Change of scene: Helsinki

I normally do a lot of travel for my job, but that stopped in March 2020 due to Covid. With restrictions easing, I just made my first business trip in almost 20 months – to Helsinki. Since I was teaching there on a Friday, Doug flew in with me and we spent the weekend. It was fun and also kind of weird to be travelling again. There were tons of forms to fill in, and tests to take, and lots of new procedures involved in travelling in a Covid world, which we had to get our heads around, but it was great to get away.

Helsinki is lovely. Many of the buildings reminded us of Potsdam, where we lived for a decade shortly after reunification, but Helsinki is on the water, and the miles of harbour give it a unique feel. There are lots of boats, and fish, and marketplaces; sometimes all three in one:

There are boats sailing on the water:

There are interesting architectural shapes:

This bird has a prime spot:

This being Finland, there are knitting shops! This is Snurre:

This is me shopping in Snurre:

It is a fantastic shop, with two rooms packed full of gorgeous yarn and other knitting stuff:

A knitter, after visiting Snurre, might find herself with a small bag of goodies to take home:

A knitter, in fact, may find herself sitting by the water and knitting while enjoying the sights of the busy harbour:

The city seems to have negotiated Covid fairly well, and it felt safe. Even these guys were wearing masks:

It is a lovely place for tourists to wander while wearing dapper hand-knitted waistcoats:

Or for tourists to look relaxed and happy while wearing lovely hand-knitted tops:

It’s amazing what a short change of scene can do for your mental health!

10 years of blogging

Ten years ago today, I published my very first post on this blog. A lot of things happen in ten years – I have grown and changed in ways I never would have imagined, and the world around me is almost unrecognisable at times – and yet this blog is still here with me. I still sit down, nearly every weekend, and pour some thoughts onto the (virtual) page. I spend countless hours planning, plotting, photographing, styling, writing, editing, posing, and yes, most of all, knitting.

When I began, I worried that I would not have anything to say. This post, this one right here, is my 550th post. At times, I have been brimming with creativity and new ideas, and projects are jumping up and down in my brain and off my needles. Other times, I have been so busy that knitting and blogging is a fought-for luxury in my week. Sometimes, the mojo is gone and I creak along waiting for it to return. Throughout it all, this blog has been here, providing a bit of sanity and creativity and fun; it is both my platform and my retreat.

I went back today to look at that first post, and it makes me laugh. My very first sentence, on the very first post says: “Last weekend,  I finally managed to block my Stripe Study Shawl.” I started as if I was in the middle of a conversation! So funny! I remember arguing with my family that I didn’t want to start by saying “Hi. I’m Kelly. This is my blog.” So I just started as I meant to go on. I never meant it to go on for ten years.

This blog is me – my thoughts, my knitting, my writing – but it is also in many ways a family affair. My daughter Emma spent a few years wearing me down, convincing me to start a knitting blog. Doug and Emma and Leah and I spent an entire day trying to come up with a name. We must have tried out hundreds before coming up with Knitigating Circumstances. I still think that the name is one of the best things about the blog; I smile every time I see it. (Although every time I have to write it, I wish I had picked something really short and sweet.)

For the first two years, this blog was a joint effort between Emma and myself, with a huge amount of work being put in behind the scenes by Emma, who did all of the photography and style editing, and technical editing, and proof reading, as well as being a sounding board and originator of ideas. I’ve written every post but one, which was written by Emma and is still one of my favourites. (I have a funny story to tell about that post. It is called “Move over Mom!”, as Emma was pushing me aside to write a post. We originally thought that she would write a series of occasional posts and wanted a name to tag her posts. We tagged it “Emma butts in!” and created a new column on the blog menu for these posts. A few weeks later, I noticed that I was getting a lot of referrals from, shall we say, dodgy-looking search terms. A little research and we discovered that there was a porn star whose first name was Emma and last name was Butts. We quietly removed the tags, and eventually the search engines gave up.) When Emma moved to Canada, it became harder and harder for her to participate in the every day running of the blog, and I learned to do more of it myself, although I still bug her at least once a week about blog-related things. I never would have done this without her. I have also knitted her lots of fabulous things; many patterns which I wouldn’t make for myself but which look smashing on her.

Leah has also proof-read countless posts, posed for innumerable photos, and has served as a muse for some of my more interesting projects over the years (like the Tolkien pillow, or the sweater I knitted her based on Anglo-Saxon gold and garnet cloisonné jewellery, finished project here). In the meantime, Doug has taken over nearly all of the photography for the blog, as well as reading most every post before I hit the publish button. Doug also provides inspiration for some of my favourite posts, which detail funny conversations between us. I often hear knitters complain that they can’t get their spouse to take a project photo for them. I can ask Doug to take a photo of a new skein of yarn, and he will come back with a hundred of them, all of them interesting (and in focus).

When I started this blog, I had just turned 50. I had two teenagers at home. I worked a 9-5 job as a manager of a research facility (having put my first academic teaching job – as a linguist – to rest when the girls were born). Every week, I ferried the girls, and a carful of instruments, to school, saxophone lessons, piano lessons, cello lessons, band practice, orchestra practice. I had my knitting with me everywhere and got tons done. Since then, the girls left home, I went back to school (for an MBA), took up a second academic career in a second academic discipline, travelled heavily both for my job and for pleasure, and still the blog kept going.

This is a time of transitions and milestones for me. In the past ten weeks, I have turned 60, had my 30th wedding anniversary, and been promoted (I am now an Associate Professor of Leadership – who would have imagined such a thing 10 years ago?). And today, I celebrate my 10th anniversary as a blogger.

Part of the joy of this blog is that I have you along for the ride. To those of you who keep coming back and reading, who put comments here and send me messages on Ravelry, who get inspired and inspire me, and who share my love of knitting and community, thank you.

A naturally gluten-free cheesecake

I had a knitting post all worked out in my head for this weekend. Unfortunately, I have been either too busy, or too lazy, all weekend to write it. So, instead I will tell you about the amazing cheesecake I baked today. I found the recipe in an article in The Guardian this week, containing recipes from Nigel Slater’s new cookbook. Many of you will know that I have coeliac disease and maintain an entirely gluten-free diet. I was struck by this recipe, which has no crust, and is naturally gluten-free. Nigel writes about eating this Basque cheesecake in San Sebastián.

He writes:

“I chose a slice of cheesecake, its centre as soft as syllabub, its crust scorched. A cheesecake with no pastry or crumb crust to support its curds, no berries rippled through the deep, vanilla-scented custard. A cake that wobbled mousse-like on the fork. I was surprised not to miss the crunch of pounded crumbs. Not only was it not missed, the biscuit crumbs suddenly felt like an interference. Grit in the oyster. The smoky bitterness of the blackened crust was all the contrast I needed.”

Nigel Slater, The Guardian, Monday 20th September, 2021

It is fantastic! Here it is right out of the oven:

I highly recommend this recipe, whether you avoid gluten or not. It has a glorious texture and manages to be both amazingly rich and also meltingly light, at the same time.

I am reminded of a funny story about cheesecake. About 15 years ago or so, we were in New York in December with the girls. I had told them many times how much I had loved the cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli in my gluten-eating youth. We took them there on a cold, snowy afternoon and the girls and Doug all ordered a piece of cheesecake. I asked the waitress if they had anything that was gluten-free. She said to me “There is nothing gluten-free on offer here; you can’t eat anything in this restaurant.” I admit to be taken aback by this, which seemed rather rude, and simply ordered a coffee.

Some time later, while Doug and the girls were waxing euphoric over their cheesecake, I picked up a spoon and leaned across the table to take a tiny bite of Emma’s cake. Cheesecake normally has a gluten-free filling and it is the graham cracker crust that is problematic for coeliacs. I intended to sample a small bite of the filing. Before you could say “Boo!” the waitress ran over to the table and snatched the spoon from my hand and said “I told you that you can’t eat here!” In my nearly 30 years of eating gluten-free in cities all over the world, this stands out as one of the weirder experiences.

This is a lovely cake and I am sure to make it again. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I substituted half of the cream cheese with mascarpone (which has a higher fat content) and I used Creme fraiche instead of soured cream (which is difficult to find here). It is very easy to make, and it turned out perfectly the first time.


The Not-holiday

We’ve just had two weeks off of work. We have the kind of holiday days which are use-them-or-lose-them, and our holiday calendar starts at the beginning of October every year. We had holiday days accumulated because, well…. Covid. We needed a break and had to take it now. Unfortunately, neither Doug nor I were feeling comfortable with travelling internationally (and in particular, didn’t want to ruin the blissed out glow of a week spent lazing in the sun by coming back through Heathrow in its current crazy chaos). Additionally, Doug had some major mouth surgery just before the start of the holiday, and he looked like he found the wrong end of a bar fight, in addition to having a mouth full of stitches that needed removing, and, oh yeah, a lot of pain. So we decided to have what the British are so sweetly calling a “staycation”. In other words, have a holiday here in the UK.

What we failed to take into account is that some people actually plan a holiday in advance! They make bookings! For September even, when the schools are back in session. The nerve! I could tell you a long, pointless, and ultimately boring story about how we tried to find a place to stay, but I won’t. The point is that we did not plan in advance, and thus we stayed at home.

That is not to say we did nothing. We read, we cooked, and we took a lot of nice walks. I knitted. (“Aha!”, you think, “finally some knitting content.” If this is you, skip to the bottom of the post and I promise I will talk knitting.)

We took a number of walks locally along the Thames. I liked this spot, near Pangbourne, where on an unexpectedly hot afternoon, the locals gathered to swim. I wonder who was more surprised: the cows or the people?

We spent a lovely day at Kew Gardens, which was lush and green and peaceful. Doug even convinced me to take the areal walk, which is 9 flights of stairs up in the treetops:

I am afraid of heights, so I tried (not quite successfully) to relax my clenched teeth enough to get this photo showing me up in the treetops:

Kew is beautiful and I heartily recommend a visit there. We are members, but still don’t spend as much time there as I would like.

(It was unfortunately on the way back from Kew, that our car broke down, as mentioned in my last post.)

We spent a day hiking around Hughenden Manor, the home of Benjamin Disraeli. It is now a National Trust property and has some pretty gardens and attached parkland. They also have great beach chairs scattered around, which almost makes it like a beach holiday (only without the water, or the sand, or the gin & tonic).

We spent an absolutely glorious morning at the West Green House Gardens. This is a private house with the most beautiful gardens. It was truly lovely and we hit it on a magical day.

We also celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary last week. Here, just for fun, is a photo of us 30 years ago:

Lastly, some knitting to report. I have mostly been working on Caravay, a Linda Marveng design. This oversized pullover is knitted in a very cool textural stitch which has a lot of depth, made even more rich by the beautiful burgundy yarn (Tinde pelsullgarn by Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk). I took innumerable photos of the work in progress, but find it is almost impossible to capture both the colour and the texture properly. Here are two different shots, which hopefully give an idea of the richness:

I also did some swatching for a mystery pullover, in this pretty pink DK wool from the Wool Barn. (Note that this is a mystery for you, not for me. As I have noted before in response to the craze for Mystery Knit-a-longs: “I like to know what I am knitting”.)

And I cast on for the Gresham Shawl. If you recall, I received a kit for this shawl on my birthday a few weeks ago. This is knit with worsted weight wool so it flies off the needles:

Tomorrow we go back to work. I am not convinced I feel entirely rested, but I will admit that I don’t feel nearly as crushed as I did beforehand. The trees are starting to turn, and my inbox is filled with knitting pretties, and new autumn patterns are appearing. Sweater weather is here, and with it, the usual boost to my knitting mojo and the re-charging of my creative muscles. Do you have new projects on your needles? Curious minds want to know.

Dear Miss Fashion Smarty-pants

Dear Miss Fashion Smarty-pants,

What should the fashion-conscious motorist wear to get a puncture on the M4?

Signed, Sartorially Challenged

Dear Sartorially Challenged,

In our opinion, if one is to spend two hours on the hard shoulder of the M4 during rush hour, awaiting a tow, the well-dressed motorist would be best advised to wear a hand-knitted garment. Or perhaps two.

With best wishes, Miss Fashion Smarty-pants

Birthday treats

I turned 60 this week. It is going to take a while for that to sink in. I had a nice day – Doug cooked me a great meal, I chatted with the girls and with lots of old friends, I received some lovely gifts. You may not be surprised to hear that there was yarn.

Below is a great big pile of yarn which I received from the girls:

This is the bouncy, soft, 100% wool, Woolstok Worsted from Blue Sky Fibers, in 8 shades; it was purchased as a kit from Tribe Yarns, to make this extra large shawl, the Gresham Wrap by Michael Vloedman:

© Blue Sky Fibers

Blue Sky Fibers make really nice yarn (I knitted my Cool Boots Neutral Shawl in Blue Sky Metalico) and this yarn is so lovely and sunny and cheerful. I will enjoy knitting with it, but also am enjoying just looking at all the beautiful shades.

I also received this fantastic yarn from The Uncommon Thread, Linum in the colour Pontus. This hand-dyed yarn is 50% baby alpaca, 25% silk, and 25% linen.

I have wanted to try this yarn for a while, and have something in mind for it, but as it is a summery thing, I will put it aside for awhile. The Uncommon Thread makes absolutely gorgeous yarn, and I have used it for many projects, such as Mignon, Skelter, Laelia, and Livvy (links are to blog posts I wrote about each project).

I am calling this a magical mystery birthday gift. How can you get a magical mystery birthday gift, too? It is easy, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Pre-order some great yarn from an independent dyer.
  2. Forget all about it.

Having it arrive in time for your birthday is a bit trickier, but I am certain that you enterprising knitters can figure that one out.

I have not done lots of knitting the past few weeks, but I have started the Caravay sweater by designer Linda Marveng. The yarn is fantastic and I am so happy we picked this gorgeous shade of Burgundy (the yarn and pattern were won in a prize and you can see details in this post). The stitch pattern is quite interesting – not difficult or in-your-face, but pleasingly textual.

And, as a last nod to a knitting birthday, I received my copy of the new Confident Knitting book. It happened to arrive on my birthday, which I am sure was intricately coordinated by Jen and Jim (the editors). It is a lovely book and I have been happily reading it this morning. It is part of the Confident Knitting club from Arnall-Culliford Knitting, which I heartily recommend you check out. They make fantastic instructional videos, and work with an array of diverse, independent, and talented designers and dyers. And they are very nice to boot!

Doug had a birthday last week too. He received lovely gifts, but no yarn. Poor Doug! Birthdays are always better with yarn.

Sheep Art

Could you use a virtual hug today? Then watch this!

The link leads to an article in the Guardian about a beautiful piece of “sheep art”; “A sheep farmer stuck in lockdown in New South Wales who was unable to attend his aunt’s funeral has honoured her memory with the ultimate tribute: a love heart made from sheep.” Make sure to watch the video. This made me smile.

Myrtle meanders along

I have made some progress on my summery Myrtle tee. It is knitted entirely in lace, on US2/2.75mm needles, so the progress has been a bit meandering. Nonetheless, I have finished the body of the top, having shaped the armscyes and neckline, and then used a 3-needle bind-off to knit the front and back together at the shoulders. I think it looks rather pretty.

The yarn is Madelinetosh Merino Light in Pink Clay, Sugar Coat, Librarian’s Dreams, Joshua Tree, and Rocinante. I didn’t buy this yarn for this pattern, but rather am re-purposing the yarn from a kit I purchased to make a shawl (the Scout Shawl – which I blogged about here). The kit contains two full and three partial skeins of yarn (enough of each to knit the shawl) and this means that I have had to struggle with how I utilise the colours in the Myrtle. I ran out of the Joshua Tree (dark green) colour after knitting 4 pattern repeats; thus, you can see that the top repeat and a half utilise only four colours instead of five. I am very shortly to run out of the Rocinante (the terracotta-rose colour) as well; I am hoping that I have enough Rocinante left for one pattern stripe on each sleeve. The only colour I have an abundance of at this point is the Pink Clay, although I do have enough of the Sugar Coat (white) to finish all of the ribbing.

The top is a bit shorter than I would have wished – if I wasn’t worried about running out of yarn I would have added another stripe or two before binding off for the armscyes. And it is a bit on the clingy side as well – having decreased both the stitch count and the needle size after an earlier attempt was turning out too big. However, I am fairly confident that the magic of blocking is going to fix both of these issues. I am still pondering what to do about the sleeve shapings. I plan to knit short sleeves, with two or three bands of horseshoe lace pattern and then some ribbing. However, if you look at the original pattern (by Kate Davies), you will see that the shoulder is dropped, and so the sleeves are formed by picking up around the armscye and then knitting directly in pattern, without any short row shaping to form a sleeve cap. I am afraid that that won’t work here as the shoulders are definitely not dropped. So maybe I will need to angle the first pattern stripe or two with some short rows, to bring down the shoulders? I’m not sure yet how to solve this. But such is the fun of knitting. I like these creative fiddlings one must make to bring it all together, especially when one’s gauge is off, as mine is here.

Below you can see the back. I completely love these colours together, and note that they are outside of my usual palette, which is kind of fun.

I had an email from Loop this week (the lovely London yarn shop from which I bought this yarn kit). It contained the following workshop announcement: “Liz Baltesz will teach you to knit the Scout Shawl on 3 October. If you can knit and purl you can make this!” I had a good giggle over this. I gather I am not the only one that purchased the kit at first glance, having fallen hard for the shawl, and then had the daunting prospect of knitting it sink in. If I hadn’t already re-purposed the kit, I would likely take this course. Not because I couldn’t have figured it out myself (I know that I could) but because sometimes it is nice to have companionship on the journey and someone to pat you on the shoulder and say “there, there”. If any of you London-adjacent readers take the workshop, do let me know how it turns out.

Happy knitting, everyone!

Ups and downs

The past few weeks have had some ups and downs, in all aspects of life. Let’s talk here about those of the knitterly variety. You may remember that I took the yarn kit which had been destined as a Scout Shawl, and decided instead to make a summerly riff on Myrtle (blogged here). However, due to some inspired lying by the gauge swatch, I ended up with something big enough for me and a close friend to wear together.

I had knitted this with a US2.5 needle, which is pretty darned small, in a size 3. I decided to go down both by a needle, and by a size, so cast on for a size 2 with a US2 needle. This was problematic because my only US2 needle tips had previously suffered an accident, and hadn’t been replaced. (Note to self: If you leave your needles on the floor, they are bound to be stepped on eventually.)

I knitted all of the ribbing and the first six stripes with a bent needle before my new tips arrived in the post. I had fretted about changing both the needle size and the garment size, without swatching again. But since the swatch was pretty useless the first time, I decided just to take a chance on my gut. You can see that it paid off, as the fit is now much more reasonable:

Myrtle is designed by Kate Davies; here is a Ravelry link to the pattern, and here is a link to Kate’s website.) Below is a close-up to showcase the horseshoe lace stitch:

This second attempt was addictive and I was happily knitting along while re-listening to Shards of Honor, the first in the Vorkosigan books by Lois McMaster Bujold. Despite knowing how it ends, I got caught up in the story and kept knitting – this is a definite no-no for someone who suffers from repetitive stress problems to the wrists and hands. I finally stopped when I noticed the swelling in my left wrist. Much too late. I then had to spend the next 4 or 5 days resting my hands.

Yesterday, my hands had recovered slightly, and keen to start listening to Barrayar, I decided to knit a swatch for Caravay (Ravelry link). The pattern suggested a US size 4 needle, and I knew that I would need to go up a size, so I started out with a US5, and then knitted a second swatch with a US6.

The yarn knitted up so nicely, and then really bloomed in the bath. It also dries so quickly. The yarn is Tinde, a DK pelt wool from Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk, in the colour Burgundy. Stunning, isn’t it? (The yarn was provided by the company as part of a prize I won from the sweater’s designer, Linda Marveng.)

I wrote a post a number of years ago about the difficulties of recording information on the swatch – how do you remember after the fact which size needle you knitted it with? I came up with a solution there, which involved writing down all of the information and storing it together with the swatch in a see-through plastic binder pocket; however, I must admit that I don’t often follow through with this system. This morning, I “invented” a new technique for encoding which size needle I knitted each swatch with. (I use the quotes because it’s totally unlikely that others haven’t thought of it, although I don’t think I’ve read of it previously.) See the knots in the yarn at the bottom of the swatches? I put 5 knots in the one knitted with a US5, and 6 knots in the one with a US6. This worked out well. (At least with whole numbers; this could be more problematic with metric sizes.)

I hope your Sunday has more ups than downs.

“Dyemonds” is a girl’s best friend

We have just returned from a short trip to Wales, where it was cool enough for me to wear my newest finished project.

This is the Dyemonds Sweater, designed by Josée Paquin (the link is to Ravelry). It is a very clever design, especially in how the increases on both sides of the raglan shaping are incorporated into the pattern.

I knitted this with Spincycle Dyed in the Wool yarn, in Devilish Grin, purchased from A Yarn Story. I bought five skeins, but only needed four. The background yarn is Quince & Co Chickadee in Crow (black), which I was very happy to use up from stash, having purchased it from Loop in 2017. I had five skeins of the Chickadee as well, and broke into the fifth skein only for the last 6 rows of ribbing on the waist.

I have developed a complicated relationship with the Spincycle yarn. It has produced a striking garment, and it washes and blocks really well. I did have some issues with it, however. First, there is an unsettling degree of difference between skeins (you can see an illustrative photo in this previous post.) Second, Spincycle consists of two different coloured strands plied together, which means that the knitted fabric has sections where two quite distinct colours are plied together, producing a marled effect (as below).

I am not a fan of marls. I would have preferred the yarn to be dyed after plying so that the colour changes moved organically without marling. I realise that this probably puts me at odds with 90% of knitters out there. It also seems very nit-picky since the finished sweater is lovely. Doug can attest, however, that I was continually grumbling while knitting this when I hit a marled section. Many times I thought of cutting out portions of the yarn (as I used to do frequently with Noro), but Doug talked me down from the ledge each time. He was right, but I still found it made the knitting experience uneven.

The diamond pattern is very intuitive and fun to knit, and as there are only two yarns used throughout, there are not so many ends to weave in when the knitting is done. The only tricky part of the pattern is the sleeves, which gave me lots of grief. I blogged about that previously, so if you are knitting this and are having some conceptual problems with the sleeves, I refer you to that post.

I knitted the size 5 with a US4/3.5mm needle. When I finished, there were about 6 inches of negative ease – a lot more than intended. I thought it would take some hard blocking to get it to shape, but in fact the wet fabric eased up quite a bit, so I only had to pin it in place, without needing to stretch. The finished garment has about 1.5 inches of negative ease, which I think looks quite nice. Note that it also grew in length, so if you are in doubt, knit a good size swatch and block first.

The photo above, as well as the second one, were taken at St. David’s Cathedral, which dates to the 12th century. It is a truly gob-smacking cathedral out in the very Western reaches of Wales. It is well worth a trip out there if you find yourself in Wales. The other photos were taken at The Royston, a completely charming and gorgeous B&B, in Llanbrynmair, Powys. We spent a few lovely days there and will definitely be returning.

I really enjoyed this knit (despite the sleeve troubles). Josée Paquin is on a roll lately, designing one great sweater after another. Tomorrow I go back to work after a much needed holiday. But there are still some hours left of my holiday today, so I am off to sit in the garden and pick up my knitting.