Knitting in the land of ice and fire

Processed with VSCOcam with 5 presetI’m in Iceland for the summer holidays. I know, right? It’s like every knitter’s dream come true. And it’s a dream even harder to believe when, by some excellent twist of fate, I happen to be staying in Reykjavik at Ragga Eiríksdóttir’s place, while (unfortunately for me) she herself is gallivanting abroad in Europe. You’ve probably heard of Ragga. Living in an Icelandic knitter’s apartment (and not any knitter, at that!) is such a wonderful experience. The place is teeming with yarn-related books and magazines, woolen things, and yarn around every corner. Most inspiring.
Of course, with all the mind-numbing sight-seeing and the like, not much has been happening in the way of proper knitting. I’ve managed however to knit a few rows on my linen stitch scarf, as well as a few squares for my modular blanket.

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In my trips around the island, I’ve been trying to keep my eyes peeled for anything that wanders off the beaten path of those colourful balls of Ístex lopi you can find by the hundreds in almost every shop here. (Don’t get me wrong: I love that kind of lopi, it’s just that it’s so easy – and cheap – to obtain in Paris anyway that I wouldn’t bother to buy it here.) What I’m looking for are the little special places where you can buy yarn that’s been produced, spun and/or dyed locally, by hand, in workshops. So far, I’ve found two of such places.
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At the Þingborg wool centre near Selfoss, I bought some einband and some nice unspun lopi, in natural colours (the wonderful, warm scent of lanolin still clings to them), along with a little skein of two-ply spun yarn dyed with indigo and a local plant called ramfang.

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In Hvanneyri, near Borgarnes, at the Ullarselið, I found more colourful yarn (as you can see from the first picture): einband, léttlopi and handspun, dyed with plants such as lupinus, rhubarb or parmelia lichen. Oh, and I indulged myself with two small skeins of Icelandic angora.
I feel very special about all these findings. Maybe there are more to come. Hopefully, for my wallet’s sake, not too many more!

A yarnery in Bordeaux

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A three-day stay in Bordeaux for work provided the opportunity to visit a beautiful and inviting yarn store just off rue Sainte-Catherine, called La Lainerie. It displayed one of the most exhaustive offerings of Rowan yarns I’ve come across in France, and the owner Marie-Line was very nice and friendly, providing great conversation. I bought a few balls of Rowan fine tweed (for a little something I have in mind), as well as a skein of Austrian superfine merino, in a gorgeous understated variety of blues.
On the train to Bordeaux and back, I worked on a new project: yet another scarf, in 2-color linen stitch pattern (I’m smitten with this stitch right now!), made with Noro Taiyo 4 ply yarn and some undyed Bluefaced Leicester.

In pattern

Processed with VSCOcam with e5 presetThe (free) pattern for my Gothika lace shawl has been test knitted, edited, translated and is now available on Ravelry! The thrill! The pride! The gratefulness for all the help and encouragement that has made this possible!
Now I can focus on something else. Like work these fun little square modules that someday will be pieced into a blanket. Or sorting out this huge bin of vintage (plastic mostly) buttons bought last weekend at a jumble sale.

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Proto Gothika (research notes for a shawl)

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetI’ve been wanting to write a pattern for a simple triangular lace shawl for quite some time now. Having knit a Holden shawlette, and an Ashton, I was aware of the wonders simple yarn overs and paired decreases could work, and of the magic a vigorous blocking would impart to what was heretofore a crumpled mass of string and holes. I longed to make something of my own design, using the same simple, time-tested principles.
When I started, I only had in mind (and scribbled in my notebook) two stitch patterns I thought would look great together, since they were both reminiscent of Gothic architecture and carried promises of the kind of romanticism I was aiming for. So without further ado, I started knitting the shawl in Malabrigo sock yarn, thinking I’d write the pattern out once my work was off the needles, as a kind of recipe summarising what I had done.
Of course, as I now know, this is not really the best way of going at this. There are such things as stitch and row pattern cyclicity, that affect for instance the way your border pattern connects to the body of your shawl, that really should be planned beforehand. So while I was knitting a shawl I knew would be flawed in its design, I also started writing down a revised, more methodical version of the pattern I had started improvising months ago.

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I am now left with a beautiful, unique triangular lace shawl which I am very fond of, precisely because of its design flaws, and a more rationally charted pattern I still need to test out before I publish it. Fortunately, my dear friend Vinciane has agreed to help me out. If you too want to test knit the up-and-coming Gothika shawl, just send me a message on Ravelry.

On the fringe

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetIn keeping with my new year’s knitting resolutions, I worked resolutely on my gansey scarf, and boy am I glad this thing is finished. This beauty has been more than two years in the making, not because it was particularly difficult to knit (just purls and knits) but rather because of all the attention the pattern demands. (That, and the fact that I kept cheating on it with other projects…)

worsted140424cThis scarf (more of a wrap in this case) is my interpretation of a scarf found in Toshiyuki Shimada’s Ideas for Double-sided Knitted Scarves, a book that’s chock-full of wonderful projects, exuding that inimitable Japanese knitting aesthetics.
My version is knitted in Blue Sky Alpacas worsted hand dyes, a luxurious blend of royal alpaca and merino, which cost a small fortune, making it one of the most expensive handmade items I own. I remember seeing those skeins at my LYS (Lil Weasel), falling in love with them at first touch, and bringing them home with much anticipation (and guilt). Little did I know I would have to wait two whole years (and two days after that – just for adding the fringe!) before feeling the thing’s hefty drape around my neck and shoulders.
Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetLooking back at the making of this wrap, I remember the endeavor of painstakingly writing out the pattern’s instructions from the chart, row after row after row (I could not read charts at the time). This contrasts with the ease with which I read the pattern’s last rows directly off the chart, and makes me realise how much we learn without even paying attention.

Now I can happily fold my garment, put in the drawer, and wait for colder times to come, when it might actually make sense to wear this.
Because that bugger sure is one big warm mass of wool.

Show and tell (Riddari pride)

Processed with VSCOcam with h1 presetI am here to tell you it is possible.
I am here to tell you you don’t need fancy ambidextrous knitting skills to work a stranded color Icelandic yoke sweater. You just need patience. You just need confidence. You can pick and drop yarns as needed, no one will notice, no one will bother. Just pay attention to being consistent in the way you position your yarns over or under each other (you know, for color dominance purposes). And above all, keep those floats loose.
I am here to tell you the Riddari pattern is a little marvel when it comes to lopapeysa designs, and that though Léttlopi yarn has quite a rough and scratchy feel between your fingers, it makes a wonderful fabric once washed and worn, and really feels like the right stuff for this kind of sweater. And if I can stand the touch of those sleeves on my bare arms then I assure you, so can you. Assuming, of course, you’re not allergic to wool. And not one of those extreme “Princess-and-the-pea” yarn snobs that recoil from the idea of wearing “rustic” wools (and even then, you should give it a try — ask me how I know.)
I am here to tell you that sometimes a pattern states you need 4mm needles and a size M to obtain a sweater that fits you, but the swatch says otherwise, suggesting you should try 5mm needles and knitting an XL version. Have faith in the swatch, have faith in the math. Have faith and knit.
They say you should graft those underarm stitches with Kitchener stitch in order to respect the seamlessness of the sweater. I am here to tell you a three-needle bind off does a very acceptable, sturdy and good-looking job.
I am here to tell you to wear your Riddari like the proud knight you are.

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Oh. I am here also to show off my recent knitting-related splurges…

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Knitpro’s “Box of Joy”, a limited edition set of interchangeable Karbonz circulars (which I love, love, love!!!)
And things I’ve bought at the “Aiguilles en Fête” craft fair in Paris last week:
– Noro silk garden (stashing for a future Pop blanket project), Madelinetosh DK (because the color was gorgeous) and Drops lace and worsted yarn (because I haven’t tried out yet what looks like cheap great quality yarn);
– HiyaHiya sock needles (nudge nudge, wink wink);
– a vintage Kaffe Fassett book (grabbed for a measly 3€!!!);
– and a charming little froggie that’s been fittingly made into a stitch marker.

Let them eat brioche

The brioche scarf has been washed, blocked and fringed, and I must say I’m quite happy with the results. I’m still left with some yarn on the magic ball, and I am taking this as an invitation to add in more scraps as they come, and keep the never ending ball rolling.

In other news, I’ve decided not to start any new knitting before I’ve made satisfactory progress on the following three unfinished objects (I’ve been dragging these along for far too long now). This means:
– finishing the two sleeves of my Lopi sweater (I’m hoping that when this tedious part is done, knitting the yoke in stranded colorwork will be a reward in itself, and the whole thing will get finished fast);
– finishing my gansey scarf (can’t believe that thing was started 2 years ago!);
– joining a new ball of yarn on my seed stitch wrap.

We’ll see how that goes.

Having a ball

worsted140111aWell, another year has gone past, and I’m still knitting strong, and having a ball at it. That’s something to celebrate, I guess.
Speaking of balls: on Tuesday night I made myself one of these magic balls, from worsted weight scrap yarn I had lying around. The living room was full of coloured lengths of string, as I cut and arranged and assembled. I didn’t use the Russian join for attaching the scraps together (which was what the tutorial I was following suggested), but tried instead the double knot technique. It worked really fine (I’d say it’s perfect for this kind of project, but would probably not recommend it for less “scrappy” endeavours). I ended up with a nice big ball of yarn, from which I’ve started knitting a simple brioche scarf for my cousin’s young daughter.

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Now, let me tell you a few things about brioche stitch I wish I’d known way earlier (you’re probably aware of this, but me? fresh experience!):
– although it looks deceivingly like plain 1×1 ribbing, brioche stitch is something entirely else, both structurally and texturally;
– although there are whole sites and books devoted to that sole stitch and its many variations (including the mesmerizing two-colour version), there is nothing overwhelming about brioche. On the contrary, it’s real easy to knit (I’ll say that again: it’s easy). I don’t know why I was so hesitant to give it a try (if you’re in the same case, you might find this tutorial helpful);
– brioche stitch is fast (and I’d even wager that it’s faster than 1×1 ribbing), because, you see, all you’re really doing is slipping and knitting stitches (no purling).

In other news, I spent the holidays with my family in Mauritius, and tried to find some yarn-related stuff. Alas! Though the island has a thriving knitwear industry, it seems to devote no special place to handknitting. I couldn’t find any yarn store, nor any yarn, apart from the usual acrylic and nylon(!) balls on sale in supermarkets.
I did nonetheless buy myself a beautiful, warm men’s woven wool shawl. It was made in India, and is called a lohi (I’m guessing from the name of a sheep breed). I just love it!

Processed with VSCOcam with m2 presetAnd, on a final note: I regularly post my yarn-related findings on Flipboard. Do have a look.

Not as hard as it seams

worsted131209aWhen I started teaching myself to knit, I decided early on to stick to a few principles. One of them was that I would not bother knitting things that required substantial amounts of seaming. Another one was that I would not knit baby items. (Yet another one was that I would not knit socks. We’ll have to talk about that some other time.)

The reasoning behind the first choice had a lot to do, in retrospect, with the way Elizabeth Zimmermann’s aversion to seaming had insidiously crept inside my brain, and convinced me that seaming was a tedious, tearful, life-draining activity, better left to stupid knitters who had yet to discover the freedom of going seamless. Obviously, EZ (bless her soul!) was not the only culprit here, since praise for seamless knitting was almost all over the Internet (I’m looking at you, seamless top-down raglan sweaters!), and seaming appeared at best as a necessary hassle you sometimes just couldn’t avoid, but had otherwise better keep well away from.

The motivation behind the second principle was that, as a male knitter, I probably wanted to keep aloof from what I perceived as the most traditional, feminine form of knitting practice. I mean: a woman gets pregnant, picks up needles, and starts making overcutesy baby booties, hats and sweaters. Or suddenly, all around her, people go into a knitting frenzy and produce aforementioned overcutesy items. Me? I wanted none of that. I wanted to make a statement by knitting manly things mainly for myself.

The combination of these two choices mean that I’ve been quite content to knit scarves, mittens, seamless sweaters and throws, as well as the occasional lace shawl. But it seems that all (silly) resolutions must die someday. And as far as these two are concerned, they died the day Alexandra was born.

Alexandra is my godson’s sister, she is seven months old now, and for her (and her mother) I was willing to knit this overcutesy cardigan as a Christmas gift. The pattern (garter bottom cardigan) is part of Petite Purls’ clever (and free) Back to Basics series.

worsted131209eThe different pieces of the cardigan were knit quite leisurely over a week, using 1.5 skeins of Malabrigo’s wonderful Rios superwash worsted merino in the Glazed Carrot colorway. Blocking, seaming and finishing were done during the week-end. How’s that for undelayed gratification? While working on this project, I greatly benefited from:

  • this Ravelry post on cardboard cutting boards, that had me buy one of these handy boards for blocking purposes;
  • this tutorial by Cheryl Brunette, which covers almost all the skills needed for making a sweater (that are also quite useful in many other situations):

Processed with VSCOcam with se1 presetBelieve it or not, before this first cardigan project I had not really put into practice the following skills, which I only had a theoretical understanding of:

  • seaming in different varieties of mattress stitch (which I now know to be a pleasurable activity in its own right);
  • making i-cord, attaching it and using it as a button-loop;
  • making a shank for a flat button, and sewing it on knitted fabric.

What about you? What are the silly knitting principles you’ve got rid of lately?

I went to London and all I got was…

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI had a professional meeting in London yesterday, with a couple of hours to spare around Oxford Circus. So I planned to use my time visiting the surrounding yarn stores, and treat myself to special findings I might come across. I first went to the yarn department at John Lewis. Shopping for yarn at a department store might not sound very exotic or exciting, but the supply was substantial and the yarns on display quite… appealing. I tried hard to resist all those wonderful Rowan skeins, Debbie Bliss varieties, and Noro assortments. In the end, I bought 2 balls of Louisa Harding merino/silk blend, pour la beauté du geste you might say (and with the idea of making yet another lacy baktus kerchief).

You see, I wasn’t in a buying frenzy since I intended to have a look at the fancier stuff at a place I had heard of, called All the fun of the fair, off Carnaby Street, in Kingly Court. Alas! When I got there, the shop was nowhere to be found. A thorough(er) search on the web taught me the place did not exist anymore, having closed earlier this year. How’s that for lousy planning? (I’ve learnt since that other people have experienced the same frustration.)

It was getting late, and time for my meeting, which lasted for hours on end. So afterwards I only had time to hop on the last Eurostar to Paris, with just a few meters of blue merino and silk yarn in my bag.

Next time, I’m getting my revenge.