snawheid

Here is the result of my pompom mania — SNAWHEID!

Snawheid is a seasonal, snowflake-adorned beanie, feauturing a gigantic snowball pompom. It being Wovember and everything, I thought it would be fun to present to you three rather different Snawheids, each made in a different British breed-specific yarn. All are, of course, 100% wool (as is, incidentally, the rest of my outfit, with the exclusion of my boots).

Snawheid #1 is knitted in Shetland Organic 2 ply. As its name would suggest, this yarn comes from certified organic Shetland sheep, and is processed by organic mills. It knits to a standard 4 ply tension, and, as you would imagine, has a lovely woolly, typically Shetland hand. In the ball it has a matt, almost chalky feel to it and it is plied and spun slightly looser than other natural Shetlands I’ve knit with. When blocked, it puffs right up, producing a lovely halo. I gave it a good long soak and the yarn bloomed and relaxed tremendously. Its a really special, totally traditional Shetland yarn, and makes a lovely soft, even fabric. It has lent Snawheid #1 a quintessentially cosy, Wintery feel.

For a rather different look, I present to you Snawheid #2, which has been knitted by Jen in Excelana 4 ply.

I decided not to stick the pompom on Jen’s Snawheid just yet, so that I could show you my crown design — which is shaped to resemble a gigantic snowflake. If one were in any way averse to pompoms, or preferred a sleeker look, the crown ensures that your heid will remain adequately snaw-y, however you decide to knit this hat.

Excelana is a collaboration between Susan Crawford and John Arbon: the former has unparallelled knowledge of vintage yarns, and the latter is the UK’s independent spinning meister. The result is this delicious blend of 70% Exmoor Blueface / 30% Bluefaced Leicester which has an incredibly smooth, soft hand, a lovely sheen, and a good bit of bounce. Being worsted spun, it also has superb stitch definition, making it ideal for showing off some festive colourwork snowflakes.

Without the enormous pompom, and knitted in the monochrome shades of Persian Grey and Alabaster, I think Jen’s hat has a lovely muted, classic feel.

And finally, here is Snawheid #3.

After I finished Snawheid #1, and got my hands on Snawheid #2, I had a sudden desire to make another one using Jamieson and Smith Jumper Weight. Snawheid #3 is knitted in shade FC 34 — the coolest of cool winter blues — and 1A, a natural Shetland white.

I am not quite sure why, but this is my favourite of the three.

Perhaps I am just in a blue-hat mood, or something.

Or perhaps its that the addition of colour makes this hat feel particularly jolly and festive.

Or perhaps it is just that knitting with Jamieson and Smith jumper weight feels like spending time with an old friend.

In any case it is fair to say that I have gone a wee bit Snawheid crazy. These gigantic, happy pompoms certainly chime with my mood right now; I am really pleased with the design and I absolutely love every one of these three hats. And let me tell you that you have got off lightly with the name, as the temptation to call it Bawheid (one of Tom’s dad’s favourite insults) was extremely strong.

Well, now there’s just a bit of pattern-tweaking and checking to do and, all being well, the SNAWHEID pattern will be released on Ravelry tomorrow (19th).

Wovember is here!

Happy Wovember, everyone! If you haven’t done so already, I urge you to head on over to the Wovember site to read the first of many wonderfully woolly installments. This year, I’ve not really been involved with the Wovember preparations because of the, um, somewhat pressing demands of my collection and book, but you can be assured that I am sitting here wearing my 100% wool outfit and Wovember badge and supporting everything that Felix and Tom are doing. This years Wovember theme is ‘closing the gap’ – that is – the gap between fibre and finished commodity that often leaves consumers woefully misinformed about a yarn or garment’s provenance and the different processes involved in its production. Tom and Felix have done a marvelous job of curating a series of really inspiring and interesting essays, beginning with a group of posts exploring what’s involved in “Growing Wool”: celebrating sheep, and the work of the people who raise and care for the animals who produce the fibre that we all love to knit with. I’m looking forward to reading more!

I shall be doing my bit to celebrate Wovember by knitting like mad, wearing wool every day, and writing more about woolly matters. I’ll try to post here every day for the next month. Till tomorrow, then — HAPPY WOVEMBER!

Shetland Wool Week in Pictures: part 3

where we stayed (I would heartily recommend it).

And the view from our window.

Shetland Times Bookshop, ready for Wool Week.

Delicious Fair Isle Cake, at the Heritage Yarn launch


Wonderful new yarn from Shetland Organics

Projection of Jo Jack’s work at the Bonhoga Gallery



Luminous Yarns

Jane Outram’s prize-winning tablet weaving at the Shetland Textile Museum.

Pressed-felt brooch by Donna Smith


Shetland Wool cushions by Ella Gordon

Phat Sheep Textiles

Handwoven pincushion from Aamos Designs

Nuff said.

Shetland Wool Week in pictures, part 2


Mel at Aithsetter


Mel and Hazel McKenzie, our Wool-Week landlady.




Sandra and Ella at J&S (if you are wondering about their cardigans, there’s a free pattern here)


Eric Stewart, showing us around the impressive textile facilitation unit at Shetland College


Knitters from six nations enjoying a trip to Unst (yoohoo ladies! It was lovely to meet you!)


Hazel Tindall, teaching Fair Isle


Gudrun, teaching lace


Susan, looking fabulous


Chris Harrison, Operations Director of Vi-Spring, receiving an award from Eric Wilson, past-master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen, and one of the directors of the Campaign for Wool


Oliver Henry, telling us about the development of the new Shetland Heritage Yarn

(if you look at the window-reflections in the previous 2 photographs, you’ll see Misa and Deborah — the organisational geniuses behind Shetland Wool Week, to whom we are all incredibly grateful for this fantastic event! I think I can also spot Jane’s back in a rather pleasing cardigan . . .)


Me and Bess Jamieson – both wearing Fairisle – at the Shetland Textile Museum.

(Big thanks to Cathy Scott for permission to reproduce her photos of the Unst trip and Hazel’s workshop)

Shetland Wool Week in pictures: part 1

Sheep on the hill . . .

. . . and at the marts.

Some fine boys . . .

. . . and my secret favourite.


Oliver Henry, Shetland Woolmeister . . .

. . . judging fine wool on the hoof . . .

. . . and off.


straight from the sheep . . .

. . . to the wool store

. . ready for sorting and grading.

36 hours in wool world

I appear to have spent the past thirty-six hours in the place Tom refers to as Wool World. This is not actually a world full of wool (just imagine!) but is rather a particularly intense state of being, characterised by a vacant stare, furious knitting, and the inability to talk about anything but knitting. Conversations between ordinary humans and those who have entered wool world tend to go like this:

Tom: What would you like to eat for dinner?
Me: ye gods, the stitch definition on this yarn is incredible.
Tom: How about fish?
Me: Have you seen these colours? Just look at these colours. These colours are a-m-a-z-i-n-g.

While rendering one incapable of ordinary human interaction, or other necessary activities (such as washing oneself, or eating), being in Wool World does have its benefits. Individuals who have entered Wool World may have a weird and somewhat frazzled appearance; they may seem strangely distracted, and vague to the point of vacuity, but they can also be productive.

In my case, thirty-six hours in Wool World has resulted in the completed something mentioned in my previous post. The something is now blocking, and I like it immensely. The Shetland Heritage yarn is seriously wonderful to work with, and I love the results so much that I want to start knitting with it again right away. I am frankly itching to show the finished object to you, but as I have designed and made it specifically for the folk who are attending my workshop, they should really be the first to see it. But there’s not long to wait: the completed pattern will be uploaded to Ravelry on the afternoon of Monday October 8th – one week today!

Now, wasn’t there something else I was supposed to be doing? . . .

preparations

Shetland Wool Week is almost upon us! I have much to do in preparation — one pleasing task involves knitting with this lovely stuff.

This is Shetland Heritage yarn. It is the result of an exciting collaboration between the Shetland Museum and Archives, the Shetland Amenity Trust, Curtis Wool Direct, and Jamieson & Smith — the idea being to produce a modern yarn as close as possible to that which was originally used to hand-knit traditional Fair Isle garments.

Some of you may remember a post I wrote last year about this Fair Isle cardigan, that I picked up second hand.

Like most traditional Fair Isle garments produced before the 1940s, the yarn used to knit this cardigan was worsted spun. This process — in which the raw wool is combed rather than carded, then drawn short, and spun so that the fibres sit parallel to one another — produces a yarn with a smooth hand, and a very even finish. Many old Fair Isle garments have a slight ‘sheen’ that is the result of the smooth worsted yarns that have been used to knit them.

Like the vintage yarn used to knit my cardigan, the new Heritage Yarn is worsted spun.

Because of the way the fibre has been prepared and processed, this yarn has a much smoother, softer, and overall less “woolly” feel than contemporary knitter would be used to finding in other “Shetland” or Shetland-type yarns.

The palette — which is based on that of early Fair Isle garments in the Shetland Museum — works really well for traditional colourwork patterns. Just take a look at the beautiful swatch towards the end of Jen’s post here — suggesting the promise of great Jen AC things to come!

I mention this yarn, because it is one of the linchpins of this year’s Shetland Wool Week, and because I am about to knit up a something in it myself, which will hopefully form the basis of my workshop at the Shetland Museum. In the coming days, I intend to knit the something and produce a design. Then the idea is that we – the class and I – will collectively model the something, photograph the something, name the something, then upload the something in pattern form to Ravelry, live from the Shetland Museum. This plan is, of course, contingent upon my producing a successful Wool-Week something with this wonderful yarn. Wish me luck! I’m off to get knitting . . .

A grand day


(combed tops and yarn in the sample room. Wool heaven.)

Yesterday I had a grand day out. Martin and Janet Curtis kindly invited me to the opening of the new showroom at Haworth Scouring, the world’s largest commission scouring company, and an important hub of the British wool industry. The opening showcased many different elements of the industry — from processing right through to retail and distribution — and I was there to demonstrate hand-knitting and design. My sister, Helen, lives nearby, and it was great to bring her along as a spare pair of knitterly hands. Here she is working on a BMC, with some of the beautiful throws from the Real Shetland Company and my Rams and Yowes blanket behind her.

She couldn’t resist trying out one of the Real Shetland throws.

And here she is having a gander at Knit Real Shetland. (Note the obligatory Manu cardigan!)


The showroom had been fitted with a luxurious Shetland carpet, and there were other superb examples of British wool carpeting on display.


. . . as well as woven textiles . . .


(These samples are from Abraham Moon, another great Yorkshire company)

. . .knitting yarns . . .


(Jamieson & Smith’s amazing Shetland Heritage yarn, of which more another time).

. . . finished garments . . .

. . . and other innovative British wool products, such as these Shetland duvets, and a fabulous Vi-Spring Shetland mattress, of which I completely failed to take a photograph.

But my favourite thing, out of the many wonderful woolly things on display in the new showroom, was a piece by artist Angela Wright.

Angela’s wool installations take coned yarn (supplied by Martin Curtis), which is reworked and rewound into gigantic woolly hanks. These huge hanks, when arranged, suspended, and carefully laid down by Angela, have a profoundly transformative effect on the spaces in which they appear. I only had my macro lens with me yesterday, so was unable to take a picture capturing the full effect of Angela’s piece on the showroom space, but you get a good sense of her work from this earlier piece in Bradford Cathedral.


(“189 Miles” Wool Installation ver. 2, Bradford Cathedral, 2010. Photograph ©David Carr-Smith / Angela Wright)

I think it is quite rare to find textile art that manages to combine the spectacular with the contemplative, but Angela’s work is both. These installations are grand and public in scale, but there’s a quiet intimacy about them too, which arises from the woolly materials Angela is using, and (very clearly, I think) her own distinctive personal ‘feel’ for space and substance. Sited in Bradford, the historic home of the British wool industry, the installation seems celebratory and commemorative, both veil and shroud, a portal connecting past to future. There is a tremendous weight to Angela’s pieces — the wool threads hang, drape, and flow with a heaviness that is deeply emotional. Angela told me how some folk were moved to tears upon encountering the piece in Bradford Cathedral — I can well believe it.


(Wool Modern exhibition, Sydney, Australia, Apr/ May 2012, ©Angela Wright)

I recommend you go and have a look at these photographs which document the process of Angela’s wool installations from Yorkshire sheep to finished piece. Pretty amazing.

Here is Angela, discussing her installation with Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who came to open the showroom yesterday and who, like her brother in law, is firmly committed to the Campaign for Wool.

. . .Martin Curtis presented her with a very special woolly gift. . .

. . . a beautiful hand-knitted lace stole, created as part of the Shetland fine lace project.

It was a day in which, from start to finish, the best of British wool was celebrated. Helen and I felt honoured to have been a part of it and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Thankyou, Janet, and Martin, for a truly grand day!

Sheep Carousel

It’s time to show you the second design I’ll be launching at Woolfest. . . I confess that this one has been quite hard to keep quiet about . . .

Dear tea-obsessed knitters, I present to you . . .

The Sheep Carousel Tea Cosy!

I suppose it was inevitable that at some point I would combine two of my favourite things – sheep and tea – into a single design.

The tea cosy is designed in the shape of a stripey merry-go-round upon which eight jolly Shetland sheep seem to be having quite a bit of fun.

Why not put the wool of your favourite sheep to good use warming your teapot?

In his History of Hand Knitting, Richard Rutt dates the appearance of the knitted tea cosy to 1867 with the first “batchelor” cosy (incorporating openings for spout and handle) being published in Weldons in 1893. I’ve long been intrigued by Rutt’s remarks about tea cosies – he seems simultaneously fascinated by, and dismissive of, them. Perhaps he had a large, secret cosy collection squirrelled away somewhere:

“Crinoline dolls, thatched cottages, beehives, brooding hens, pineapples, even television sets and electric toasters have been the models for knitted tea cosies that hover uncertainly between trivial novelty and serious pop art.”

Oi, Rutt! We’ll have less of the “trivial novelty” – – I’ll have you know that this particular cosy has a serious technical purpose, acting as a miniature sampler upon which one can practice many different knitterly techniques: stranding, steeking, vikkel braids, centred decreases, i-cord . . .

. . . and the design has, of course a second crucial function in keeping your pot toasty-warm while you are waiting for your TEA to brew.

The Sheep Carousel is pictured here with the lovely Mary Kilvert mug that Felix sent to me last year.

mmm . . . tea . . .

I will be launching the Sheep Carousel pattern at Woolfest in kit form which will enable you to knit it with my favourite sheepy wool - Jamieson & Smith Shetland Supreme. One kit contains enough wool for two projects, so you could easily make both of the moorit-on-white and white-on-moorit versions pictured here.

Each carousel kit comes complete with wool, printed pattern, a professionally printed project bag and, in honour of Cumbria (where Woolfest is held) a card depicting a noble Herdwick ram whom I met and photographed at Woolfest in 2009.

The Sheep Carousel now has its own ravelry page, and the digital version of the pattern will be released when I return from Woolfest on the 24th June.

I had a total blast with this design – I hope you have as much fun knitting it!

Tír Chonaill

Woolfest is just a fortnight away! I am pleased to say I am mostly prepared (hoping to hear about the whereabouts of the last of my stock today, fingers crossed). I’ve produced two new designs to launch as kits at the event (with yarn and project bags), and sent the patterns off to my printers yesterday. As it really isn’t long till they are published, I thought I’d show you a few photographs in advance. So here’s the first design: it is a Donegal wrap or throw, and I’ve called it Tír Chonaill.

The wrap is knitted in “Soft Donegal” – the same lovely Irish yarn I used for the Bláithín designs. As well as the fresh, Spring-like shades I used for the cardigans, there are a number of deep jewel-like shades in the Donegal Yarns palette that really speak to each other, and which I wanted to bring together. The throw mingles three of these rich shades against a creamy báinín background.

The palette and pattern were inspired by Medieval tapestries. And the name of the design also has historic associations: Tír Chonaill was the name of the last independent Gaelic sovereignty in Ireland: a kingdom which, until the Flight of the Earls in 1607, covered most of what later became County Donegal.

The finished design is about 3 feet square – just right for a wrap or lap blanket – though the tiled repeats mean that it is easily customised for those who would prefer a smaller pram blanket, or a larger throw. It is knit in the round, steeked and finished using similar techniques as those used on the Bláithín cardigans. And the pattern is surprisingly simple to knit — because the yarn is worsted-weight, and the background shades are never carried over long distances, the throw works up quickly, and would be fine for someone reasonably new to colourwork. You can see the steek-sandwich and i-cord edging here:

One of the things I really like about this sort of tiled design is the way that the repeat creates different lines of visual continuity. This only works over a reasonably large area – so this is an ideal design for this particular repeat.

The rich tweedy colours – which really speak to, and blend with, each other – add to this sense of continuity as well.

We took these photographs at St Anthony’s Chapel, just down the road in Holyrood Park. When I’m there, I always think of the ascent of Arthur’s Seat in James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for brockenspectres when we took these photographs. But even when there are teenagers and tourist buddies about (it is a popular spot) I always find the atmosphere around the chapel just a wee bit eerie.

. . . an atmosphere which was only added to by a little wind and rain.

There were also several canny rooks knocking about the ruins of the chapel, but none of them wanted to participate in our wuthering photoshoot, unfortunately.

So, if you like this design, I’ll have it available in kit form at Woolfest! The pattern now has its own ravelry page, and printed and digital copies of the pattern will also be available shortly after the launch. I may be able to offer some kits as well, depending on the level of interest.

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