Gilded paradise

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I finished my gold shawl weeks ago, but waited until I was in Sicily to photograph it.  We were staying in an absolutely fantastic villa, called the Commenda di San Cologero, which is beyond gorgeous.  (It also has the nicest, most friendly staff you will ever meet.  I’ve stayed there twice now, and hope to return soon.)  It is on the eastern coast between Catania and Syracusa.  As you can see from these photos, it was a most beautiful backdrop for this lovely piece of knitting.

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The pattern is the #02 Reversible Cabled-Rib Shawl, by Lily Chin and originally from Vogue Knitting, Winter 1999/2000.  It can now be found on-line as well; check the Ravelry pattern page here for details.

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The shawl is knitted in the now discontinued yarn, Kidsilk Haze Eclipse, by Rowan Yarns in the colour Virgo.  It is a very lovely shade of beige gold.  If you don’t have any Eclipse saved up, don’t fret – Kidsilk Haze is readily available and works perfectly for this pattern.  (I have previously knit this shawl in Kidsilk Haze in a vibrant green, which you can see in this post.)

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Many people have commented on the repetitive (and endless) nature of this pattern.  If you look over the projects on Ravelry you will see that I am not the only one who called it “boring”.  (Although there are those who find it “meditative”).  It is essentially a very big shawl knit in 2×2 ribbing in lace-weight yarn with cable crossings every 12 rows.

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The first time I knit this pattern it took me 20 months to finish – it was so boring, I kept putting it aside to knit other things!  I finished this one in just over 4 months.  Perhaps this relative speed is because, having worn the green one countless times over the years, I know that the benefits outweigh the effort.   Perhaps, I am simply in a more “product knitting” place right now.  Or, dare I say it, perhaps I have been too lazy to cast new things on and thus managed to power through.   Whatever the case, the end product is absolutely worth it.

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In the above photo, Emma is wearing another project of mine, the Viajante shawl, which I knit in 2013; this was another endless, repetitive knit in lace-weight that produced a magical garment.  (We photographed this piece in Sicily as well; it will feature in an upcoming Wearability Wednesday post, so keep your eye out for it.)  Today just happens to be Emma’s 23rd birthday – Happy Birthday, gorgeous!

I am still planning a long travel post for you with lovely photos of our adventures in Sicily. It will have to wait until I get home, however.  I am, rather ironically, writing this post in the middle of the night in my hotel room in Malaysia while suffering terrible jet lag.

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See that smile in the above photo?  Well, you would be smiling, too.  It was the best holiday ever!

Yarn buying habits – a personal reflection

Recently, I wrote a paper (for my MBA studies) about digital marketing and the yarn industry.  While writing the paper, I looked at the range of producers in the sector, in particular new entrants.  I also researched how people buy yarn, for example, what kinds of things influence when and how we buy yarn.  This made me think about my own patterns of buying yarn.  I don’t have a record of all the yarn that I buy and where and when I buy it; some people use Ravelry’s Stash function to keep track of this, but I am not that organized.  However, I do have records of all of the projects that I have knit since joining Ravelry in late 2007, and of which yarns I used for each project.  I looked at 2008, the first full year that I was on Ravelry, and discovered to my amazement that every single project I finished knitting in that year was made with Rowan yarn!  I had only just moved to England in August of 2006 and was still very thrilled to be able to walk into my local John Lewis store and buy Rowan.  That seemed the height of luxury at the time to my yarn-buying self.

I then compared 2008 with last year, 2014, and a very different picture emerged, as you can see from the below:

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I must point out that these charts show the percentage of projects made with each yarn and NOT the amount of yarn bought; nonetheless, they show a pretty compelling trend. To me, the most interesting thing about the 2014 distribution is that with the exception of Rowan and Noro, which is a Japanese yarn company founded over 40 years ago, each of the other yarn companies I have used in 2014 is a new company: Madelinetosh started in 2006 and Brooklyn Tweed, Quince & Co and The Uncommon Thread all started in 2010.  More than 80% of the projects I knit last year were made with yarn from companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago.  New entrants into the sector are rapidly changing the market, at least for premium yarns.

I didn’t show pie charts for 2009-2013, but I am a pretty eclectic yarn user.  During these years, in addition to lots of Rowan and the companies above, I knit projects using Debbie Bliss, Cascade, Studio Donegal, Hanne Falkenberg, Blue Sky Alpaca, Malabrigo, Mirasol, the Plucky Knitter, Blue Moon Fibre Arts, BC Garn and Wollmeise.

Though my Rowan projects have fallen from their 2008 pinnacle, I still find it a great product.  In particular, I am totally in love with Kidsilk Haze, Felted Tweed DK and Fine Tweed.  As long as Rowan keeps producing these (and maintaining quality), I will keep buying them.  This year, I have so far made four projects, and two of them – the spectacular Soumak Wrap and my Gossamer pullover – used Rowan yarn.  When I lived in Australia and Germany, I considered Rowan a luxury product; now that I’m in England, it is more like the standard for me – I use it as a benchmark to compare yarn prices and qualities.

I realize that my yarn-buying profile reflects the fact that I am willing to spend a lot for yarn.  In my mind, both yarn and books fall into my entertainment budget.  Let’s say that the yarn for a new sweater costs 100£.  Well, if that sweater will take 100 hours to knit, then I am spending 1£/hour on entertainment.  A bargain!  (Compare to a cinema ticket!)  A cashmere cowl that costs 120£ but takes only 10 hours to knit is very luxurious but still costs 12£/hour for knitting enjoyment.   While I might splurge now and then, my general idea is that if the yarn costs less to knit per hour than a cup of coffee in a nice coffee shop, then it’s a good deal.  This kind of thinking (where I consider the yarn as entertainment rather than part of my clothing, or gift,  budget) is perhaps reflective of the fact that I am still more of a process knitter than a product knitter.  On the other hand, for the past few years I have made fewer impulse yarn buys.  I tend to buy yarn for a specific purpose and this seems to be more in line with a product knitter.

I think that part of my willingness to buy expensive yarn reflects the fact that I am knitting less these days.  When I am knitting more, then I am conscious of cost and try to use more yarns that are good quality but affordable, like Cascade 220 for instance.  I seem to be edging now into a more active knitting phase and I find that this is accompanied by a wish to search out some new affordable yarns (Quince & Co, while very high quality, is pretty affordable; it is moving up fast in my go-to list.)   Having two daughters in university is another compelling reason to seek out more affordable yarns, or at least to knit fewer luxury projects.  It is good to have a selection of yarns to knit with, and some of them should always be outrageously luxurious to the senses, because knitting, like cooking, is a sensual art.  How about you?  Are your yarn buying habits changing?  Are you buying more, or less, luxury yarns?  Do you calculate cost per hour of knitting (surely I’m not the only one)?  Do you plan every purchase or are you an impulse buyer?  Do you only buy local, or organic, or machine-washable?  Inquiring minds want to know…….

Gossamer unblocked

My Gossamer sweater is finished, but still unblocked.  Today is a holiday in the UK (Easter Monday) and, as can be expected on the last day of a long, grey holiday weekend when everyone is on the highway on their way home, the skies are suddenly blue and the day is lovely.  I couldn’t resist taking Gossamer outside to play in the sunshine.

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This is knit with Rowan’s Kidsilk Haze Eclipse in the colour Virgo.  This yarn has been sadly discontinued; I wrote here about how I aquired the yarn (Ravelry made me do it!).  It is a lovely but very difficult to describe shade (champagne, perhaps?) shot through with a metallic thread.

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The pattern is one I designed myself, and call Gossamer.  Once I got the yarn in my hands, I realized that it needed a very simple sweater design – stark, even.  I envisioned it as a very classic, v-neck pullover.  Since I had the design in my head I didn’t bother to try to find a pattern; I just cast on and designed it as I went.

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Although the Eclipse line has been discontinued, you could easily knit this in Kidsilk Haze, which is still going strong, with many luscious colours.  The fabric it produces is incredibly sheer and fine – this sweater weighs less than 125 grams!  It is like wearing a cloud.

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The fit is perfect; my only concerns are that the bottom edging rolls, and it is just a tad short.  However, I have yet to block it so hopefully both of these problems will be easy to fix.  I won’t show you modelled shots today for two reasons.  First, I want to block it  beforehand.  Second, this is the type of sweater that needs appropriate undergarments.  I have found something I think will be just right and have ordered it; we shall see how it turns out.  In the meantime, in the interests of decency, you’ll have to make do with an unmodelled Gossamer.

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Knit one, crochet two

I am going to come right out and say this:  I like knitting much more than crochet.  Now, please, dear Readers, hold off on the lynch mobs.  I’ve seen tons of beautiful crochet, and I’ve also seen tons of horrid knitting.  And, back in the day, I dabbled in crochet myself, even once making a beautiful filigree blouse in fine white cotton.  It must be said, however, that both aesthetically and as a creative process, I prefer knitting.

A few months ago, when I had the very good fortune to go to the Headquarters of Rowan Yarns in Holmsfirth (you can read about it here), I was given a goodie bag.  In that goodie bag was a new pattern collection by the fabulous Marie Wallin, called Filigree, Collection 3, subtitled “10 crochet designs for women by Marie Wallin”.  Five of these designs are made by combining knitting with crochet.  And I mean this not in the sense that I normally see, in which a knitted sweater has a crocheted edging, but rather in the sense that for each of these patterns, both knitting and crochet feature as a design element.  The combination of the two modalities is an intrinsic part of the pattern.  And I have to tell you, these designs are gorgeous!

I’ll show you my three favorites here.  To look at the others (including the five crochet patterns which are also lovely) go the the Ravelry page for this booklet, or to the Rowan  page.  Here is a lovely cardigan pattern called Buttercup:

© Marie Wallin, 2015

© Marie Wallin, 2015

I tink this is a charming mix of sweet and sexy.  I can imagine this styled so many ways. It’s a nearly perfect summer cardigan.  Even so, I must admit to liking the next one even more.  Here is Anemone:

© Marie Wallin, 2015

© Marie Wallin, 2015

I love how this is so crisp and sharp but still girly and pretty.  Regular readers will know that I have a thing for patterns that are architectural – as soon as I saw this pattern I thought about iron filigree bridges.

In order to demonstrate to you what I meant I did a search for “iron filigree bridge” and found this lovely photo:

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This is a photo of the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, which was built in 1779 and is “the oldest surviving cast iron bridge in the world.”  The photo and quote come from a post from the blog The Happy Pontist: A blog from the UK about Bridges and Bridge Design.  I have only read this one post, but you can bet that I will be giving this blog a serious look.  Many years ago, I used to work on Wall Street and live in Brooklyn and I would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to work.  I just love a beautifully designed bridge.

Is it just me or can you see this too?  Buttercup is, well, buttercup-y – all soft and flowery, but Anemone is sharp and edgy with  hard edges, but incorporated into a soft package.  I love it.

I think my favorite, however, is this one, Tulip:

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The use of crochet in this pattern feels very innovative to me; it is interesting and fresh.  The Knit rowan site writes:

Designed by Marie Wallin using our beautiful soft matt cotton yarn Summerlite 4ply (cotton), the main section of this top is knitted in a cable and lace stitch with an unusual welt section made up of double crochet strips.

If you can, zoom in on the crocheted section.  It is really a cool design.  The design makes me think of a modern, crisp take on a 1920s flapper dress.

I love these patterns.  In fact, I love them enough to overcome my crochet bias.  I am thinking that only the amazing Marie Wallin could do that!

Ravelry made me do it!

A few weeks ago I was perusing the Rowan pages on Ravelry, and came across a discussion about discontinued yarns.  A number of Ravelers were expressing dismay over the discontinuation of Rowan’s Kidsilk Eclipse.  Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Kidsilk, in all of its incarnations.  Here is one of my favorite projects ever, knit in Kidsilk Haze:

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And here is another, knit in Kidsilk Spray (now discontinued) for my lovely daughter, Emma:

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But I have had my head down lately, studying and working hard, and Kidsilk Eclipse has not hit my radar at all.  I had not even heard of it, and now it has been discontinued.

I then came across a comment from Leah, who writes the lovely knitting blog Fashion: Yarn Style.  She said:

“I have never seen anything to equal the gold shade of Kidsilk Haze eclipse! I am knitting a pullover in it right now, and every time I pull out my knitting a ton of people gather around! The yarn is that beautiful.”

I thought to myself “If Leah thinks it is beautiful and unique, then it must be true.”  I have absolute faith in Ravelers.  Then, I thought to myself “I wonder if I can still find any of it for sale here in the UK?”  The first site I found had sold out, but then I located some at Derramores.  And then, somehow, mysteriously, my credit card was in my hand, and I ordered a dozen balls!  How could that have happened?

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The yarn arrived and it is lovely and gossamer light.

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The colour is hard to describe.  The gold metallic thread is very gold and shiny, but only in certain lights; otherwise it is quite muted.  But the mohair thread is a lovely, pale champagne, more beige than gold, and provides enough subtlety for the gold to bounce off of.  It gets more beautiful, but also more interesting each time I look at it.

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Of course, one cannot receive 12 balls of Kidsilk, be it Haze or Eclipse, and not want to instantly cast on.  This is definitely going to slow down my progress on my Escher cardigan, but I plead knitigating circumstances here: Ravelry made me do it!

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In which our heroine travels to Rowan Yarn Headquarters and has a breakdown

This is the story of how I went to Rowan Yarns and had a breakdown.  On Friday, Doug and I drove up to Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire.  Holmfirth is apparently famous as the site of a well known British sitcom, The Last of the Summer Wine, which ran for 30 seasons!  I must admit that, until this weekend, I had never heard of the show.  To me, and perhaps to knitters everywhere, Holmfirth is famous for one thing and one thing alone: it is the home of Rowan Yarn.

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As many of you know, I am busy studying for an Executive MBA.  For each module in the programme, I am required to write a paper.  For each paper, I have dutifully written about higher education, because that is the industry I work in.  I yearned, however, to focus my efforts for at least one module on the subject I love best: knitting.  Thus the trip to Rowan.  I am writing a paper on Rowan Yarn for my Strategic Marketing module.  Friday we drove up so I could meet with Karl Hallam, their Global Digital Marketing Director (thank you to the lovely Dayana, a fellow knitting blogger and Rowan Ambassador, for putting me in touch with Karl!).

I had a fantastic time.  Karl toured me around the whole place, and was willing to accomodate all of my oohs and aahs, and my need to touch everything.  He introduced me to everyone.  He answered all of my questions (there were a lot of them)!  He spent three hours with me and never made me feel that he needed to be elsewhere.  He very knowledgeably discussed marketing, and the yarn industry, and shared his experience with me.  I was quite impressed with what his small team have accomplished.

Here is me in front of the wall of covers:

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Here is the warehouse.  This yarn is not for sending out to customers; this yarn is here for designers to play with while they are knitting swatches and letting the designs percolate in their brains.  I am definitely in the wrong profession.

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Hey look!  I found the Kid Silk Haze.  Instantly.  It’s as if I had an internal Kid Silk Haze detecting device.

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When I left, Karl gave me a Rowan goodie bag!!!!  Let’s put this into perspective: When I interviewed the Vice Chancellor of the university for a paper on Strategy, did I receive a goodie bag?  NO.  When I interviewed sector analysts for a paper on International Business and Higher Education, did I receive a goodie bag?  NO. When I interviewed the University’s Head of Human Services for a paper on People Management, did I receive a goodie bag?  NO.  Yarn is the best industry in the world.  They give goodie bags.  I rest my case.

Am I going to tell you what was in my goodie bag?  No!  Why not?  Because it was full of yarn and Rowan Publications that had NOT YET BEEN LAUNCHED!!!!!  Oh, be still my heart!  (But, just so you know, Rowan 57 is a knock-out!  Trust me.)

We stayed overnight in Holmfirth at a B&B (the Old Bridge Inn).  It was very nice, but the weather was terrible.  A storm front with freezing temperatures and gale-force winds had moved in.  There were lashings of rain, the kind that is icy and just on the verge of snow.  The next morning, given the weather, we decided to head straight home and not mosey along exploring the area.  The car was behaving strangely as well; we didn’t seem to have much oomph.  Just as we hit the M1, the car died (literally).  Doug very calmly announced “We don’t have any power.  It’s not responding to the accelerator” and deftly managed to get us over to the shoulder of the road.  (Note to readers: I would not have been calm in this circumstance.)

A call to AA said that help was on the way, but that we shouldn’t sit in the car; it was too dangerous.  I opened the door to get out of the car and was nearly blown away by the force of the wind.  This was the start of a very long and cold day (despite the absolutely brilliant service of AA).

A tow truck came and towed us to the nearest highway rest stop, where I sat down at a Starbucks and waited for 4 hours.  Doug had quite a separate adventure during this period – the AA repairman was sure the car was fixable with a few extra parts, so he and Doug drove off to a parts shop and spent time in the dreadful wind and cold changing spark plugs and coils and other such things.  Meanwhile, what did I do stuck in a cold highway services Starbucks for 4 hours?  Well, I had my knitting with me (but of course).  And what knitting did I have with me but the Soumak Wrap which was within ten hours or so of finishing!  And when my fingers got too cold to knit – I had a GOODIE BAG filled with as-yet unreleased Rowan pattern magazines!

We eventually made it home.  A lovely AA repariman drove us (all crammed into the front seat) to a local airport where we could rent a car for the drive home.  Our car was loaded on a tow truck and eventually made it to the local garage down the street from our house.  I very nearly finished knitting the Soumak Wrap.  And that is the story of how I went to Rowan Yarns and had a breakdown!

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