Wales, walks, wildflowers

I intended to write a post last week about the process involved in planning and executing my latest project. But the truth is, I was feeling fairly burned out and needed a respite. Sitting on a warm and sunny beach somewhere while reading books and drinking cocktails sounded pretty nice, but that would involve getting on a plane during the crowded and covid-impacted Easter holiday, which we were determined to avoid. So instead, we drove to Wales for some respite and a change of scenery. I actually managed to leave my laptop at home, and not once did I look at either my email or the news.

Above is a photo of Doug, standing in the front garden of our B&B (this was a return visit to The Royston) at around 8 in the evening as dusk is starting to fall. It is a very lovely and peaceful spot. You can’t see it in the photo, but just to the left of where Doug is standing, are two chairs around a fire pit, where you can sit and enjoy this view. That is where I spent the next afternoon, doing a bit of knitting in the sun.

I hesitate to admit that this is the only time I did any knitting on the entire trip. I also read only one book. Mostly we walked, admired beautiful scenery, breathed deep, and slept 10 hours a night. We went on some great walks. This one was in Snowdownia National Park, near Dolgellau:

It was so lush and green, and peaceful. We walked for hours without passing anyone.

The trail ran along the sides of a ravine, with a river below. The only sound you could hear was that of the river rushing.

We had a lovely adventure when the GPS in the car told us to take a short cut to the seashore, which involved driving through an abandoned slate mine and then on a long track which progressed through a multitude of livestock gates, through country like this:

The lambs did not understand right-of-way:

The seashore was a bit cold and grey but you could walk for miles along the coastal path.

Here is a great stretch of nearly empty beach:

This little steam train ran along the beach, on the other side of the dunes:

We really got a kick out of this brightly painted cinema in the town of Tywyn:

Which is also where Doug grabbed this funny shot:

We spent 4 days up in that part of Wales, near Snowdownia, and then drove to Hay-on-Wye where we stayed for another few days. I had always wanted to visit Hay, which is a spot for book lovers; the town hosts a world famous yearly literary festival, and is home to 38 used book stores. Hay turned out to be a bit too touristy for me (perhaps because it was Easter weekend). It had some funky shops, like this one:

We spent an afternoon wandering through a few of the many book shops. We particularly liked the poetry book shop, where we bought some lovely old and quirky volumes of poetry, and in another shop bought two classic cookbooks from 1961 (the year I was born) and a few books on food writing. We had a fantastic dinner in Hay, at Chapters. If you plan to visit Hay and want to eat there, book well in advance!

We were quite happy that we had not booked a place to stay in the town, instead opting for nearby Glasbury. We spent a fantastic day walking at the National Trust property Begwyns. The website says: “It is possible to see almost the entire Brecon Beacons National Park from the Roundabout, hence all of the views none of the climb.” They are certainly right about the views, which are spectacular, but being not so fit, Doug and I felt that they weren’t entirely honest about there not being a climb.

The Roundabout is a circular, walled piece of forest, at the top of a wide sweep of mostly empty land with views in every direction. You can see it above, and here is a shot from closer up:

In the photo below, I am sitting on a bench in the Roundabout, looking out at one section of the view. You can walk around the walled fence and as far as you can see in every direction are beautiful, rolling hills.

It’s hard to capture an image of the sense of space out there. The sky feels very big and makes you feel very small.

I love the shot below, which has Doug on the left, and a lone tree on the right:

What a beautiful place to take your horse for a ride!

We are now back home and I can’t help but notice that home looks…..well, not unlike Wales! I took the below photo this morning just a few miles from my home:

Hee hee! We could have saved some money by staying home, but then that pesky laptop would have been calling to me, and I would have undoubtedly succumbed to answering emails. Today, the bluebells are at their absolute best, and this part of the world is gorgeous and covered in blankets of the purple wildflowers. Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may be thinking “Oh no, not more bluebell photos!”, but I couldn’t resist. Besides I am fairly sure that I didn’t post any for the last two years.

These were taken on our walk this morning.

Individually, they are such dainty little flowers, but once they congregate, they become fairly majestic.

I had originally called this post “Wales, walks, wool, wildflowers” and I was going to show you a bunch of wool and knitting photos. But instead, I think I will save those for another time.

Best wishes for a peaceful Sunday.

We do so hate to be bored

Last August, I was lazing around, reading through a bunch of knitting and book blogs (as one does). I came upon a post about knitting the fandoms – patterns and projects based on various comic book, sci fi, or fantasy franchises. In the post, they review a book of Star Wars-based knitting patterns and also showcase some Dr. Who and DC Comics projects. I myself have knitted a Tolkien-based project in the past, which I blogged extensively in these pages (the latest post is here, with links to the previous posts).

I clicked onto the next blog on my reading list, this one written by the husband and wife writing duo, Ilona Andrews. They write urban fantasy novels, which combine some sci fi, a bit of romance, a little magic, a bunch of scary monsters, fun world-building, and generally kick-ass protagonists. They are very popular, have written at least six separate series, and have a wildly devoted fan base who call themselves the Book Devouring Horde (the BDH). I immediately had the thought “What would a knitted piece of Ilona Andrews fan art look like?” And a fully formed picture of such a pattern popped instantly into my head! It would look like this:

Well, that was in August, and it took me some months to get around to knitting it, but I can happily say that I have now finished and I think it looks pretty cool. “But what does it mean?”, you may ask (thus proving yourself to not be a card-carrying member of the BDH). In the Hidden Legacy series, the super bad guy – who is known as Caesar – causes chaos while his identity remains secret. The only clue that readers have to his identity is in the very last scene of the the third book, in which he has a conversation with a fellow plotter. It is the first time he appears on page, and he says “We do so hate to be bored”. It is, in fact, the last line of the book. The BDH are busily engaged in wild speculation as to Caesar’s identity, which will hopefully be revealed in the next book, and this clue is central to the debate.

As the months went by and this pattern idea continued to percolate in my head, I realised that I liked it more and more, because this statement is a very truthful one, in ways completely orthogonal to Ilona Andrews and fandom knitting. I find that the line “We do so hate to be bored” has two very powerful meanings for me, both of which I suspect will resonate with many of you.

First, it appeals to me as a maker, as someone engaged in creative activity. I think this statement could be seen to define those of us who see ourselves as artists, inventors, creators; we do hate to be bored. We like to create things with our minds and our bodies – be it knitting, sewing, dancing, painting, cooking. Putting together the flights of fancy of my imagination, the know-how of my hands and fingers, the magic of yarn and needles, and the gift of knitting heritage, I can make something new and unique – and in doing so, I am not bored.

The second meaning has become clear to me through two years of this pandemic, and it is that we, as human beings, need connections. We need interactions, we need to engage. We need to keep our brains busy. Lockdowns have taught us that we hate to be bored. It is a deeply felt part of what it is to be human. When we are bored, we stagnate.

If you see me on the street in my new jumper, you can nod your head and think “yes, I’m with her; I do so hate to be bored.” Or, if you happen to be a card-carrying member of the BDH, give me a wave. I have my theory about who Caesar is and I’d be happy to debate it with you.

We took these photos this morning in Henley-on-Thames. It is still cold but it is gloriously sunny and people were enjoying being out and about. This is the first time in a while that I have knitted a sweater which I designed myself. For those who are interested in the creative process and/or the technical details, I will write it up and put it in a separate post, which I hope to publish in a week or two. (We are spending next week in Wales, taking a much-needed break, which may effect that timeline.) In the meantime, I wish you all a lovely, non-boring weekend!

Flight cancelled twice? Buy yarn.

This week I travelled to Copenhagen on business. I flew in on Tuesday, was scheduled to teach all day Wednesday and Thursday, and would then fly back to Heathrow on Thursday evening. I always stay in the same hotel, a few blocks from where I teach. I take the train from the airport to the Metro station closest to my hotel (Nørreport Station) where there just happens to be a very nice yarn shop. Every time I come or go from the hotel, I pass the yarn shop. This is just one of the perks of teaching in Copenhagen (the other is, of course, Copenhagen).

When I arrived at the Station on Tuesday, carrying my suitcase and briefcase, I realised that the yarn shop (Ulstedet) was closing in 30 minutes and furthermore, I wouldn’t be able to stop in again on this trip because I would be working the whole time. I stopped in, lugging my bags with me, and spent 30 minutes happily browsing. I am pleased to tell you that I resisted the call of the siren, and managed to escape without buying anything, despite being tempted by a lovely wall of silk mohair in luscious shades. (This also allowed me to justify the lobster bisque, grilled langoustine, and lovely wine I ordered that night when I met up with my friend, Erun.)

On Thursday morning when I woke up, I had a message from British Airways telling me that my flight was cancelled and that they had booked me on the next available flight, leaving at 7am on Friday morning. This caused no small amount of chaos. I will not bore you with all of the details, except to say that it was stressful. On the other hand, after I finished my teaching day, thanks to the clocks having changed and my flight being cancelled, I was able to take a walk through the King’s Garden. It was a glorious day in Copenhagen – very cold and frosty, but also sunny with crisp, blue skies.

You can just see the bluebells starting to bloom in the photo above. Despite being bundled up in my winter coat, spring was clearly on the way.

I also had time – can you guess? – to go back to Ulstedet and look at yarn. Despite again being called by the wall of silk mohair in beautiful colours, I resisted. I then sat at an outside table at the market (cold but sunny) and had a quick meal. While there, I texted with my friend June (here is her blog) and bragged about resisting the lure of yarn for a second time.

The next day, I woke up at 4:45am (3:45 UK time) in order to make it to my flight. I got up, dressed and packed, and was just walking out the door when I noticed an email from British Airways saying that they had cancelled my re-booked flight and had re-re-booked me for a flight the next day. I kid you not! Curses on you, British Airways!

Now I ask you: what would you do if your flight was cancelled not once, but TWICE? If you answered “Buy some yarn”, then you understand.

It’s like the universe was telling me to buy yarn. Shouldn’t we listen when the universe talks to us? Especially when it tells us to buy 12 balls of Gepard Kid Seta in a rich, vibrant coral (shade 1008)?

Resistance is futile.

Too stressed to knit: what’s wrong with this statement?

This week I have been overwhelmed with work. I am working long hours. When I’m not working, I am stressing about work. When I am not working or stressing about work, I am stressing about not working.

I am also not knitting. I keep saying to myself “I am too stressed to knit.” Really? I think that perhaps I need a little reminder of why knitting is good for me. Perhaps you need one, too?

Here are some of the reasons why knitting is good for me:

  1. Knitting is fun.
  2. Knitting is peaceful.
  3. Knitting contains rhythmic bilateral movements; these are good for the brain.
  4. Knitting gets my creative juices running.
  5. When I am knitting, I can zone out the world.
  6. I often solve all sorts of problems while knitting, even when not thinking about them consciously.
  7. Knitting can be a lovely solitary task.
  8. Knitting can be a lovely social task.
  9. The knitting community is warm and welcoming.
  10. I love to wear garments and accessories that I have knitted myself.
  11. I love to make hand-knitted garments for my family.
  12. I get a kick out of seeing my family wearing things I knit for them.
  13. The clothes I knit are way better than purchased garments – they last longer and fit better.
  14. Knitting is a craft that has a long history; by knitting I become part of that history.
  15. Knitting allows me to challenge myself.
  16. Knitting allows me to explore ideas.
  17. When you make a mistake, knitting can be easily ripped out and done again.
  18. Knitting feels nice to the hands; it is a pleasing tactile task.
  19. I can express my personality through my knitting.
  20. Knitting allows me to be part of the community of makers.
  21. Knitting gives me a vocabulary for discussing art, creativity, colour, shape, texture.
  22. Knitting gives me an excuse to be quiet.
  23. Knitting keeps my hands busy.
  24. Knitting makes me happy.
  25. Knitters are cool.

Have I missed any? Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Pattern Radar: March 2022

I have been strongly tempted this month by some great new sweater patterns. Here is a short selection.

Elderberry by Renée Callahan

© Renée Callahan

I saw this on an email from The Fibre Co, where they were advertising the start of a KAL (knit-a-long) of this sporty pullover. I love the lines on this, and think it looks really sharp and fresh. It is knit using The Fibre Co Cirro, which looks like a mohair, but which is composed of 40% camelid alpaca suri, 40% cotton, and 20% merino wool. I received a skein of Cirro as part of a goody bag at the knitting retreat I attended in the fall (blogged here) and it is pretty lush. A sweater like this, knitted in Cirro, will weigh next to nothing and be soft and fluffy without having any potential problems with itchiness that mohair might lend. I love Renée’s work and I think she really scores with this one. Here is another shot so that you can see how great the contrasting lines are:

© Renée Callahan

Kari by Natasja Hornby

© Natasja Hornby

I have been waiting for this pattern to be released since I saw the first test project posted up on Ravelry. I love this! I am always looking for a classic jacket pattern that will look effortlessly stylish at work, but still have the comfort level of a favourite cardigan. This one looks easy to make too – knitted top-down, without seams, and with fantastic mosaic stitchwork for the sleeve detailing (Two of my all-time favourite projects are knitted using mosaic patterns – my Ormolu pullover, blogged here, and my Sofi Jacket, blogged here.) The only problem I see with this pattern is trying to decide which colour combos to use – I love it in black and white, but could easily see it in a shocking pink and lipstick red. Which would you pick?

Blum by Rachel Illsley

© Rachel Illsley

Rachel Illsley has been turning out one knockout pattern after another these days. This one came out in February and there have been two others published since then – all of them lovely. My biggest problem was deciding which one to show you here. Her patterns incorporate engaging rhythms (many are based on instrumental works) and have a dreamy look reminiscent of watercolour paintings. Plus, surprisingly, there are only two colours used here – no ends to weave in at the end! Brilliant!

Octopus Slippers by Elizabeth Elliott

© Gale Zucker 2022

I fooled you, didn’t I? Yes, I – Miss “I-don’t-knit-socks” – have fallen for a sock pattern. (We shall ignore a semantic discussion of whether slippers are socks; they are both worn on the feet and that’s good enough for me.) Aren’t these fantastic? On the pattern page, the description reads: “Have you ever thought, “You know what these feet need? More octopus.” If you have, or if you’re just thinking that now, then these are the slippers for you.” I love that, too. And if you are not convinced yet, just look at the soles (below). I dare you not to smile.

© Gale Zucker 2022

This weekend has flown by. I hope that you managed to catch it before it zoomed past.

Teaser

I had a grand plan to write a newsy post this weekend. And then I decided I would rather knit than write. But I will show you a teaser photo of my new project:

I have finished the front and back, and washed and blocked them. Now I have the sleeves (which will be short – this is a tee-shirt) and the neckline ribbing and finishing to go. It is super fun to be designing a sweater myself; I haven’t done that in a while.

As Porky Pig says: “That’s all, folks!”

Woodland escape

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t turn down a 5-minute virtual woodland escape right now, especially when it involves gorgeous embroidered sculptures. The Guardian published a pictorial article called Embroidered sculptures of woodland treasures – in pictures a few weeks ago, showcasing the beautiful work of Amanda Cobbett.

Photograph: © Amanda Cobbett, from The Guardian, February 26, 2022

Isn’t this exquisite? Both the attention to detail and the execution are superb.

Photograph: © Amanda Cobbett, from The Guardian, February 26, 2022

The article quotes the artist:

“When you’re out in the forest, it’s the tiny detail that makes me want to be there as much as the bigger picture,” she says. “It’s really important to take note of these things, because if at some point they disappear, and we don’t know that they exist, how will we know when they’ve gone?”

This statement really resonates for me right now!

Below is another piece, and you can see more in the article linked above. And if this captures your fancy, then you must check out Amanda Cobbett’s webpage, here, which is gobsmacking (although be forewarned that this will expand your 5-minute virtual woodland escape into a veritable holiday of crafty goodness.)

Photograph: © Amanda Cobbett, from The Guardian, February 26, 2022

I hope that you enjoyed a short break and took the time to take a deep breath and to appreciate both nature and craftsmanship.

Knitting and doomscrolling are incompatible

I’ve talked on this blog before about mental health and knitting (for example here, here, here, here, and here). This week has acquainted me with yet another reason why knitting is good for me: knitting and doomscrolling are incompatible. Physically, you cannot engage your hands in creative pursuit while at the same time using them to endlessly scroll through frightening news. And mentally, you cannot engage in creative pursuit without allowing the mind a bit of respite.

This week, I am more thankful than I usually am (which is a lot), in the gift that knitting brings me. Have I stopped doomscrolling? I wish I could say yes. But I have moderated it, and that is good. To all of you who instead of endlessly refreshing the news and thinking negative thoughts, have instead landed on this page for a respite – for some fun, chatty words about knitting – I am happy to accommodate you. Let’s have a short chat about knitting and put everything else aside for a bit. Then we can face life with more fortitude and think about how we can impact and engage for good.

I have been super focused on my new project, which still remains a bit of a mystery: I will reveal all when it’s done. I gave a teasing photo of it in my last post, repeated here:

Every time I pick this project up, it makes me smile. I started it on the 12th of February and am whizzing through. I am knitting it with Ulysse, the sportweight yarn from Gilliat, which I think is likely to become my go-to sportweight wool. I love it, the colours are rich, it feels good on the hand, and it is comparatively inexpensive.

I have also done a bit of work on my Gresham Wrap since the last time I posted a photo. Here it is today:

This is going to be a very generously sized wrap which means I still have a lot of the cream middle section to knit. Unfortunately, this section is not as much fun as the coloured sections on the ends. But it is good TV knitting and moves along fast.

Emma has been stuck at home with Covid (boo hoo), and in between bouts of feeling really crappy, she has also been knitting. She sent me a photo of her project, which I will share with you below. Seeing my kids enjoying knitting and other creative pursuits makes me happy, too. (And look at how fantastically even her stitches are!)

I have also been engaged in planning new projects. Just yesterday, I discovered this yarn which I had purchased last year and forgotten about:

Now that I’ve found it again, the wildly beautiful blue is really speaking to me. It feels peaceful and calming, while at the same time it sparks. I am planning to knit Flores, a design by eri shimuzu:

© eri shimizu

To change the topic from knitting to books and illustration, the incomparable Shirley Hughes died this week. Given that she died at the age of 94, this is not a sad story (I promised you a respite from sad news), but instead had many of us remembering her work with incredible fondness. I think that her classic book Dogger is most often cited, but for me, I love the Alfie books and most especially, Alfie Gets in First. I read this so many times to the kids when they were little, and we spent many happy hours just looking at the lovely, detailed illustrations, so very full of life:

The toddler runs ahead of his mum in the first book in the Alfie series, Alfie Gets in First (1981)
Photograph: © Shirley Hughes/Penguin Books; from The Guardian March 3rd, 2022

You can see here a selection of photos from her books and life, published this week in the Guardian. These make me happy, too.

Take care, my friends, and be good to yourselves.

Lost for words

A short post today, because world events have got me down.

I have been fooling around with a new project. It involves lettering, and the knitted word. Here you can see the swatch, and other bits and bobs of the knitting process:

I think it’s quite cool, and fun to knit. I have to concentrate on knitting the words, but there is a lot of stockinette as well, so it lends itself to both tv knitting and focused knitting. The coral against the green works perfectly and feels crisp and spring-like. I am powering through:

Despite the act of knitting words, I am lost for words.

Pattern Radar: February 2022

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pattern Radar post. There is a simple reason behind this: they take a lot of work. Putting in the photos and the links and copyright information and double-checking everything is fiddly. I normally choose between 8 and 12 new patterns that have caught my fancy in some way, and then put together the post. Since I wait until I have a fair number of patterns to discuss, this sometimes gets in the way of my original intention which is to show new stuff that is exciting, or interesting, or eye-catching. So, I have decided on a new plan: to make more frequent Pattern Radar posts, each focusing on between 2 – 5 patterns. Here, to kick it off, are three very different shawl patterns that have been released within the past week.

Litsea by Linnea Ornstein

© Linnea Ornstein

You know how sometimes you click through endless patterns, thinking “same old, same old”? Well, this is one of those patterns that literally made me sit up and think. It caught my eye because it is pretty, but then my brain cells immediately started thinking “how is it constructed?” A partial answer: It is initially knitted in the round, using a “no purl” garter technique, with the wreaths knitted back and forth. That is a very simplistic description; check out the pattern and read the notes to get a better idea. However it’s done, it is beautiful, and very unique, and feels full of colour and life.

Floret by Norah Gaughan

© Caroline Goddard

Norah Gaughan has just released a new pattern book, called Knit Fold Pleat Repeat. The patterns all involve folding and pleating knitted fabric in innovative ways. It is incredibly imaginative and thoughtful. I remember so well buying Norah’s book Knitting Nature in 2006 and being blown away by her architectural approach to knitting and her sensitivity to shapes, patterns, geometries, and nature. Her work is characterised by playfulness and a unique way of taking an idea and pushing it outwards and sideward and inside out. (Kate Davies recently wrote about how Norah’s work on Twisted Stitches has inspired her own design process.) Floret is just one of the many cool patterns in the book, but it is one that really caught my eye.

Anemone shawl by Dee Hardwicke

© Dee Hardwicke

I really love the combination of stranded knitting, bold geometric patterning, and use of colour in this shawl. It’s got a nice “pop” to it, but still has a softness. It’s one of those patterns that tricks the eye: if you look at it one way you see the anemones, big and gorgeous and flowery; but then you blink and what you see are angles and lines and circles, laid out like geometric tilework. I particularly like the coral edging on the cream and blue section, as opposed to the cream edging on the coral and blue section. It’s a small detail, but very effective.

There you have it: three very different shawls that caught my eye this week. Good knitting, everyone!