Retreat repeat

I spent part of this last week at a knitting retreat. I was on this retreat last year (blogged here) and loved it so much that I signed up for another one as soon as the dates were released. The retreat is held at Melmerby Hall, a beautiful old home near Penrith in the Lake District. I spent four days with a lovely group of knitters. The weather was mostly grey and rainy, but that meant more time gathered around one of the three fireplaces, knitting and chatting.

We knitted. We talked about knitting. We shared patterns, dissected trends, talked about yarn, showed off finished projects, and shared stories. Despite there being tons of space to spread out in, we enjoyed hanging out together.

We ate breakfasts and lunches at a big kitchen table under a skylight. We ate dinner around a lovely big table in a formal dining room. We had mid-morning cake breaks and mid-afternoon cake breaks, and before dinner drinks, and after dinner drinks, and cheese and charcuterie boards. (Are you sensing a theme here?) In 5 days, I gained 1.5 kilos. (Two of us were coeliacs and two were dairy intolerant, and we were all beautifully catered for; I really appreciated this.)

We had a mascot, Peaches:

Peaches looks grumpy in this photo. It is not because her humans were ignoring her. It is because she rolled in fox poo and was forced to take a shower. Oh, the ignominy!

I took a lovely 90-minute yoga class. I went for a walk on the one sunny day, in which I seem to have only taken photos of walls:

I took three projects up with me. I worked on the sleeves of my Hirne cardigan, pictured below. (There is a story attached to this, which has to do with Covid brain fog and lots of stupid mistakes, but I will save that for a separate post.)

I also took up my Koko shawl, which I hadn’t worked on in a while. I had hoped to kickstart this project, and I managed to add about 6 inches.

On the last evening, having grown tired of the other projects (and of myself for making stupid mistakes), I cast on for a simple hat:

This will be an Oslo hat which is basically knitted in a giant stockinette tube and has a triple-folded brim. It is hard to mess up, even when drinking your third glass of wine and eating too much cheese.

I have been seriously affected by having long covid this year, and it makes everything more difficult. I fretted beforehand about whether going on this retreat would be too much too soon. I can clearly see the differences in me, especially compared to last year. I had to take things much more slowly. I was the first to retire every evening, and needed a nap most days. I took the two knitting classes that were offered, but my brain isn’t up to learning new things now. Brioche stitch will have to wait until I am fitter! I had one of my post-covid “pull-the-plug” episodes at lunch on the last day, in which I basically fell over, thankfully not into my food. Also, it took me two days to recover from the retreat once I got home, which is rather counter to the purpose of a retreat, no? On the other hand, it was really good for my mental health to be in a different place, to re-engage with knitter friends, and to meet new people. So, a bit of good and bad on this trip, but the company of fellow knitters was lovely. I look forward to the next one.

It’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it

I’m happy to have a finished project to show you.

Not only is this shawl bright and beautiful, it is really, really long. Long enough to trip over if one is not careful. Long enough to flip about in a wide ark.

Long enough to wrap multiple times around your neck with room to spare.

This is the Gresham Wrap, designed by Michael Vloedman. It’s knitted in Blue Sky Fibers Woolstock Worsted. I was given this as a kit for my birthday last year by Doug and the girls.

The pattern gives the finished dimensions as 78×14 inches (198×36 cm). Mine measures 101×15 inches (256×38 cm). That 101″ measurement is along the long side of the parallelogram. If measured from tip to tip, it is 116″ (295 cm) long. I think that the before blocking length was around 88″ (224 cm) so it grew quite a bit.

The white parts of this shawl are knitted in half linen stitch and are very thick and cosy. Each colour stripe is knitted in a distinct knit-purl patterns stitch. I changed the texture stitch for the dark blue stripe (in the original pattern it is the only bit knitted in stockinette, so it came out looking and feeling flat). I wish I had changed the texture patterns for the two orange stripes; I’m sure with a little searching through a stitch dictionary or two I would have found something I liked better.

If you plan to knit this, you might think about changing up a needle size for the white parts: the linen stitch pulls the knitting in quite a bit, so that the width of the coloured stripes is quite a bit wider than the white middle section. I blocked it width-wise rather aggressively through the middle to try to counteract that, but changing needles would have worked better, I think.

In retrospect, I should have used one less skein of the white so that this was not quite so long. On the other hand, the fact that it is so long, makes it very dramatic and sort of fun to wear. I only have to take care not to end up like Isadora Duncan.

The yarn is really lovely and soft. I was worried about colour bleeding, especially from the red, but didn’t have any troubles. I did pour a cup of white vinegar in the soak when I washed it just in case.

I had hoped to take some more photos of it while wearing a different outfit – maybe against black or white. But it is raining and the time changed today, which makes the window for photographs even shorter. You will have to use your imagination.

I can’t help but notice that it is Halloween this weekend, so I will leave you with this shot:

By the way, you can thank Doug for the title of this post!

Thinking in colour

I am thinking in color these days. It’s hard not to when the trees are putting on a show.

Until this week, we have had really clear, crisp days, leading us to engage in “foliambulation”. (Not a word, you say? Check out this blog post from James Harbeck, whose blog Sesquiotica, is a cool site for word lovers.)

A few weeks ago we went to a jousting event at a mini-Ren faire near us. The jousting was all in good fun, but mostly I loved how colourful it was.

The following week, Leah took this beautiful shot along the river:

Gorgeous, isn’t it?

I’m also thinking about colours because I have signed up for Kate Davies new club, Allover Colour, which is going to focus on colour with knitting patterns and essays. The club hasn’t even started yet and I am enjoying the conversations around colour. As an example, in her most recent post, she asked readers for memories about colour names; the comments are so much fun to read. (Sign-ups for the club end tomorrow.)

Lastly, I’m thinking about colour because I am looking forward to wearing my beautiful Gresham Shawl, which has a lovely rainbow of colours set against a creamy white background. I finished knitting this one at the end of August, and have tried every day since then to work up the energy to block it. I finally managed to do it yesterday, and here is the obligatory blocking photo as evidence (the reverse side is showing):

This shawl is enormous! I can’t wait to try it on and wear a rainbow when the days get shorter and darker.

If that’s the case, why, you might ask, did it take me almost 7 weeks to block it? This is a very long story that I try hard not to bore you with, dear readers, but suffice it to say that when Doug and I got Covid in June, we drew the short straws. We both have long Covid and have really been struggling. I am back at work, but have significant fatigue and breathing issues still. They are resolving, but slowly. The worst part are episodes which Doug calls “pulling the plug”, in which I am fully functional and all of a sudden it is as if someone has pulled my plug, and I am nearly incapable of moving. As an example, Leah took this photo of me during a beautiful walk along the river:

About ten minutes later, this happened:

We were less than a mile from the car, but I struggled to put one foot in front of the other. Despite hanging on to Doug or Leah, or both, I tripped and twisted my ankle three times on the way to the car, as lifting my foot off the ground was too hard. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often. Unfortunately, its unpredictable. (On the topic of colour, the sweater I am wearing is Dyemonds, and I blogged about it here.)

Doug has had a difficult time of it, too. This includes a very frightening incidence of global transient amnesia, multiple ambulance rides, a spontaneous dissection of the carotid artery (due to covid), seven (and counting) brain scans of every variety, a headache that lasted 16 weeks, and pretty much scaring his wife and kids to death. He is recovering now too. Aren’t we a pair? (As a cognitive neuroscientist who used to direct a neuroimaging centre, I think he secretly enjoyed talking shop about brains with all of the specialists he had to see!) Luckily, we are now boosted yet again (that makes four each) and have our flu shots, and we are optimistic about winter coming.

I think this is one more reason I’m thinking about colour: because being sick can feel very grey and monotone, and recovering adds the colour back in. I’m happy to report that the colour is shining in.

I’m still knitting, never fear. I have a new project on the needles, and a knitting retreat to look forward to in a few weeks. Hopefully, my blogging energy will return soon.

Wearability Wednesday: Vodka Lemonade

Welcome to another episode of Wearability Wednesday, in which I take a look at a previously knitted garment and reflect on its wearability. Does it get worn or is it stuck in a drawer? If the former, how does it get styled? Has it held up? Was the yarn the right choice? Would I knit it again? Today, I look at Vodka Lemonade, a cardigan pattern by Thea Coleman.

I finished this in August 2020, and wrote about the completed garment in this post. I knit it for Leah, but as she was in Vancouver, I grabbed some quick photos of myself wearing it for that blog post, and then put it in the mail. This is the first time I have managed to get photos of it on Leah, for which I am very happy.

I picked this pattern specifically to wear with dresses. Leah has lots of cute dresses and tends to wear them. I wanted something that was stylish but simple. It had to be relatively cropped because that looks best with a dress. I wanted it to be hard-wearing and easy to style.

I picked yellow because it makes you feel happy. (And it just happened to match a lot of her dresses.)

One of the great features of this dress is that it is knitted in one piece with all of the finishing done as you go along, so once you’ve finished knitting, it’s ready to wear! No button bands to pick up, or buttons to sew in, no collar to attach, just sew in a few threads and voila! I also like the fact that the lapels can fold over nicely, or not, because the pattern on them is reversible.

I also really like the 50s vibe I get from this pattern. It is fun to style, and looks really good on a shapely body.

You can see here that after two years and some washing, the cardigan still looks great. I used John Arbon Knit by Numbers DK in the shade 19-385. It’s a 100% merino wool.

It was my first time using this yarn, and it was really nice to handle. Seeing it now, I am even more impressed. It looks like new, with no pilling! I would highly recommend both yarn and pattern!

I took these photos just last week, some in Henley-on-Thames, and a few at The Ashmolean in Oxford. It was gorgeous and sunny then, and now it is grey and rainy. But a yellow cardigan always brings out the sun!

In the Fall, one must cast on something new. It’s a law.

We have clearly changed seasons. Today, the hills and valleys are just touched with colour, and there is a bit of cool in the air.

Over the last few months, I finished up projects which were already on my needles when I came down with Covid: Myrtle, Flores, and the beautiful Gresham Wrap (not yet blocked). But I have had trouble casting on new things. Mostly because, with my brain fog in full blast, knitting patterns looked like gobbledygook. But now, I am getting better, and it is Fall. Casting on a new project is obligatory.

I decided on Hirne, a lovely cardigan by Kate Davies:

© Kate Davies Designs

I bought the kit some time ago. It fulfills the “it’s fall, knit something cosy” criterion, while at the same time starting out with lots of soothing stockinette. I still struggled a bit with deciding which size to cast on, compounded by being slightly off gauge, but I only ripped out the ribbing once, so I’ll take that as a win.

Almost immediately after I cast on, Kate released two new gorgeous patterns, both knitted in this exact yarn: Serkinet and Smookie (you can see them both on this page from Kate’s site). I thought for a moment about switching and using the yarn to knit one of these instead, but I realized that my brain just isn’t up to it yet.

Today was a fantastic fall day and Doug, Leah and I went for a walk. (Emma is now back in Canada. Boo Hoo!) I managed to do better and not need my inhaler at all. The views in every direction were gorgeous.

Doug took the below photo of my Bored sweater (blogged here):

All of the other scenic photos in this post were taken by Leah. Thanks, Leah!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Note: If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, Spring is also a lovely time to cast on something new. Just saying.

It had to be blue

In what is by now a standard manner, I have finished a summer knit just in time for the fall.

This started out as a Flores Tee, using the pattern by eri shimuzu, but I made a lot of modifications, and in the end, didn’t bother to consult the pattern past the first few inches. So, I think we could say that I used the pattern as a general recipe and then went off-piste. So, it is a “not quite Flores”.

I fell in love with this design when I saw a project for it on Ravelry (this one), that I loved with the power of many suns. On the same day, I received an email from The Uncommon Thread advertising the same yarn that was used in the project, and I considered that was destiny knocking. I pre-ordered it lickety-split.

The yarn is called Linum, and is a scrumptious blend of 50% Alpaca, 25% silk, and 25% linen. It is truly divine. Doug wants me to knit him a tee in this yarn. It has the best hand, and is wonderfully soft, and gossamer light, and has a beautiful sheen.

As soon as I started to knit, I realised that part of the reason I loved the project was the yarn, but the other part was the fantastic, oversized, fit and modern shape. At which point reality hit me: these lovely, drapey, shapes look beautiful and edgy because they are modeled on slim, lithe bodies who can carry off a garment with 15-20″ of ease, BUT I haven’t been that person for 30 years. So, right away, my project became a standard fit tee shirt and not an architectural piece of garment theatre. Which isn’t to say that it is not a really good tee shirt, which fits well, has beautiful drape and sheen, and is in a glorious colour that truly pops. It is just not the idea which catapulted the purchase in the first place.

The first modification was to knit it with significantly less ease; in fact, I think the finished project has about 2 inches of negative ease. The rib stitch is very stretchy and thus can easily be done with some negative ease without feeling clingy. I also got rid of the twisted stitch in the ribbing. In my experience, twisted rib always ends up torqued, especially in linen. This means that instead of the ribs being lined up straight, they lean significantly to the side. I don’t know if this is a general thing, or if it is just related to my style of knitting, but almost every time I have knitted a twisted rib, I end up pulling it out and re-knitting a normal rib.

I also got rid of the eyelets on the bottom hem and sleeves, and shortened the bottom ribbing. The body of the sweater is knit in a broken 3X1 rib (knit on the odd rows, ribbed on the even rows). At the sleeve and hem edges, instead of switching to a 1×1 ribbing, I continued with a 3×1 ribbing, but now ribbed on every row (and with a size smaller needle). This means that the ribbing on the body sort of melts into the ribbing on the edges, and it gives what I think is a very clean line. The change in ribbing is only actually visible on the reverse side.

This brings me to one of the excellent design features of the original pattern, which is that the garment is reversible, with the reverse side having a more obvious rib, compared to the understated rib of the front side. Many people state that they prefer the reverse side and tend to wear it that way. You only need to be careful with picking up stitches and weaving in ends, and then you can choose to wear it either way. Below I am wearing it with the reverse side out.

I finished this about 3 weeks ago, and have been wearing it very frequently since. The colour bled a lot on washing, so beware if using it for multi-coloured projects (in which case, I would rinse the yarn thoroughly before using). I am a bit worried about how it will hold up, as the yarn is incredibly light and it feels as if it could be one of those projects that ends up getting stretched out of shape. The yarn doesn’t have a lot of memory, as a good wool would. If I were to knit with this again, I might be tempted to go down a needle size and knit at a tighter gauge, just to give it a bit more structure, or to knit in pieces and seam it, as that always lends a bit more structure. It is an absolutely glorious yarn, however, and I will definitely use it again. (Doug, maybe there is a knitted tee in your future.)

Doug and I spent an afternoon trying to photograph this shortly after I finished blocking it. He took the photo of me on the country road, but the rest of them were truly awful! One of the ongoing problems that Doug has had post-Covid has to do with his eyes, and it turns out that he couldn’t see well enough that day to take a photo. We laughed so hard when we saw the photos, and I realised how much this blog relies on Doug’s ability to take a nice photo (and his endless willingness to take them). Hopefully, the vision problem will get sorted. (Before you ask, we have been to see many different medical specialists and the problem seems to be neurological rather than opthamological; covid is nasty stuff).

This week both Doug and I have had birthdays. (Doug had a “big” birthday, one of those that end with a zero). For our birthday present, the girls came home to visit! In addition to all of the obvious reasons this is great, it also means I was able to co-opt Emma into taking blog photos.


Goldilocks moment

If you have experienced the “post-Covid fatigue and brain fog” thing, then you might relate to this story. It has been a while now since Covid struck, and I am still having troubles with energy levels, motivation, and, yes, brain power. I decided that I needed to knit something small and easy, something that doesn’t require much thought. (The fact that we have had a heat wave here might have also contributed to the wish to cast on a small project, instead of finishing off a big shawl.)

I cast on a hat. Isn’t it pretty? Even Buddha approves.

The pattern is Field of Wildflowers by Joji Locatelli, and I am using Fyberspates Vivacious DK in Blueberry Imps.

Since I am substituting DK for Worsted, I cast on in a Large, in order to end up with a Medium. The pattern calls for either 6 or 7 pattern repeats before starting the crown decreases. I was pretty sure that my row gauge indicated that I should knit the smaller number of pattern repeats, and also the hat looked really long to me. However, I kept recalling that the last hat which I knitted (the Puf Hat) also felt really long, and it in fact is really just a tad too short:

Ever since I finished it, I have been intending to rip out the crown and re-knit it an inch longer. So, keeping in mind that my new Wildflower Hat should be as least as long as the Puf hat, if not longer, I knitted 7 pattern repeats before starting the crown. Look how pretty it is:

Look at it next to the Puf Hat. See how they are the same length?

Now, think back to the Covid brain fog. Why did I start this post by mentioning that? Because….duh!… the Puf Hat has a folded up brim! When the brim is folded, this is what they look like:

I dare you not to laugh! Still don’t believe me? Below is a photo of these two hats with my fantastic Raven Hat (which I blogged about here). Can you sense the Goldilocks theme? (Puf hat is too small, and Wildflower hat is too big, but Raven hat is just right!)

Ha ha! Clearly, I need more recovery time. I shouldn’t be doing anything which involves using my brain. (In all fairness, I must point out that this problem is highly reminiscent of one I had in 2016 and blogged about in the aptly titled, and I think very funny post, teeny tiny hat. I did not have Covid to blame then!)

With hopes that your Goldilocks moment is confined to porridge and not your knitting!

A Myrtle for summer

I am so happy to be able to show you photos of my completed Myrtle tank:

We are in the midst of a drought and a heat wave here, so we’ve struggled to find a bit of cool to take these photos. Notice how the cool greys of the stones above bring out the cooler tones, and the green background below brings out the warmer tones.

Myrtle is a great design by Kate Davies. Her pattern calls for mohair yarn and long sleeves and looks deliciously cozy and stylish for a walk in the crisp air, see below photo. I have wanted to make one since the pattern first came out, in her book, The West Highland Way, in 2017. (This is the second project I’ve knitted from this book: the first is my Highland Rogue Cowl, which I blogged about here.)

© Kate Davies Designs

I took a detour from the Highland Way and made my Myrtle as a summer-y tank top. I think it really works!

The colours are not in my normal palette. In fact, this yarn was originally purchased as a kit to make a shawl, and one day I suddenly had the inspiration to use the yarn to knit a summer-y version of Myrtle (you can read about it in this earlier post). Here is the yarn:

Madelinetosh Merino Light in Sugar Coat, Pink Clay, Librarian’s Dreams, Joshua Tree, and Rocinante

The unintended result was that the process became a bit of a puzzle with some yarn chicken thrown in: the shawl kit contained two full skeins and three partial skeins and I had to make decisions in order to get the look I wanted while being limited by the amounts.

I ran out of the darker green first (you can see that there are five repeats of each of the other colours, but only four of the dark green). The colour that I liked the least at the beginning, the lighter green, ended up surprising me: in fact I chose to make the arm and neck ribbing from this shade instead of the white as I originally planned. I quite like it.

I choose to knit two rows of rib with the white before switching colours in the arm and neck rib, in order to imitate the two rows of white stockinette between each lace panel in the pattern. It makes a very neat touch.

This project has been a long time coming. I started this last summer, and at the time I was planning on making a tee. I finished the front and back, but was running out of both the dark green and the dark rose shades, and was struggling with matching up the concept in my head with the yarn at hand. I put it aside while I tried to talk myself into short sleeves using only the three lighter shades, or some subset thereof.

It then got usurped completely when I decided to take on a big project for my daughter Emma, which had to be finished for Christmas. I finally decided to skip the short sleeves and turn it into a tank, and picked it back up again. When I had only about 5-6 hours of work left to complete it, I got Covid. It has taken me over 8 weeks to put in the few hours to complete it and to find the energy to photograph it. (I have been tempted to wait another few months to take photos, since not only have I been sick for 8 weeks, but I look like I’ve been sick for 8 weeks. Doug says you won’t care.)

I really enjoyed every aspect of knitting this. I especially liked the surprise involved in taking one of Kate’s beautiful patterns and changing it up, and having it turn out even better in real life than it did in my head. This is the second time in two years I have done this with one of Kate’s pattern: the first was the Ursula waistcoat I knitted for Doug last year.

It’s lovely, isn’t it? I like the fact that I can dress it up or down, wear it with jeans or under a jacket. And I am pleased to go outside of my colour comfort zone.

I’m happy to be slowly recovering and picking up my knitting again. Take care, everyone!

On Post-Covid Recovery and Losing my Authentic Voice

I’ve been writing this blog for over 10 years. This is my 588th post. So it is fair to say, that I feel comfortable here. I know my voice, I know how it feels to be in the flow, and I know when my voice feels authentic.

Since I tested positive for Covid almost 7 weeks ago I have really struggled to engage in any way with the blog, and at a more fundamental level with my knitting, or with anything else for that matter. In the beginning, in the acute phase, I literally had no energy, and also no breath, to do anything. No knitting, no reading, no writing. I suffered from brain fog and fatigue, and a vicious cough.

I was very nearly finished with a great knitting project just as I got sick. It needed only about 5-6 hours of work, adding a small amount of ribbing to armholes and neck, and weaving in ends. I think I expected that I would recuperate, and then pick up the knitting and blogging again without issue. What I have found is that there are many ingredients to this blogging experience, and I am recovering at different rates for each of these.

It started with my being able to knit. Not for long, as exhaustion really rode me hard, but after a month of no activity, I could pick up the needles and do some knitting. However, I couldn’t manage anything that involved thinking. A few days ago, I tried to pick up some stitches under the arm on another project – 12 stitches – and knit them in pattern. The pattern was K2P1 – not rocket science. I spent an hour trying to do it, and finally gave up. I could knit, but I couldn’t concentrate on a knitting task. So, the fingers worked, but the brain fog got in the way.

I finished the Myrtle tank 2 weeks ago, and it is beautiful. I want to share it with you. I want to blog about it. Every day I thought “Today I will brush my hair, and put on the tank, and model it, while Doug takes some photos.” And every day, I just couldn’t do it. I never noticed how much effort that part of the process took. Today, we finally took some photos. They are not the best photos given that I still look sick and pasty, but the knitting looks good.

So: sweater finished: check! Photos taken: check! And I can’t write the bloody post. I tried three times today to work on the post, and no matter what I write, it doesn’t sound like me. It feels fake. It feels like someone else is writing it. I want my voice back! (Funnily enough, writing this doesn’t seem too bad, so maybe that means that my whiny voice is back, while the rest of me is lost in translation.)

In the first week with Covid, Doug and I both lost our sense of taste and smell and it still hasn’t returned. Everything feels flat when you can’t taste. That’s sort of the way my writing feels: flat. It’s missing the sweet and sour, the spicy and umami, the bit that gives it character. Has anyone else experienced this? I expected the fatigue, the brain fog, the effort, the lack of mojo, but not the loss of authentic voice.

Please bear with me. I’ve got some good knitting to show you, once I get all the ingredients back.