Travel to the Western Cape, South Africa

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I have just returned from Cape Town, South Africa!  I spent two amazing weeks there, during which very little knitting-related activity took place.  The Executive MBA programme at the Henley Buiness School has a required module on Reputation and Responsibility, for which the entire class travels to Cape Town to work with NGOs and Social Enterprises.  My team was assigned to work with Shonaquip, a company which designs and manufactures wheelchairs and seating support solutions for disabled people, and which also provides assessments, fittings, follow-ups, maintenance and training.

We were blown away by Shonaquip, and the other NGOs involved in this project.  It was an extremely emotional week for all involved, as we came to grips with the enormity of the problems facing South Africa, and the determination and talent and heart of its people.  We were humbled by the dedication and boundless energy of people and organizations determined to provide dignity and solutions in the face of overwhelming poverty and the legacy of apartheid.

I saw very little of Cape Town, I’m afraid.  Tourists to Cape Town usually go to the top of Table Mountain for fabulous views, and to Robbin Island, where Mandela was imprisoned.  I didn’t manage either of these, nor did I get much of a chance to experience Capetown’s nightlife or great food.  For the first 8 days that we were in South Africa, I spent virtually all my time either working with my team in the hotel or at Shonaquip or its clinics in hospitals and townships.  I did manage some early morning walks with Doug along the sea wall and two lovely seafood meals with classmates.  The rest of the time was late nights working and room service.  I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world.

After the presentations and the closing party with our NGO sponsors, Doug and I took off with four friends for 5 days exploring the Western Cape.  This was amazing – the scenery is breathtaking!  The rest of this post will be rather photo-heavy.  We first went to Cork Bay (Kalkbaai), where we stayed in a fabulous B&B with a view to False Bay.  We explored from there, first visiting a wild penguin colony along the coast:

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We almost missed this little guy who was tucked away just inches from the foot trail:

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The coast is beautiful and rugged, and around every corner is another breathtaking view.  We drove through the National Park to the Cape of Good Hope.  Yes, I went to the Cape of Good Hope!!!!!  It’s an incredible experience as you stand on a spit of rocky promontory with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other.  13-IMG_0157

The photo above looks down on a gorgeous beach along the Atlantic side of the Cape; if you follow your gaze out seaward from there, you can see a long line of white breakers where the two oceans meet:

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We were there on a gorgeous day, very warm and sunny, but the wind and surf were quite rough.  You can readily imagine why so many ships wrecked along this point.  For those of us who grew up reading books about the early ocean explorers, this is a very romantic and powerful place to be.

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The views across False Bay towards the Indian Ocean side were softer, and almost mystical:

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Some of you may know that I am afraid of heights.  I balked at walking out to the end of the Point.  Doug said “No way are you going to come all of the way to the Cape of Good Hope and not walk out to the end of the trail!”  He was right; I only had a few bad moments and the experience was totally worth it.

I asked our friend Kevin to take a photo of Doug and me at the bottom of the trail.  He took about 20 and they all looked like this:

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Once he stopped laughing, Kevin showed me the photos, I had a little scream, and then I asked Doug to hold my hair down for a photo.  That didn’t work out too well either:

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And this is what happened when he let go:

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Oh well!  I stood on the Cape of Good Hope, and I have the wind-swept hair to prove it!

We spent the next morning shopping in the very funky little shops in Cork Bay (it is a very bohemian town and the shops are much better and cooler than you will find in the bigger towns).  We then drove along the coast to Hermanus, with a brief stop at Pringle Beach, a very beautiful spot with interesting rock formations:

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Hermanus is widely-acknowledged as the best land-based whale-watching spot in the world.  You don’t need to hop on a boat to see the whales here; you sit on the rocks and the whales play in the bay, sometimes just metres away.  Southern right whales spend part of the year here – calving takes place in August and September and the males arrive for mating in October, when the season peaks.   We were there past the peak season so we missed the sight of dozens of whales; nevertheless we sat on the rocks the first day and watched three whales, including a mother and her calf, play in the water just fifty metres or so from us.

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I can tell you that it is very difficult to get photos of whales actually breaching the water.  It takes great patience; kudos to Doug.  He snapped this photo the next morning of a whale a little further out from us.  This whale was slapping his tail in and out of the water and taking jumps for quite a long while.  It was a joy to watch.

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Sunsets in Hermanus are especially lovely.  As the sun sinks, the rocks on the other side of the bay are bathed in beautiful shades of pink:

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We left Hermanus in the morning and drove up north, through gorgeous scenery, to the lovely town of Tulbagh.  There we stayed at the Rijk’s Wine Farm,  which comes as close to perfect as any place I have ever stayed.

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Tulbagh is in a wide valley, perfect for growing grapes, surrounded by mountains on all sides.  Rijk’s is an award-winning winery that arguably makes the world’s best Pinotage.  The hotel is beautiful, the wine is wonderful, the scenery is lovely – it was so peaceful and gorgeous, I didn’t want to ever leave.

What should one do while sitting in the shade of grape arbors, drinking in the frgrance of 1300 white rose bushes, and looking at the mountains, while your husband pours you a glass of fantastic wine?  Why, knit of course!

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Kevin, Carola, Chris and Mike – thanks for the company!  I never thought that I would see Africa.  Now that I have, I know I will return.

A better match

This post is about new mitts, and the story behind them.  Because one should always start with the pretty, here are the mitts:

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And here is the story.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a mismatch of pattern and yarn.  I had a skein of Madelinetosh DK left over from another project and decided to knit a pair of mitts.  The yarn is lovely, very soft and warm, and the colour, Composition Book Grey, is one of my favorites.  I picked a lovely mitt pattern called Masonry Mitts by Vera Brosgol.  Here is the pattern photo:

copyright verabee

copyright verabee

And here is my attempt to knit it up with the Madtosh:

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I really didn’t feel like this was working; in fact, it was pretty clear to me almost from the beginning that it wasn’t going to work but I stuck with it for a while.  Leah, who writes this lovely knitting blog, left a comment on my post, in which she says: “It is amazing how the wrong yarn can make such a huge difference in even such a small project as mitts. Good for you for not trying to force the yarn on the project. ”  This comment made me think about what exactly was wrong with this yarn-pattern pairing – it also made me realize that there are other people out there who think about things like this.  So, for those of you who care about such things, I will discuss it further here.  For the rest of you, feel free to look at the pretty photos and ignore those pesky words.

The Masonry mitts are designed to be knit with Cascade 220, which is a plied yarn with a tight twist; it is a sturdy yarn, what we call a “workhouse yarn”.  The Madtosh is a soft, fluffy, un-plied yarn which is very splitty.  Cascade 220 could be described as architectural – it will keep its shape.  It has substance.  The Madtosh is lovely and light and unformed; if left to its own devices it will flop.  When I tried to knit the Masonry knits with the Madtosh, there wasn’t enough structure to hold the shape.  I could have attempted to mitigate this by knitting with a much smaller needle and forcing a tighter fabric.  However, another design mismatch was also at play here.

The Masonry mitts have vertical columns of garter stitch and stockinette stitch.  Most knitters get different row gauges with the two stitches.  This means that one half of the mitt (the stockinette portion) will end up measurably longer than the other half (the garter portion).  Garter rows are tighter and pull the fabric together vertically.  If you are using a yarn with a tight ply and a good twist, this will still happen, but it will be less obvious and more amenable to blocking.

I frogged the mis-begotten mitt (this means I ripped it out so the yarn could be recycled into another project) and decided to try again with the pattern Toast and Jam, designed by Emily Foden.  Toast and Jam also juxtaposes garter and stockinette (I guess I was finding this an attractive theme), but it does it in a smaller portion and over a field that is increasing rather than a straight vertical section.  This keeps the mismatched gauges from getting too out of control.  Not entirely, though, as you can see from the unblocked Toast and Jam mitts, where the row gauge of the garter section is clearly tighter:

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A good blocking fixed this problem.  The main advantage of this pattern over the Masonry pattern, with respect to the Madtosh DK, is that the Toast and Jam Mitts are knit almost entirely in Twisted Rib.  The twisted rib pulls in the knitting and keeps tight control on the otherwise unplied Madtosh; in other words, it gives it structure and keeps it tight.  It doesn’t hurt that it is knit with a 3.5mm needle (a US 4) instead of the 4mm (US 6) that I was knitting the Masonry mitt with.  I knit Leah’s beautiful cardigan with the Madtosh and it has flow and drape – it doesn’t need a tight gauge and a twisted rib.  But a Mitt takes a lot of punishment – it doesn’t need flow and drape, it needs structure.

One of the lovely features of the Toast and Jam pattern is that the garter stitch portion can be worn on the outside of the hand, or on the palm.  Here it is on the outside:

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And here it is on the palm:

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The next time that you are considering substituting a different yarn for the one the pattern calls for, think carefully.  What are the charicteristics of the fabric you want to create?  How is it going to be worn?  Does it need to be sturdy or delicate?  Are you looking for structure or flow? And what are the characteristics of the yarn?  Once you think you have a match – go for it, be creative, that’s what make knitting fun!  And when you can see that you’ve got it wrong, don’t be afraid to stop.  Rip it out and try again.  Then, you’ll have a match made in heaven.

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The trouble with Soumak, or why TV is good for your knitting

I love almost everything about the Soumak Scarf Wrap.  First, it is beautiful:

copyright Rowan Yarns 2013

copyright Rowan Yarns 2013

The pattern, designed by Lisa Richardson for Rowan 54, appeals to me on every level.

Second, I love the shape.  I am not inspired by the countless thousands of triangular or crescent shawl patterns being cranked out lately.  (Don’t get me wrong – many of these are drop-dead gorgeous.  It’s just that I know I won’t be wearing them.  I’ve even knit some beautiful ones and they don’t get worn.)  Give me a giant, rectangular wrap, however, and I am all over it.  My Cabled Rib shawl, which is a big, rectangular wrap, is a wardrobe staple and gets worn all the time.

Third, I love the colours.  I’m crazy about the juxtaposition of these shades, which I don’t think I would have put together myself.  They have such a rich, glorious palette, that looks so autumnal.  Here is a photo of the yarn for this project piled into a huge copper pot:

IMG_7866I also love the fact that the shawl takes on an entirely different hue when it is in the sunlight.  It is like having two shawls in one, with entirely different personalities.  It also changes dramatically according to the background colour.  I think this makes it practically sentient:  it is ALIVE and fluid and reactive.  Here are two photos of it, in different lights:

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I also love the yarn.  This is knit with Rowan Fine Tweed, which I adore.  It is so perfectly tweedy, so rich and vibrant, comes in so many fabulous shades, and makes the best colourwork.  This yarn just makes me happy.

Ok, so we have established beyond a doubt that I love the Soumak Wrap.  So, why in the heck is this project still on my needles more than A YEAR after casting on?????  Why can’t I finish this baby?  What can possibly be the trouble with Soumak?

Here is where my Soumak sits:

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Why does it sit there?  Because this is where I sit (and knit) when I watch TV:

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Soumak, you see, is my TV knitting.  It is the project I pick up when I watch TV.  And therein lies the problem.  I hate TV.  I rarely, if ever, watch it.  Here is a true story.  A few weeks ago when Doug was in India, I read a newspaper article about someone re-making the movie Ghostbusters with an all-female cast.  I got a wild idea to watch “Ghostbusters.”  (I was a student at Columbia University when they filmed Ghostbusters there.  The movie is now thirty years old.  Yikes!)  I cooked myself a nice dinner, poured a glass of wine, sat down with my Soumak to knit and watch the DVD, and realized that I didn’t know how to turn it on.  Doug telephoned around this time, and I had to ask him for instructions.  (In my defense, the DVD is run through the PS3 and through the stereo and needs more than one set of remotes to activate.)  Doug gave me careful instructions and then had to run; try as I might I couldn’t get the damn thing to work and had to text Emma, in Vancouver, for supplemental help!  It took three people on three continents to turn on the movie!

When the girls were still around, I would often sit with them and knit while they watched something.  Now that they are gone, the concept of TV knitting seems to be generally problematic.  If I have a choice between reading and watching TV, reading ALWAYS wins.   So where does this leave my Soumak?  Not finished, that’s where!

I have two options here.  First, I could learn to like TV for the sake of my knitting.  Second, I could re-christen Soumak: instead of my TV knitting project, I can make it my Morning-coffee knitting project, or my audiobook knitting project, or maybe even my Zen-quiet-peaceful knitting project.  I think the trouble with Soumak is definitional.

 

 

 

Shades of autumn

The autumn has definitely arrived and the English countryside is turning shades of reds and golds.  My knitting, without conscious  intention, is following suit.

04-IMG_9887I knit these beautiful mitts this week using Quince & Co Chickadee yarn in the colour Honey.  The pattern is called Antiquity and is designed by Alicia Plummer.

I didn’t like the colour when I first bought this yarn (ordered online) but now I think it is luscious – particularly juxtaposed with autumn’s bounty.

08-IMG_9896There is a small orchard near our house, which I think is mostly a hobby for its apple-enthusiast owner.  He grows dozens of varieties of apples, most of which I’ve never heard of; over a period of four months a different variety reaches its peak every week or two.  Doug and I go there every week through the autumn and try them all.  These are called Catshead apples and they are a very old variety, dating from the 1600s.  I’m not sure what they taste like but they certainly look delicious with my mitts.

Doug has just returned today from an exhausting business trip to Mumbai and then on to Brussels.  It was not autumn-like in Mumbai but Doug seems to have been on the same wavelength as me since he returned with autumn colours.   Since I seem to be developing a theme here – here are my mitts photographed against the antique carpet Doug bought in Mumbai:

07-IMG_9893I have also been slowly making progress knitting my Lightweight Pullover, designed by Hannah Fettig, and knit in the glorious Tart shade of Madelinetosh Light.  It fits in perfectly with our autumn theme today.  Here is a progress shot:

09-IMG_9903This also shows the great fit.  I am modifying the pattern to get an in-between size and I am quite happy with the results.  Tart is such a lovely rich colour.  The simplicity of this pattern, basically just miles of stockinette stitch, allows the colour to shine.

12-IMG_9908When Doug left for Mumbai, he asked me what I wanted him to bring me.  I asked for saffron and a tablecloth.  And Doug, even though he only had a few hours free on the whole trip, managed to bring me saffron and a tablecloth.  I can’t resist showing you the tablecloth here, especially as it fits so perfectly with this post:

13-IMG_9909Amazing, isn’t it?  It’s pure silk and practically luminescent.  I can’t wait to see this adorning my Christmas table.

I cast on another project this week, but since it’s grey  and doesn’t fit the theme, you will have to wait to see it.  Whatever your weather, enjoy the colours!

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Kind thoughts, cold hands

Last week I celebrated the third anniversary of writing this blog by having a contest.  The winner would receive two skeins of Wollmeise yarn in their choice of lapislazuli, medium amethyst, or one of each.  I was overwhelmed by the many lovely comments you left; thank you very much for your kind thoughts.  The winner of the contest is #25 – Tam J!

 

3rd anniversary number generator

 

Tam asked for two skeins of the Amethyst.  Tam, I will contact you by email to get your address.  Congratulations!  So we can all admire your luck, here is a shot of the lovely yarn:

3-IMG_9860I had a very busy workshop at the b-school last weekend.  We spent four days (Friday-Monday) in an intense and exciting class on corporate reputation and responsibility.  This was exhausting but fun.  What was not fun was that I was freezing the entire four days.  (Of the 38 people in the room, half of us were bundled in our coats shivering, while the other half claimed to be roasting.)  This led me to two conclusions: (1) the answer to everything is layers, and (2) I need some fingerless mitts.

The observant reader of this blog might interject at this point to say “But, Kelly, you have knit 5 pairs of fingerless mitts over the past few years!”  However, my daughters ended up with two pairs each, and the fifth pair, sadly, is hiding.  What better way to recover from two weeks of full-out craziness than to knit a pair of mitts!

My first attempt, I’m sorry to say, was not successful.  I had a skein of lovely Madelinetosh Tosh Merino DK in Composition Book Grey left over from Leah’s gorgeous cardigan.  I decided it would make a great pair of mitts, and choose this pattern:

copyright verabee

copyright verabee

The pattern is by Vera Brosgol and called Masonry Mitts.  I like this pattern.  I love this yarn.  Together: not so much.  It turns out the pattern needs a nice crisp yarn.  The Madtosh is silky and drapey and beautiful, but it is not crisp.  The pattern calls for Cascade 220.  Substituting with the Madtosh was a bad idea:

1-IMG_9873This is not crisp, it’s floppy!  Clearly, a good blocking would fix it up some, but I think that this is a case of bad yarn-pattern matching.  (Also, it is too big!  It is even too big for Doug!)  This not-quite-finished mitt is heading to the frog pile.

I then spent far too much time searching for an alternate mitt pattern for the Madtosh but nothing was sparking.  A bit of creative thinking led me to this:

copyright AliciaPlum

copyright AliciaPlum

These are the very sweet Antiquity Mitts, designed by Alicia Plummer.  The pattern calls for a skein of Quince & Co Chickadee wool.  I just happen to have several skeins of Chickadee in a number of colours scattered around the house.  I cast one on this morning and am quite pleased with the result:

2-IMG_9876This colour is called Honey; I had ordered it on-line for another project and then decided it had too much brown and not enough gold.  It’s been sitting in the stash ever since.  I wasn’t convinced, even this morning as I was casting-on, if I liked the colour, but it is growing on me.  And the pattern is lovely; very charming and quick with some pretty stitchwork:

3-IMG_9879Thank you again for all of the nice comments.  Here’s to another year of knitting and blogging!

 

Third anniversary contest

Three years ago today, I published my first post on this blog.  Surprisingly, I have not yet run out of things to say.  Life has been busy the past year, and it is sometimes difficult to find time for knitting and blogging.  I have been lucky to have Emma, Leah, and Doug, who are always willing to help out and put up with crazy requests.  I am also lucky to have made friends through blogging; thank you to all of the regular readers here for your comments and support through the years.  You have made this fun.

To mark this anniversary, I am going to give away some yarn.  One lucky commenter will receive two skeins of the widely-admired (and hard to obtain) Wollmeise Pure 100% Wolle.  These beautifully dyed skeins are in fingering weight and come in very generous 150 gram skeins, with approximately 574 yards per skein.  The winner of this contest can have their choice of two skeins of Lapislazuli, a rich pure blue:

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Or, two skeins of Amethyst medium, a very pretty purple:

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Or, for the indecisive person, one skein of each:

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Here’s how it works.  Please leave a comment to this post.  In your comment, let me know if you prefer the blue, the purple, or one of each.  (Please only leave one comment.)  I will pick a winner by using a random number generator.  Only comments received before Friday October 10th at 6pm my time (GMT) will be eligible to win.  I will announce the winner on Saturday, October 11th.  There are no geographical restrictions.  This yarn is part of my stash – it has been kept in plastic bins in a smoke-free, animal-free household and treated with love and respect.

Good luck!

I will be leaving tomorrow for a workshop and will be crazy busy all week; nonetheless I will bring stacks of knitting, just in case!

 

 

In defense of boring

I once overheard a knitter responding to the question: “What’s the most difficult type of knitting?”  “The boring kind,” was her response.  She went on to say that she liked to knit lace and stranded patterns – the more complicated the pattern, the more colours used, and the smaller the needle size, the better.  Sometimes, however, boring is good.

2-IMG_9854There is nothing quite so boring, and yet so uniquely compelling as knitting in stockinette in the round.  Stitch after stitch, well over three hundred on the needles at this point, with no end of the row, no need to turn the needles, no purling, no counting, no thinking.  It may be boring knitting, but boring knitting can be mesmerizing.  It is sometimes just what the doctor ordered – a little bit of Zen, an escape from stress, time to let your mind wander.  And when the colour is as rich and lovely as this, it’s a bit of eye candy too.

In a break from my Zen-knitting today, I spent some time “Surfing the Knit” – another mesmeric activity but definitely not as productive.  I’ll bring you a few tidbits here:

  1.  Ginger Twist Studio has an announcement on her blog for a Historic Music Knitting Event in Edinburgh on October 6th.  Here is a brief description: “Knit one, pearl 1942! A Stitch in Time: Lost Knitting Songs from the World Wars is a musical lecture about knitting (yes, knitting!) songs that were written during WWI and WWII in both North America and Britain.”  How cool is that?
  2. I found the most amazing site today.  It is in Beta now, and they are looking for comments, so please check them out.  It is called Yarnsub.com.  I was looking online for substitutes for Brooklyn Tweed Loft (I love Loft, but can’t always dish out for the expensive stuff) and came onto this page.  It lists the characteristics of the yarn you are trying to match, and then rates each of several substitutes according to weight, texture, fibre content, gauge, etc.  I love this!
  3. And here’s an interesting one: “As part of the Great British Bioscience Festival, BBSRC is running Knit-a-Bug: The Great British Bioscience Knitting Competition. BBSRC invites knitters from across the country to get creative with bioscience by knitting bacteria and viruses that can impact human and animal health. ”  I think I’ll stick with my Zen-knitting, thank you very much.