A teaser

I am at the business school all weekend which means barely any time to knit or post.  I couldn’t resist, however, giving you a teaser of my next project.

4-IMG_9469This yarn is destined to be a sweater for Leah.  It is unbelievably lush.

1-IMG_9472The colours are gorgeous.  They sing.  They make me happy.

3-IMG_9479This is Madelinetosh DK in Composition Book Grey and Candlewick.

2-IMG_9477Enough eye candy!  Back to business…….

In search of 13th century Wales

My daughter Leah is a history fanatic.  There are many periods and places that she studies but she is especially enamored of the Medieval Period.  Since reading Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy she has devoured everything she can read about 13th century Wales.  The trilogy covers the saga of the medieval princes of Gwynedd (North Wales), in particular Llewelyn Fawr and his grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, through a turbulent 100 year period, marked by war, betrayal, royal machinations, and upheaval. Wales had rather progressive (for the time) rights for women and there were a number of very strong female characters who are portrayed in the book including King John’s (illegitimate) daughter Joanna, and Simon de Montfort’s daughter Ellen (who was cousin to King Edward).   Leah wanted to visit Wales and tour the locations from the books while she was home this summer, but we have had difficulties finding time.  This post is the story of 48 hours in Wales in search of history.  (A note to my regular readers:  Despite this being a knitting blog, there is no knitting content whatsoever in this post, except for the occasional photo of my Killybegs sweater!)

We drove to Wales on a Thursday afternoon, arriving late.  Friday dawned with rain and clouds and gloom, which continued throughout the day.  Leah had plotted out an itinerary of sites from the book, but we had trouble from the beginning.  Some sites were impossible to find (the Pass of the Two Stones) others disappointing (it was too wet and late in the day to hike up to Aber Falls).  By four in the afternoon, we were totally dispirited.  As Leah said “All we’ve had today is the castle we couldn’t find, the Pass we couldn’t find, the church that wasn’t the church, the church that was the church but was closed, the sea view with no view and the hill that might have been the site of a castle.”  We decided to try one last site before heading back to the hotel – Dolbadarn Castle.

13-IMG_9349Here we hit the jackpot.  This beautiful castle is perched on the top of a hill, looking over gorgeous countryside.  You have to hike up to it through a lovely forest tract:

05-20140704165103In the rain and the gloom, it is magnificently atmospheric.  Best of all, there is no ticket office, no gift shop selling souvenirs, no ropes barricading it off; it just sits in the gloom, as it has sat for over 800 years, majestic, solid,  indifferent to the ravages of weather and the passage of time.14-IMG_9352From the tower, you can see the remains of the walls of the castle and the beautiful views across the valley:

03-20140704164426Owain ap Gruffydd was imprisoned in this very tower for 22 years by his brother Llewelyn.  Here is Leah, sitting in the stone spiral staircase leading to the top of the tower, reading from the book the scenes that took place there.

04-20140704164111Our experience in Dolbadarn made up for the rest of the day, and driving back to the hotel through the stunning Llanberis Pass was just icing on the cake.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny.  We had stayed in the town of Dolwyddelan because much of the trilogy takes place at Dolwyddelan Castle.  We hiked up there just after breakfast.


02-IMG_9357There’s nothing quite like walking up the steps to a 13th century castle:

05-IMG_9372Or walking all the way up to the top, through narrow stone staircases, and looking out over the ramparts:

6-IMG_9392I really love this photo of Leah, sitting in the window seat of the Great Room at Dolwyddelen; she is reading a scene which takes place in this very room:

07-20140705104608We had the castle all to ourselves for over an hour.  It was incredibly peaceful.  The countryside is still so unspoiled, it is easy to  imagine yourselves hundreds of years back in time.  Eventually, however, the peace was shattered by the arrival of about 40 teenagers, clearly on a tour of some sort.  This led to the following conversation:

Leah:  Well, its too bad that we now have a crowd here, but at least they are speaking Welsh.  It adds to the atmosphere.

Me:  How do you know they are speaking Welsh?

Leah:  Can’t you hear?  The language has voiceless lateral fricatives.  There are not too many languages with voiceless lateral fricatives, Mom.  I mean, Navajo is one I suppose but it’s highly unlikely a busload of Navajo speaking teenagers is touring around Welsh castles today.

This is music to the ears of any linguist parent: a child who says the words “voiceless lateral fricatives” in ordinary conversation, much less recognizes them when she hears them.  Oh, the simple joys of parenthood!

I can’t resist, since this is indeed a knitting blog, the following photo which shows off my Killybegs sweater.  When you are hiking through this kind of weather, with sun and wind and mist and rain, you realize that there truly is nothing that works as well as wool.  (I am convinced that all of the sheep in Wales agree with me.)  I am also sitting in a 13th century window here, which is pretty amazing.

04-IMG_9368After our hike back down from the castle, we made our way to Swallow Falls, a lovely waterfall near Betwys-y-coed which also features in the books.  We were told that summer isn’t the best time to view them, but they were lovely:



The last stop of the day was totally magical.  This was the church at Llanrhychwyn.  Parts of the church date to the 11th century- it is, in fact, the oldest church in Wales.  Llewelyn Fawr and his wife, Joanna, worshipped here.  Part of the magic was in finding it at all.  It is up in the hills, and not signposted; it was true serendipity in the guise of two hikers who appeared at just the right moment and directed us through unmarked fields to this amazing treasure.

20140705_145434The church sits at the top of a hill with views stretching out over a valley.  There is barely any indication of modern life.  It is easy to feel transported back through time.

20140705_144848The inside is so spare, so simple.  I find it astonishingly beautiful.  If you have no feel for history whatsoever, you would still feel the magic of this spot.  If you are a fan of the books, however, it is very moving.


09-20140705144246One of the books, Here be Dragons,  ends with Joanna worshipping alone in this very church.  Leah was able to sit here and read that scene.  Lovely, don’t you think?



Getting started

The Skirt Project Chronicles, Part 2

The first step in our Skirt Project is to knit up a sample skirt; a template for the later designs.  We want to make sure that the fit is right, and also that we are happy with the chosen yarn, gauge, fabric, drape, shape, style, etc.  The initial plan is that I will ponder over the basics involved in designing and knitting the template (and knit it, of course!) while Emma is busy with designing the first series of skirts.  Of course it is a much more collaborative process than that implies, since we are bouncing ideas back and forth nearly every day.

3-IMG_9317There are three major decisions that I have been grappling with: top-down or bottom-up, back-and-forth or in-the-round, and which yarn to use.  This post will focus on the yarn selection and I will discuss the other two in the next post in this series.

3-IMG_9232A skirt needs to have some sturdiness built into it.  The skirt has to give and move with your body, but you don’t want it to sag and bag.  Essentially, you need to be able to sit and stand, repeatedly, and wash it frequently, and you don’t want it to stretch out or to pill.   It needs to have memory, and to “sproing” back into place.  I decided that I wanted wool, which has great drape and memory, but with some nylon mixed in to make it tough.  Sort of like sock yarn, I pondered.  In fact, what I want from the fabric for the skirt is similar to what you want with a sock – it needs to be able to take a lot of abuse and hold up to wear and tear.

The problem with sock yarn is that the gauge is too small.  As Emma keeps planning for more and more skirts, I must keep the gauge to something reasonably quick.  I thought about it and decided my preferred needle size would be a US5 or 6, and that I would be aiming at 5-6 stitches per inch.  After pondering some time on the pros and cons of various types of yarns, I decided that I would try to use a sock yarn but knit with it held double.  This serves two purposes – it puts the gauge in the range I want and it also means that I can use a beautiful hand-dyed wool without worrying about pooling.

2-IMG_9239The Uncommon Thread makes beautiful yarn.  I used their worsted weight Lush yarn to make my Livvy sweater and I loved knitting with it.  The company is reasonably local to me and is environmentally aware.  I can pre-order it from the dyer or can purchase it at my local yarn store (Loop in London), so it is readily available.   The sock yarn is very rich and saturated and the colours are beautiful.  So, I ordered some of the yarn, called Tough Sock, to make Template Mach 1 (hopefully, there will be no need for a Template Mach 2).   I bought three colours for the template skirt – a deep grey (nearly black) called Charred, a very beautiful medium grey with silvery highlights called Plata, and a lovely blue with green and grey tones called Leaden.  Here is a photo of the Charred and Leaden colours:

1-IMG_9241Just as I was about to wind the skeins, I read on the label that the yarns should be washed before using if doing colourwork.  I know this of course, but always in my excitement to begin a new project, I neglect this step.  This can lead to disastrous consequences (see my earlier post The perils of red for a project gone bad through colour running).  So, I washed the skeins and hung them to dry.   While this meant that I had to wait a few days before swatching, it also gave me pretty photos of yarn hanging from the line in the breeze; these photos showcase the Plata colour.  (By the way, none of the colours bled at all; but we all know that it is better to be safe than sorry.)

4-IMG_9234The finished swatch is beautiful.  The yarn has lots of give, and the colour, with the two strands held together, is even more rich and gorgeous than with a single strand.

2-IMG_9316I must admit to knitting the swatch back and forth instead of in the round.  This means that I can not be 100% certain that the gauge is accurate.  (Clever readers may notice the foreshadowing here for the next post.)  But I am impatient, and after all, that is why knitting is made to rip!  We knitters can be as impetuous as we like, as long as a little ripping doesn’t faze us.




Pattern palpitations

bazinga – 1. A catchy phrase to accompany your clever pranks. As popularized by Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory).  2. A short post highlighting something that Emma and Kelly think is freaking fabulous.

I haven’t done a Bazinga! post in a while.  But this morning, I caught an eyeful of this pattern:

VKEF14_Men_11_medium2Oh, be still my heart!  This is a freaking fabulous pattern.  I love waistcoats and this one is yummy (as is the photo, the styling, the model; what’s not to love here?)  I sent a quick note to Emma: “Do you think this qualifies for a Bazinga?”  “Most definitely,” she replied.

This pattern is designed by the very nice and talented Franklin Habit (I’ve met him so I know whereof I speak).  It’s called the #8 Fitted Waistcoat and is published in the Early Fall 2014 edition of Vogue Knitting.  It’s hot off the presses.  Knitters, get your needles ready!

Totally knit-worthy!

This morning I woke up to the following email from my daughter Emma:

Some woman just stopped me on campus saying how much she loved my skirt.  She said it looked familiar and did I make it myself? So when I said you had made it and it was the Carnaby Skirt she got very excited and we had a five minute or so conversation about the yarn, pattern, and its wearability :) your stuff is loved even when its a few years old and pilling like crazy! She even complimented the buttons and how clever the inside ribbon and hook and eye were :)


Emma is so totally knit-worthy!  How wonderful to knit for someone who not only wears the knits (everywhere, all the time) but also has such pride and enthusiasm for them. (I’ve blogged about the Carnaby skirt here; go have a look to see photos and details.)

With a big smile on my face, I opened up Ravelry to see that someone had commented on my Carnaby skirt.  Here is what she said:

I had the great pleasure of seeing the original today on campus! It’s a flattering pattern and so beautifully knit that I couldn’t resist hollering “great skirt!” at your daughter. She was kind enough to stop and tell me the pattern name and she even showed me the pretty waist band you put in. It looks as new today as it does in the photos you’ve uploaded – it’s clearly been much loved and cared for!


Wow!  I love knitters!  How cool to get such a lovely note from someone I don’t know, half a world away.  (And I love Ravelry, which allows us knitters to enable each other share in this manner.)  This has been a double dose of knitting happiness before I’ve even had my first sip of coffee.

Catching up on my reading

Since starting the MBA, I have less time for many things.  One of them is reading knitting blogs.  Since I had my Stage 1 exams two weeks ago, I have had a small breather which means that I was able to catch up on what others are blogging about.  In this episode of Surfing the Knit, I will show you some of the cool things I’ve been reading.

1. The 100 Day Challenge

Leah, of Fashion: Yarn Style, has just finished a series of posts documenting a challenge set by her husband: to wear something hand-knit every day for 100 days.  You can find the first post in this series here; links to further posts can be found at the bottom of that entry.  Leah includes a photo of every day’s outfit.  I have long been an admirer of Leah, both as a knitter and as a blogger.  She has a very confident sense of style and I love to see the way she wears her pieces.  This is a really fun and beautifully crafted series of posts.

Don’t read it just for the photos and the sweaters, however.  The writing is lovely, both witty and thought-provoking.  I was taken with her description of a television show in which very wealthy women showed off closets filled with expensive handbags, hundreds of pairs of Louboutin heels and Chanel suits with the tags still on.  Leah compares the jaded attitude of these women towards their clothes with the time and care that Leah invested in knitting a Chanel-inspired jacket.  Her insights into the knitting process, and into style and fashion, are always intriguing and make for good reading.  If you don’t know her work already, you should definitely check it out.

Special kudos go to Leah for finishing the 100 Day Challenge despite sustaining a neck injury in the middle (and then re-injuring it).  I think that her husband should reward her with piles of new yarn; don’t you?

2.The Great Tapestry of Scotland

I adored Kate Davies’ recent posts about the Great Tapestry of Scotland.  Kate’s blog is one of the most beautiful ones out there, with fabulous photos, great knitting, knowledgeable accounts of the history of the craft, and a very honest and personal account of recovery from stroke.  I am sure that Kate needs no introduction from me; however, if you haven’t read her posts on the Great Tapestry, you should absolutely do so.  Here is the first one; I dare you to read just one!

3. It’s all about the pretty!

Of course we readers of knitting blogs are interested in fashion, and history, and amusing anecdotes, and techniques, and travels.  But, sometimes, its all about the pretty!  If you want to see some absolutely fabulous knits, check these two out.  Carly, of Carly in Stitches, knit a fourth (!) Grettir sweater, which she calls Grettir Il Magno.  This is one of the best men’s sweaters I’ve seen.  Carly knits astonishingly beautiful sweaters at great pace; furthermore, since she lives in the tropics of Australia, she gives most of them away.  Oh, to be one of her relatives!

Another greater knitter/blogger is Ilana of bespokeknits.  Her Monomania sweater, which she posted about here, is positively drool-worthy.  Definitely worth a look (or two, or three). Two things that I really enjoy about Ilana’s blog: first, the photography is always top-notch, and second, we have very similar tastes in sweaters.  If I open up her blog and see she has something new on her needles, it is nearly always something I’ve thought about casting on myself.

4. And the winner is…

The writer of the blog, The twisted yarn, lives just a few miles from me as the crow flies, though I have yet to meet her.  She recently entered a blog post into the Deramore’s Blog Awards, and won!  The winning post, which you can find here, is a very well-written and informative post about how to design stranded motifs for knitting.  If you are interested in the design process, you should definitely have a look.  (Also, if you have any interest in yarn-bombing, she is systematically yarn-bombing her house: check out her balcony, complete with knitted pigeons (!) in this post.)

5. Everything you ever wanted to know about fiber

Karen, of The Sweaty Knitter, writes a fascinating blog, which combines excellent writing and research skills with a finely-tuned intellectual curiosity about everything (oh, yes, it has knitting too).  Karen has just started a new series about Fiber, and if the first post, about the morphology of fiber is anything to go by, the series will be great.  It is likely to tell us everything we ever wanted to know (and then some) about fiber.  Also, as someone who wrote a dissertation on morphology (of language), I am happy to read anything that has both morphology and fiber in the title.

That concludes this episode of Surfing the Knit.  Happy reading!

Design wrapped up in a bow

The Skirt Project Chronicles, part 1

A few weeks ago, Emma had her 21st birthday.  I thought long and hard about what to get her.  I wanted it to be special.  I wanted it to be personal.  One night, the idea came to me, fully formed: For her birthday, I would give her a design collaboration.

Let’s step back for some background.  Emma and I have been thinking about knitting and design for a long time.  We spend hours pouring over patterns, discussing fashion trends, techniques, styling, yarn, texture, colour.  Emma would frequently say “Mom, you should write a knitting blog.”  I would procrastinate.  In the meantime, I began to modify patterns more and more, concentrating on fit, learning new techniques.  Emma took a course in fashion drawing at Central St Martins and we thought about collaborating on a design project.  I would procrastinate some more; life was busy, I had too little time to knit.

In late 2011, we started this blog.  I did the knitting, and most of the writing, but Emma was very active behind the scenes.  She set the blog up, did all of the styling, photography, layout; furthermore she was the person I bounced ideas off.  Sometimes, we would have a design idea and Emma would sketch it, we would discuss it and tear it apart on every level – looking at every aspect of the design and implementation.  Despite my best intentions, however, these designs never made it to my needles.

Then, Emma flew off to Canada for university.  She could no longer do the styling and layout and photos for the blog.  I had to figure it out on my own.  I thought about stopping the blog, but I found something about it intrinsically satisfying.  I kept it up, I learned how to do things, Doug and Leah stepped up to help out.  Emma was busy at university, and I started business school (in addition to a full-time job) but this didn’t stop the long discussions of design and knitting.  Sometimes, Emma and I will spend hours on Skype, sitting thousands of miles apart, each of us online, sending links back and forth, discussing projects, patterns, yarn.

I have not had much time for knitting lately, but hoped that when my business school Stage 1 exams were done that I would be able to knit a project for each girl.  When Emma came home in May, just before her birthday, I asked her what she wanted me to knit for her this summer.  “Skirts,” she said. “all I want are more skirts.”  I began to think about skirt designs.

All of this history must have been bubbling away in the back of my mind, because one evening when I sat and thought “What will I give Emma for her 21st birthday?” – there it was:  The Skirt Project.  I would give Emma a design collaboration.  The idea was simple:  I would design a prototype skirt – a template.  It would be simple, short and snug.  We would then use the template as a blank canvas and design a set of skirts, each of them having the same shape and structure, using the same yarns, but going wild on colour and design.

Emma, needless to say, was all over it.  When I approached her with the idea, I was thinking we would create four skirts.  I suggested a few ideas for patterns, she took them and flew with them, adding more and more, bouncing them to me.  I bounced back.  Things got out of control.  A few nights ago, during our late-night Skype marathon, Emma told me that she has now conceptualized three distinct themes, with 4 skirts in each theme.  She sent me a sketch of one of them.  It blew my mind.  Seriously, this is going to be amazing.

Emma and I will chronicle the Skirt Project here on this blog.  You can watch it unfold, from knitting the template and getting the fit right, through the design project itself, with all of the sketches, knitting, discussions, tears (hopefully not many), smiles, photos, ideas, ups and downs.  We will do some collaborative writing as well as designing.  (Who knows, I might get Emma doing some collaborative knitting as well.  Emma, by the way, could be a fabulous knitter, her stitches are so neat and beautiful it is unbelievable and her instincts are perfect.  She suffers from startitis, however, and rarely finishes any of her projects.  That’s why this collaboration is so cool; it plays to both our strengths.)

I will continue, of course, with my normal (if slightly more infrequent) posting.  The posts in this design collaboration will be labelled and tagged The Skirt Project Chronicles.  I hope that you enjoy them.