Home run for homespun!

Do you ever wonder what to do with little odds and ends of homespun yarn?

In the fall of 2016, Doug and I spent a few days in Wales (blogged about here) and included a stop at The Lost Sheep Company in Colwyn Bay.  There, in addition to chatting with its charismatic owner, Chrissy, and wading through waist high bundles of fleeces:


We purchased four tiny skeins of homespun yarn from Welsh bred sheep.  In the below photo, the yarn on the left was un-labelled, followed left-to-right by Jacob, Welsh Mule, and Black Welsh Mountain.


I had differing yardage of each yarn, and they were of different yarn weights.  I wondered for a long time what to do with them, and one night shortly after the New Year, I just picked up the first skein and started to knit.  I didn’t do any gauge swatches or fuss with measurements.  I didn’t do any math.  I cast on 180 stitches with a size US 11 needle and started to knit in 2×2 ribbing.  When I got to the end of one skein, I added another, and kept knitting until my yarn ran out.

As Doug was the one who picked out the yarn, I made the cowl for him.  I think it suits him well.


It is amazingly plush and cozy, and has a fantastic hand.  With the exception of the small nups of colour in the un-labelled batch, it is all un-dyed. I hadn’t knit with handspun in some time, and really loved having it on my needles.

Emma was still here when I finished, and she had just finished knitting her own cowl (blogged here), so I tried to get a photo of the two of them.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to get Doug and Emma to cooperate and not be silly?

Photo attempt #7:


Photo attempt #13:


Photo attempt #312:


Photo attempt #2,397:


This is, of course a slight exaggeration, but they delight in being silly, especially when I am trying to get a photo for the blog.


If you are trying to find a use for small bits of homespun yarn, I recommend this fun and easy solution.

You can’t make this stuff up

I am in South Africa at the moment with a super busy week of teaching on my plate.  I had no plans to write a post, but noticed this little tidbit in the Guardian, and couldn’t resist.  Apparently, there is a new fad going around (by that I mean in places I don’t normally navigate like Instagram and Pinterest) which involves shelving your books with the spines facing backwards, in order to maintain a neutral colour scheme.  For your enlightenment, a photo:

book shelf back to front

Photo from The Guardian, online International version, January 16, 2018; see link

You can’t make this stuff up!

The article, with the fantastic title, “Shelf effacement: how not to organise your bookshelves”, notes:

“Back in October, design blog Apartment Therapy shared one of these backwards bookshelves on its Instagram account, with advice for emulating the look. (“Books don’t match your decor? Don’t fret … Flip them for a perfectly coordinated look.”) US morning show Today called it “a beautiful thing to try”, and, naturally, it’s all over Pinterest.”

Perhaps I am the last person on earth to have seen this trend (alas, I have failed at Trends R Us), but surely this is a scam perpetrated by a blogger on a slow news day?  This is so ridiculous I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

News alert: There is no single prettier thing to have in a room than a bookshelf filled with a riot of books. (Dare I say it? Even a bookcase full of YARN cannot match up to it.  That’s how much I believe this!)  Who needs order and bland beige-ness when one can have disorder and colour and BOOKS!

The whole joy of a bookshelf is in reading the titles (hopefully followed by reading the books).  What do they say about the owner?  How many fantastic conversations can you start by examining the shelves?  How can you make a rainy day lovely?  Will you discover a kindred spirit?  How can we make your heart go pitter-pat and your fingers start to tingle just by the proximity to the lovely written word?  And, far more importantly, what little treasures are there just waiting for you to read, or at the very least, drool over (figuratively, of course)?

And now, rant over, we return you to your regularly scheduled entertainment.  Tune in again soon for some knitting news (guaranteed to not match your colour scheme).

The knitter’s guide to holiday enabling

For Christmas, I gave Emma a get-back-to-knitting kit.  Emma is a fantastic knitter, but suffers from lack of follow-through; her attention gets distracted by all of the other things she does well.  I had hoped that she might be tempted by having yarn and needles at hand.  My ploy seems to have worked:


I purposely picked a project that could be finished quickly; Emma knitted it in a few days.  It is called the Cecilia Cowl.  The gift consisted of a photocopy of the pattern (it is a free pattern designed by Rachel Atkinson for Loop, which you can find here), a skein of Freia Super Bulky Ombre in the colour Nautilus, and a US size 17 circular knitting needle.  I had thought that I would be around to give a hand if needed, but Emma knit the whole thing on her own, mostly during the wee hours (she arrived Christmas Eve so was very jet-lagged).


This is a great project for beginners – the pattern is easy but is also engaging enough to keep your interest.  Best of all, the constantly changing hues of the yarn make it hard to put the project down: it is a “just one more row” kind of project.


Emma is flying back to Canada tomorrow, but I am hoping that her interest has been snagged enough for her to take advantage of all of the great knitting shops in Vancouver.  I am a great enabler, am I not?


I hope that you have all had a lovely holiday, and enjoyed some relaxing knitting time.

End of year round-up 2017

This was a slow year in knitting for me.  I only completed 7 projects in 2017: 2 sweaters, a shawl, two cowls, a pair of mitts, and a baby cardigan:


Clockwise from the top: my Acer cardigan, the Madita cowl, a wee baby cardigan, a SnowFlower for Leah’s birthday, a chunky cowl, my Cool Boots shawl, and a pair of rainbow mitts.

While I enjoyed knitting each of these, the absolute standout for me this year was my Cool Boots shawl.  I have worn it nearly every day for months.  I made it to match a favorite pair of funky boots in red and pink, and later bought a fabulous handbag to match.  All I need to do to brighten my mood this winter is to throw on this shawl.  It is lots of mindless knitting – garter stitch with light fingering weight yarn on tiny needles – but well worth it.

Despite having only seven finished projects, I spent a lot of time knitting on two items that didn’t make it on this list.  The first was a linen T-shirt which I half-finished before deciding that the fit was all wrong; I have since thought about ripping and re-doing it, but for the moment it sits in the bottom of a bag.  Despite it being resigned to the frog pile, it led to one of my favorite photographs of the year, which is me knitting it while sailing a schooner off the coat of British Columbia:

schooner knitting-1030269

The other project is one which is just not finished yet, and which will end up being on next year’s round-up.  This is Sofi, a cute mosaic stitch jacket designed by Hanne Falkenberg.  It is a lot of work, but will be fantastic when finished.  Here is the latest progress shot:


This is my 48th post of the year and finished up my sixth full year of blogging (I started in October 2011).  According to the stats provided to me by WordPress, these are my top posts this year:

  1. A pattern to celebrate my 300th post
  2. Business Class Cowl  (written in 2016)
  3. To gusset or not to gusset (written in 2016)
  4. How to make your knitting habit appear cost-effective
  5. Pretty much perfect in every way
  6. Vintage knitting patterns: the men’s edition
  7. I am the Switzerland of sweater construction

I have listed the seven most-viewed posts, in order to give you the top five of 2017, as two of the seven were written last year.  It is gratifying that the top two posts are for my designs, the Cool Boots Shawl and the Business Class Cowl.

Which were my favorite posts?  When I drew up a list, they included the five listed above (with Pretty much perfect in every way topping the list).  But here are five of my other favorites this year:

  1. The opposite of startitis
  2. Failure, resilience, and knitting
  3. Kathy Bear says: “Knit another one for the baby!”
  4. The power of quiet
  5. I KNIT TWELVE SWEATERS IN TWO WEEKS!!  (This one can only be fully appreciated in the light of its context: written shortly after Trump’s inauguration in response to his comments regarding the size of the crowd – note the use of all-caps and exclamation points.)

This year saw a marked decline in my knitting productivity.  Why?  First, a demanding new role at work means less time to knit.  Second, the unrelentingly depressing political news this year seriously interfered with my knitting mojo.

I’ll end with my favorite photo of the year, one which hasn’t made an appearance on the blog before now.  I was sitting and knitting and enjoying the view, on the roots of a giant toppled tree, on the beach of a small island off the coast of Vancouver Island.  Emma decided to sneak up on me:

P1030388 (1)

I remain optimistic for the next year, at least with respect to knitting. What’s up next chez Knitigating Circumstances?  Stay tuned for a look-ahead to the next year.  I thank everyone who reads and enjoys these posts.  It makes me happy to jot down my thoughts and it’s nice that people like to read them.  Best wishes to all for a healthy and happy New Year!

Birthday SnowFlower

Given that it is Boxing Day, and I am about to show you a finished project, one might reasonably assume that this project was a Christmas gift.  But you would assume wrong!  Leah’s birthday falls the week before Christmas, and I knit her a SnowFlower for her birthday.


SnowFlower is a pattern by Heidi Kirrmaier, which is a yoked design using worsted weight wool.  One of the interesting features of the design is that the sweater is cast on just above the armholes at the beginning of the yoke, and knit up.  Afterwards the provisionary stitches are picked up and the body and sleeves are knit down.  This seemed like an interesting technique, and in this case, it worked out great: the yoke was shaped with decreases instead of increases (which I think have a better look to them) but the lengths could still be determined at the end by trying on the sweater.


I knit it in De Rerum Natura Gilliatt, a worsted weight 100% merino wool from France.  It is a very lofty yarn with 250 metres per 100 gram ball.  The yarn is very reasonably priced, and with this excellent yardage, it comes in at just over half the price, metre for metre, of Brooklyn Tweed.  (Note that I live in the UK, where it is likely that Brooklyn Tweed is more expensive and De Rerum less expensive than in the US.)  I found it to be a very nice yarn to work with and produces a great, soft, lofty fabric.


I am very happy to put it on my list of great workhouse yarns, as it is nice to sometimes knit things with reasonably priced yarns.  The only complaint I have so far of the yarn is that the colour palette is limited.  I would have loved to have a bit more choice.

There are many great examples of this sweater on Ravelry.  I was particularly inspired by two beautiful examples knit by SmashingPuffin.  I am glad that I followed through because it was a delight to make, and very quick.

I wrote a few blog posts about trying to pick the right colour combination for this sweater.  I really think I nailed it in the end.  I am totally pleased with these colours.  I think that it looks very Norwegian.  The combination of the cheerful snow flowers of the pattern and the lively pop of red, make for a beautiful winter sweater.  It is both warm and cozy, and sunny and bright.


I knit the sweater exactly according to the pattern.  The only change I made was to add an additional 4 stitches under each sleeve (picking up 18 instead of 14 stitches).  The knitting took no time; I finished in about 5 weeks.  I managed to finish it in time for Leah’s birthday, but then she decided she wanted it an inch longer, so I ripped out all of the ribbing on the body and the sleeves, knit an extra inch of stockinette and then re-knitted the 3″ of ribbing.

Doug said “Why didn’t you just make the ribbing 4″ long?  That way you wouldn’t have had to rip and re-knit all of that rib.”  The truth is it never would have occurred to me to do that.  One of the things I like about a hand-knitted sweater is that you knit it so that it is exactly right.  If you wanted a sweater that wasn’t exactly right, you could buy it.  Ripping and re-knitting, so that your garment turns out exactly how you want it to, is one of the joys of knitting.  Call me crazy, but that’s how I feel!


We photographed this sweater today, on a fairly grey, wet Boxing Day in the beautiful village of Turville, which is frequently used as a film site.  Can you see the windmill up in the top of this photo?  It is the Cobstone Windmill located in the adjoining village of Ibsden, and which was used in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  (It was the home of inventor Caractacus Potts.)


This photo shoot was a family affair (just like old times!).  Emma is home and so she took the photos for this post.  Here is a shot I took of her doing the photo shoot:


We took some silly shots:


And here is a picture of me, pushed to the sidelines by Doug, Emma, and Leah (in a bid to keep me from micro-managing the process).


Happy holidays! And happy knitting to all!

Time to stop and watch the geese

Today, I raced into a meeting only to discover I had the time wrong – I was 30 minutes early.  I was in a big conference room all by myself.  I spent a few minutes deciding whether to sit and answer email, or whether to take advantage of 30 minutes and run around taking care of some of the many tasks I had lined up for the day.  The latter won, and I raced out of the door, plotting in my mind how to get as much packed into 30 minutes as possible.  Then, my head came up and I looked at the view. This is what I saw:


For the record, this is where I work.  I have this view every day.  When I first took this job, I thought I was the luckiest person on earth.  I would spend a bit of time every day walking along the river and taking in the view and the fresh air.  Today, I realised that I had not even looked at the view for months.  I work there every day and spend my days running from meeting to meeting, or teaching all day.  I talk to my MBA students about how important it is to have time for reflection.  I tell them to take care of their mental health and to think about how they balance the various parts of their life in a holistic way.  Somehow, I had forgotten to practice what I preach.

You might not notice in the above photo the line of geese walking across the lawn.  Here is a close-up:


I spent twenty minutes standing outside in the brisk, cold, sunny morning watching the geese.  I then had a very productive day getting all of my tasks done.

December can be a super stressful month.  We put a huge amount of pressure on ourselves during the holidays.  If this is true for you, let me offer up a piece of advice: take some time to stop and smell the roses.  Or, as in my case, to stop and watch the geese.

December stealth knitting

Today it is cold outside here in England.  It is nearly noon and it is still below freezing out!  Luckily it is Saturday, I am on my own all weekend (Doug is on his way to sunny Australia), I worked like crazy this week at the office and actually accomplished some things, and I have enough food, wine, knitting, and books on hand to let me hide away for the entire weekend.  As I am typing this, they are broadcasting snow warnings on the radio, and I say “Let it snow!”

I am knitting away like mad on a project I am trying to keep a bit under the wraps on the blog.  Why?  Because it is December, and that means that it is time for December stealth knitting!   I will show you just one sneaky photo (because I can’t resist).  This is designed to give a little peek at what I’m up to, without giving away too much.


How many of you are busy with some December stealth knitting of your own this weekend?