Progress report: the good and the bad

I was so lucky to have had a lovely few days at the Country House Knitting Retreat, where I knit for much of the time (as well as socialising and meeting some great new people). I worked mostly on the Caravay sweater (Ravelry link) which I am knitting for Emma. This beautiful sweater, designed by Linda Marveng, is a really big piece of knitting. It is A LOT of knitting – an oversized pullover knitted with fingering weight yarn in a dense overall cabled stitch pattern. I am sure that there are fast knitters who could power through this, but for me it is a major piece of knitting and a big commitment.

I have finished knitting the back and about 2/3 of the front. Below, you can see me holding up the back piece so that you can get an idea of size. Note that this is unblocked and it will gain a bit in both length and width once I’ve blocked it. If you recall that Emma is an XS, you can see how much ease is built into this pullover.

I absolutely adore the texture that this stitch pattern creates, and the beautiful, rich, red of the yarn. (The yarn is Tinde Pelsull, by Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk, in Burgundy.) It’s hard to capture but this photo does a pretty good job:

I’m fairly certain this sweater is going to be a winner and look fantastic on Emma. We are going out there for Christmas, so I am knitting as fast as I can. I would love to have the front and back and two sleeves knitted and blocked before we go, but that seems fairly unlikely at the moment. The more important goal is to have the sweater finished before the trip ends and I fly back home.

That’s the good part of the progress report, which means there is some bad to report as well. You may recall this post a few weeks back about a pattern that was giving me troubles. I made a lot of adjustments, as discussed in that post, and took this with me to the knitting retreat to work on in the evenings, as the Caravay is hard to see at night, and takes some concentration. The result is very pretty in this beautiful dusky pink wool:

However, it’s really huge. And it seems to be getting bigger with every round.

I talked it over with Doug, trying to decide whether to rip it and start over with a smaller size needle, or whether to rip partially back, keeping the ribbing and then decreasing a bunch of stitches. Doug, in his wisdom said “You were having lots of issues already with this pattern. Who’s to say that you won’t keep encountering more problems, even if you get this particular one sorted out. Maybe you should find another pattern.” Bingo. Problem solved. It’s very pretty yarn and it deserves a pattern that I’m happy with. Maybe I will need to write my own.

This weekend there has been little knitting. I’ve been involved in that awful, un-speakable act: house cleaning! Egads! The horror! (I did manage to go see Dune, however; I loved it!) Best wishes, everyone. Stay safe.

Country House Retreat

I had a fantastic time at the Country House Retreat last week. It is the first time in over ten years that I have been on a knitting retreat, and it exceeded all of my expectations. First and foremost, it was an absolutely lovely bunch of knitters, and we had a blast:

photo from Events Unwound

The retreat is in the Lake District in England and the House and environs were really beautiful. The photo above is taken in front of the house where we stayed, Melmerby Hall. It is a gorgeous place, and has been very lovingly restored.

The leaves were all in the last throes of autumn; this is the view from my bedroom window:

It is a very spacious, comfortable place to knit, and to hang out. I like the photo below, which shows the cosy breakfast room. Note that everyone is knitting, except for me. I am eating. And talking.

photo from Events Unwound

We spent the time knitting, eating, laughing, drinking champagne, walking through the countryside, taking classes, and knitting some more. We started the retreat with a birthday party to celebrate all of the birthdays which had gone un-celebrated during lockdowns. There were a number of big birthdays – 40, 50, 60 and 70 were all represented. We also had an unexpected big event to celebrate: Max and Vincent got engaged while we were there! Much more champagne drinking and fun ensued.

The countryside is dotted with sheep; I seem to have only taken horse photos.

I went for a long walk, during which I got to demonstrate incontrovertibly that my coat was not waterproof. This photo was taken before the downpour:

Oh, and did I mention that there were goodie bags? Here is some of the stuff I got:

The two yarns that are caked are from The Fibre Company, a light grey skein of Cumbria and a darker grey skein of Cirro. The beautiful bag on the bottom was hand-made by fellow retreater Reet, and contained the sock yarn bundle on the right and lots of goodies. I also bought some lovely things in the mini-marketplace.

The retreat was run by Carmen and Mette (shown in the photo on top on either side with their dogs); the company Events Unwound is associated with Carmen’s yarn shop, A Yarn Story, in Bath. Get on her mailing list if you want to be in the loop about future events. This particular retreat had its fair share of knitting designers – Aleks Byrd, Amanda Jones, Maxim Cyr and Vincent Deslandes were all there – so we got to see what they were working on next. (Aleks is wearing her fabulous Seli sweater in the top photo! I am really wanting to make this one.)

I did a lot of knitting while I was there, mostly chugging along on the Caravay sweater for Emma. I’ll show you some progress photos next week.

Two trips in a week

It seems like an embarrassment of riches. And it feels pretty weird too. After two years of mostly staying put, I have two trips to make this week, and it is throwing me into a tizzy. The first is a business trip to Helsinki. I will fly in on Thursday and return on the last flight on Friday evening after teaching a full-day workshop. Then, early on Sunday morning, I will hop on a train and head north to the Lake District for……a knitting retreat! The retreat is one that was originally scheduled for last year and was postponed for obvious reasons. It is a small group – 14 of us, none of whom I know. I am really excited about it.

Even though I am so out of practice, packing for a business trip is usually pretty easy; all of the important stuff is teaching related: laptop, adaptors, cables, chargers, mouse, reading glasses, projector cables, plus of course having all of my slides in order. In addition, there is also a bunch of pandemic-related stuff: masks, covid tests before and after for both trips, and lots of forms to fill out at every point along the way, for customs, for the airlines, for insurance, for the university, and for the retreat.

I can handle all of that stuff. But the important question is: what do I take to the knitting retreat? The last one I went to was before I started this blog. I will have one very small suitcase, and will have to change trains twice so will need to keep the weight down. I need to have enough knitting projects for 4 days. I will need things I can knit while drinking wine and chatting. We will be having a workshop and a retreat project, so I have a list of required supplies to take up with me. I will want to be comfortable and relaxed on a cold, rainy week in the Lake District. I will need hiking shoes. And, of course, I will want to wear a few hand-knitted items that other knitters would appreciate. Argh! This is much harder than packing for business!

The cost of knitting has just gone up

I just saw a report of this on the news, and it cracked me up. A man received a fine for 90£ for allegedly driving in a bus lane, 120 miles from his home. The photographic evidence shows a woman walking in the bus lane while wearing a sweatshirt that says “KNITTER”. The traffic computers sent an automated ticket to a man with the license plate “KN19TER”.

Here is a link to the news article, but I must say the local TV news report was better. They tried to interview the man who had received the ticket, and he and his wife couldn’t stop giggling. A bit of knitting humour to lift up your day.

Confused

This morning, Doug showed me an article on men’s fashion from the Financial Times. It’s called “The Family Man; A celebration of ageless style”. I think that there is a paywall on FT, so I don’t have a direct link to the article, but will show one photo here. The article showcases photos of intergenerational style, including many lovely and sometimes eye-wateringly expensive clothes modelled by many ages of boys and men. There is one photo which I keep coming back to, because it leaves me completely confused. I think this photo is lovely, and the sweater is luscious, but… is it one sweater or two? What is the baby wearing? Is there a kangaroo pouch? Look at it carefully and see if you can see why I’m confused.

© James Harvey-Kelly; Photography by James Harvey-Kelly. Styling by Julian Ganio
 SEPTEMBER 15 2021; Financial Times

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.

Enjoy!

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.