passed me an antique weaving loom that she in turn had been given by an old lady who was no longer using it. I posted a brief mention about it here but didn't really delve into it much further...the reason for that is that the loom and I did not get on. It was a 4-shaft table loom and had hundreds and hundreds of little wire heddles and it took an entire day and a lot of swearing to warp it up and I hated the thing, frankly. It has since travelled on to its next victim and I thought I would live happily ever after never weaving again.
But then one day, as I was having a clear-out in the craft room and putting a fixed weaving frame up on ebay, I came across rigid heddle looms. They looked lovely and simple and promised to be warped up ready to weave within an hour, and although they couldn't do the fancy patterns, they looked like they could do everything I'd ever want to on a loom.
So I trawled ebay. Then I trawled Ravelry and fell in with all sorts of weaving crowds leading me astray. Then I entered into financial negotiations with Santa. And then finally, someone offered me the exact size and make loom that I was after, and in the lovely town of Stroud too. Incidentally, my spinning wheel was an ebay purchase picked up from Stroud as well!
So here it is: my Ashford 32" rigid heddle loom. It's a thing of absolute simplicity and I love it for it. It even has lime green cogs and bits that matches our coffee table perfectly.

As you know from my last blog post, our trip to Stroud took a little longer than expected, but I still had the loom all warped up and ready to go that evening. It took perhaps a little closer to two hours as it was all a bit new, but I can see how it will get faster the more I do it. It is simple and smooth and easy to get right and you don't go blind doing it and your partner doesn't run away with the milk man in the mean time.
Sunday morning, I dug out the bag of beautiful , plant dyed yarns that my mothers colleague had left me when she'd moved. I think they were dyed in the 70s, and had neat little labels with the different substances used on them. They were one of those small gifts that I had been very honoured to receive. However, the yarn itself was a little too rough for knitting with....but for weaving, it was perfect!

This was the full length that I made - it took exactly a week of short bursts of weaving - the loom is so big that it takes up the whole coffee table, so I try and work with it when Mark is out or otherwise occupied. I gave the fabric a wash and let it dry in the autumn sun yesterday, and stitched it into my very first "proper" woven item:

It's just a cushion, but I'm stupidly delighted with it. I actually can't wait to warp up the next thing, I've seen so many inspiring projects out there, and in such varied materials - rag rugs, soft merino scarves, cotton blankets, tea towels...all which can be made on that one loom, just using different size heddles and yarns.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Saturday in the country

A glorious day yesterday. For reasons I will explain later, Mark and I took a little trip to Stroud and the fantastic farmers market there. I have visited Stroud a couple of times before and I can safely say that it is my favourite farmers market in Britain ( my love of French markets is on a whole other level, I'm afraid ). We arrived relatively early and could enjoy strolling amongst the stalls before the crowds, admiring the autumnal displays, inspiring vintage items and glorious local food. I even managed to buy a sweet bouquet of country flowers....they are usually the first ones to sell out and I've seen real scuffles for the last bunches before.

 I was keen to revisit a peculiar little shop I'd discovered last time: On one side of a pet supply shop, the owner had set up a table, several spinning wheels, peg looms, bags of fleece and yarn for sale, even though at the time nothing indicated it to be a craft shop! The half-a-shop now has a proper sign outside and a lady demonstrating the use of the peg loom inside and the craft part is getting at least as much interest as the pet supply side of thing. They sell a good selection of British yarns from Blacker Yarns, and various breeds of spinning fibre in natural colours and apparently also run spinning and weaving evenings.


We had coffee at the Market Cafe, a perfect vantage point for some Cotswolds people watching, and picked out the last few treats for home (Sausages and sticky ginger pudding for him, goats cheese and ganache cake for me) and then debated which way to drive home.

My car has a worn part at the moment, due to be changed on Monday, and I didn't think the questionable surface on the M5 had done it any good on the way up. I also generally don't like driving the same way to and from anywhere if I can avoid it, so we decided to head up towards Gloucester and down along Monmouth on the A roads back home. Being young and reckless and not all that good at following maps, we took an unexpected turn and found ourselves on the scenic road through the Forest of Dean.
There we came across the Harts Barn Craft Centre and their gorgeous tea room....we had the best table in the house, looking out through the window in the meter-thick walls onto apple trees and brambles and drizzle from the comfort of a warm cottage-y interior and being served home-made soup and cheese scones the size of our heads.

    Another wrong turn (you need to look at this as
a road trip by now) took us through Abergavenny
- a place I never mind accidentally finding myself in. The sheep market was on - it felt a little like seeing the Source, especially as we then went straight to the Wool Croft yarn shop. Ginevra has been stocking my Gower Wool since earlier this year and it was a great opportunity to catch up with her and find out that the yarn has been doing
well for her...and that she would like some more as soon as we have it back from the mill :


On the whole, a faultless day: autumn and everything it has to offer at its very best.
Oh, and the reason for the trip? yep, a new toy. again. ;)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Tarnished Collection

I have been having a little play with some more subtle colours this week.....something more in tune with the weather, perhaps? I wanted to create something that would reflect the gentle softness of the Elfyn's Lace yarn....I hope you will like them!

Left to right: Old Rose, Dried Lavender, Pebble and Windswept

Understated for elegant winter accessories, and they really show off the natural sheen of the Bluefaced Leicester lambswool fibre!

Available in the shop today :)

As for the grey weather, I'm not complaining! I love autumn. I love grim rainy days which just beg to be spent indoors knitting, drinking cups of loose leaf tea made in that special tea pot, watching the cats all snuggled up and eating the occasional bowl of fortifying soup.