Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fair Isle Knitting

I haven't been to Fair Isle, just seen it in the distance from North Ronaldsay.  Here's a map showing the location of Fair Isle.

Fair Isle is part of Shetland, located 27 miles southwest of Sumburgh Head on the mainland of Shetland, and 27 miles northeast of North Ronaldsay, part of Orkney. 

Here's a photo I took at Sumburgh Head in Shetland, you can see the puffins, they are as cute as their name sounds

I don't know why this tiny island gave its name to the Fair Isle style of knitting.  I prefer to use the term  "Fair Isle" to this traditional style of colorwork of Scotland, and use the term "stranded colorwork" to refer to anything else.  It bothers me to see the term used for all colorwork styles.  However, there is so much culture passed along shipping routes;  see how close to Norway Shetland is...

Here's a sweater done in traditional Shetland colors, with a minimum of natural dying

I purchased Alice Starmore's famous book a long time ago;  Alice also speculates in the book on why this teeny island gave its name to such a tour de force of style

This book has recently been reissued by Dover Publications in 2009;  mine was published in 1988 by Taunton Press.

I think the only Alice Starmore pattern that I have done is a favorite, "Square Dance" 

I'm sure I did it in Alice's Alice Starmore Scottish Campion. (A campion, BTW, is a flower in the family known as "pinks" or "carnations").  My sons wore this sweater and it now hangs in my nephew's closet.  This is from Stillwater;  so why did I trash my copy as it now goes for $70 new on Amazon??

 I knit this vest below, now an old chestnut, but can no longer recall where the pattern came from;  I may have found a vest pattern and put it together with the classic peerie patterns, but I can't find either source in my book collection. "Peerie"  means "small" in Shetland dialect but I also heard it used in Orkney;  it also refers to the repeat in a Fair Isle pattern.

The yarn is a Green Mountain Spinnery single ply fingering weight that no longer exists.  I might wear this tomorrow to keep me warm,  it's cold here this month...

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Here's my needlefelted Santa (I didn't do it, but I am enjoying it);  merry merry.  Its snowing near here today;  unusual weather for us.  More next week.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holiday Finished Objects

The Ashford traditional was sitting on an old trunk, and I caught Fiona sitting under it.  Fiona looks good with all furniture.  She's also sitting under some acid dyed Shetland Supreme.

Finally,  both of the twins' sweaters are done.  Well, that is, if buttons and zipper don't count.  To be redundant, both are from Noro Kids book but I used Plymouth Encore which should wash well.

Purchased at Barnes and Noble

 Too cute.  They have tiny pellets in their feet to make them stand up.  Off to bake some edible gingerbread people.    Merry merry...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Lucia Day

Today is Lucia Day.  In case you don't know, Lucia was a young Christian woman who purportedly was martyred for her faith.  She was married to an Italian when all she really wanted was to be a devout Christian.  She brought food to Christians who were persecuted in Rome, and wore candles on her head so that she could carry food, according to this website and folklore.

Lucia Day is December 13th.  This date was the winter solstice in the old Julian calendar,  So this makes it appropriate that in Sweden and in many other countries, especially Scandinavian countries,  a Lucia Queen is crowned, usually with a battery-operated candle crown, and a procession is held.  She gives out pepparkakor or ginger cookies and people enjoy lussekatts, the buns eaten on this special day.  I make lussekatts (see this post for a little more discussion), and somewhere in my  recipe collection I have Karin Larsson's recipe for pepparkakor.

Wikipedia suggests some reasons why this Italian saint is venerated in Scandinavia.

Somewhere in all this melee of timing of the solstice, Lucia Day, and Christmas, Lucia has become associated with the Christmas holidays, and I like to think, the return of the light at the solstice.  I don't ordinarily spend alot of time with holiday decorating, but I love a little needlefelted Santa that I bought at New Hampshire Sheep and Wool Festival a number or years back.  This year I decided to try to find a Lucia.   I located one on Etsy.  Darla makes adorable needle felted figures and I could spend an awful lot at her shop.  Here's the Etsy link.  Photo above of my Lucia, product of Darla's talent.

Before I located Darla's Lucia, I thought of knitting one, perhaps using Theodora 

  Helene's traditional Icelandic costume for Theodora would adapt nicely for Lucia's dress

Wouldn't she be cute??  Next year...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Camellias, holiday knitting rush

One of the lovely things about South Carolina is the camellias.  In previous years, the deer ate the buds and leaves off of the two that I have. My backyard deer traffic has lessened in the last couple of years as a major auto thorofare was  built a little ways behind my house;  I will gladly trade some traffic noise for camellia blossoms.  One of mine started blooming in November.  I believe it's Camellia japonica and might be Pink Perfection but here she is

I have another variety that is red with double blossoms that should bloom next month.  If you want to see some lovely and more varied camellia photos, visit Pixie's blog

Knitting time is slim this month, here is progress on nephew's sweater "Alex" from Noro Kids:  almost done, sleeves about 50% complete.  Ordering zipper today.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Confederate Rose

I was  biking one day in October several years ago, here in SC, and was stunned saw a HUGE 20 foot tall tree, with many large blossoms. A small bit of research revealed that it was a Confederate Rose, Hibiscus mutabilis.  It's not native to the south;  it's from China, but loves the southern part of the US.  And obviously it's not a rose, but in the hibiscus family.  Sometimes it's called a "Cherokee Rose".

Last Christmas I bought two, one for my sister, one for me.  Her soil is better than mine and she put hers in right away.  I waited till summer.  Hers is now about 6 feet tall, mine is about 3.  But mine had more blossoms than hers last month.  The blossoms start out virginal white, then go to light pink, then dark pink as they fade

I do love a hot pink;  it reminds me of the 2 ply lace weight yarn I bought at Jamieson and Smith in Lerwick two summers ago. 

The plan for this?  Possibly an Estonian lace wrap from my favorite book

I love living in SC as I can grow things that flower year round, and can always have some cut flowers in the house.  But the Confederate Rose goes from white to droopy hot pink in about 24 hours, so I enjoy it outside.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hap shawl update and where I'd like to be this weekend

My hap shawl that I am knitting from my Shetland handspun is not finished;  I was hoping that it would be done last weekend. Here's the tale:

Being the impulsive that I am, I just launched in and did not correctly calculate the ratio of stitches to pick up on the edges, and did a 1 stitch to 2 row ratio.  HELLO??  I  completed the WHOLE blasted thing including binding off, and the middle sagged like crazy. 

So, I want back and consulted Sharon Miller's book, then frogged the 6 inch wide fan and feather lace border that I had so enthusiastically completed over the last 2 weeks.  Turns out I needed to pickup 5 stitches for every 8 rows;  one in each facing stitch plus an extra after every 4th.  I proceeded to do this, then happily knit two rows, and discovered a mistake in my fan and feather.  SO, frogged a second time; not completely but a good ways back.

I am really hoping that this will be a lovely family heirloom, so I want to get it right!  More to follow...

This is what I'd be looking at if I could if could this weekend:

SWEA is the Swedish Women's Educational Association and every year on the first weekend in December they hold their annual holiday fair at the cyclorama in Boston.  Here is the info at the SWEA Boston website.

I took my boys there when they were small.  B recalls getting Will Farrell's autograph one year (his wife is Swedish).

It's an absolute blast, well...for me anyway, with

Lucia procession, Swedish crafts, food including those cute little heart shaped waffles made fresh with jam and whipped cream (boys were bribed with that), a number of folks sporting handknits in the Scandinavian tradition, and of course, the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) table, to help you plan your next trip!

If you are in the Boston area, don't miss it!  Since, I'm not going, perhaps I'll complete my hap shawl instead...not to mention my holiday UFO's...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks: I am thankful for time for knitting, and edible flowers

I am hard at work to finish my hap shawl.  The goal is to finish this weekend.  Photos by Sunday at the latest.  I don't want to post any photos till I'm done.

I am also working on another holiday UFO, a sweater for my little nephew.  The sweater is also from the Noro Kids book.  This one is called Alex, also in Plymouth Encore.  Here it is in progress

Today, I am working on art in food.  I have always been interested in edible flowers.  Once upon a long time ago, my friend Lois and I drove from New York City to Capriland's in Coventry, Connecticut.  Adelma Grenier Simmons was still alive and looked like a little gnome in a woolen cape and little cap.  At lunch we were served a salad that was covered in edible flowers.  I recall that they brought the composed salad around to the tables before serving it so that we could see it first.  Several years later, my friend Susie gave me a cookbook that Adelma authored.  

From roaming around on the internet, it appears now that Caprilands is closed.  Adelma passed away in 1997.  HOWEVER we can still grow herbs, including edible flowers, and her legacy lives on.   Here is a list of edible flowers from our friends at wikipedia.

In the past, I bought a collection of edible flower seeds from some seed catalog that also no longer exists.  But I recall that it included johnny jump-ups, borage, calendula, chives and nasturtiums.  

Here in South Carolina, the pansies and johnny jump-ups bloom all winter.  My Thanksgiving salad is adorned with johnny jump-ups.  I think it looks really fetching.

I do love nasturtiums; I'll start some from seed after the winter solstice.  Both leaves and flowers are edible.

I have also baked Lucia Buns.  While Lucia Day is December 13th, this is my excuse to bake the fragrant but delicately scented Lucia buns, lussekatt,  for my whole family.  The recipe I use is from Prairie Home Breads, which is a favorite baking book.  The book contains lovely recipes from our Grandmothers from the old country, preserved in midwestern culture.  I cheated and did not hand form each bun, rather, I did them "monkey bread" style.  Each one has a raisin in it.  

Happy Thanksgiving!  Be sure to go for a walk afterwards, or before, or both!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Biased Book Review: Running for the Hills

I have this absolutely misplaced feeling that I was meant to be a sheep farmer/angora bunny raiser/alpaca farmer/the list goes on.  I mean, come on, there was a sheep farm in my family five generations back?!  OK... I admit...it's not five direct generations. 

In that interest, I sometimes likes to read books about people-who-raise-fiber-bearing-animals.  And imagine in my misplaced way that I am one of them.  

I just finished the very well written (with intelligent humor) Running for the Hills:  Growing Up On My Mother's Sheep Farm in Wales, by Horatio Clare.

Couldn't find a  better image of the cover of the American edition, here's a photo of the British edition, slightly different title, depicting Horatio as an adorable towhead

Horatio's parents were from London.  It's the 70's, his mother Jenny wants a different lifestyle both for her and their children. They purchase a sheep farm in southwestern Wales, in the mountains near the Brecon Beacons mountain range.  Horatio's Dad does not share that vision, and he ultimately  returns full time to London, helping out occasionally.  Jenny is left raising two little boys, and and must work hard to sustain her family on the sheep farm.  She has help from Jack, a crusty and solid local retired farmer, along with other neighbors.

When they bought their farm, 100 sheep came along with it.  Horatio explains in the book that when a farm was sold, some sheep came along with it.  They had a number of breed in this original flock, mostly Welsh Mountain

which are small and hardy with thick white fleeces.  The majority of the rest were Suffolk crosses

Suffolks are black faced with thinner fleeces, had "bigger, more profitable" lambs, but these were less sturdy in the cold.  A few  other breeds were mixed in:  Badgers (a variety of Welsh Mountain), Radnors, and Speckles. 

Ram lambs are "tups," ewe lambs are "theaves." Tups were sold in their first nine months, preferably before winter to avoid feeding them when grass was scarce.  Yearlings were one year olds, mostly theaves, and were sold to farms looking to add to their breeding stock.  Their flock grows over the years.

Jenny has incredible affection for her animals; they are always fed and well cared for, unlike some of her farmer neighbors. She cares for them so much it's hard to believe that she sells them for meat.  

I emailed Horatio Clare via his website to ask him about the use of the wool.  He replied said yes, the farm did sell the fleeces:  

The story of wool in Wales is melancholy. Jack  recalled decades when it was still so valuable that the annual haul would pay a tennant farmer's rent for the year. By the time my parents got into it all the fleeces from every farm were bought by the Wool Marketing Board. You had to make sure there was no bracken or hay in it, and not too many dags, and that the sacks were sewn up in the approved fashion. In return for this they sent you a cheque, for a fixed sum per sack. The rate declined steadily with the market for wool. Sometimes there would be a spike - a particular fashion season would bump up prices - but now the cheques barely cover the cost of the shearing.

The Wool Marketing Board still exists, and the system continues as it did. They drop off new sacks each year, and still collect the valley's output from the farm where it has always been assembled. On occasion, when Mum has a particularly beautiful fleece, she holds it back to give to anyone who might appreciate it. There are rumours that it might make a comeback as an excellent source of insulation - but I fear man-made fibres are always going to be cheaper. 

As the boys age, Jenny decides to sell the farm and move to  local town.  She may still be keeping some sheep!

I know from everyone's  favorite knitting podcaster, Brenda, there there are still woolen mills in Wales operating today, and perhaps they were in the 70's, but of course the scale is nowhere what it was 100 years ago.  I hope Brenda has read this book.  Interestingly, she also lives in Pembrokeshire, the setting for this memoire.  Pembrokeshire looks pretty blowy and cold, sticking out in to the  sea like that.

Interestingly, my favorite knitting tour guide, Joyce, is leading a tour to Wales in 2011, which includes Pembrokeshire. I won't be joining in, at least not in 2011.

Horation Clare's website is: http://www.horatioclare.co.uk/ Do visit, he's published two other books since.

The British Wool Marketing Board is here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Chullo Continuum

As in many cultures, larger traditional clothing garments in Peru are woven.  I notice that smaller functional mittens, socks or stockings, hats, and occasionally sleeves  traditionally were handknit, as opposed to larger garments.

In summer of 2010, our tour group saw beautiful handknit chullos.  That's a llama wearing the chullo above.  An alpaca wouldn't stand for it.  One of my travelling companions taught me  that "llamas are like dogs;  alpacas are like cats."  A vicuna in a hat?  Forget it.

The word "chullo" comes from the Aymara word for a hat with ear flaps. (Aymara is spoken by the Aymara people in the Andes, in an area including parts of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.  The three primary languages spoken in Peru are Spanish, Quechua [also a native language], and Aymara.)  Chullos in South America are of course knitted from natural materials:  vicuna, alpaca, llama, or sheep's wool.

At the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, my tour group saw some examples.  Here's a pretty bad photo of a chullo in progress, but it gives you the idea of the gauge that the knitter was working

 We also saw an example of a sleeve or "armwarmer"

I love the geometric birds, and the contrast of the black and white with the colorwork.

Later, we went to the Center's workshop in Chinchero

Here's an example of a chullo in progress, you can see the longer "tail" on this particular hat

The women participating at the center tended to switch crafts, although  master (I prefer "mistress") artesans stuck to their highly crafted skills, as I suspect this knitter did

The chullos I have created are a little different.

If you can place an extremely fine hand spindle spun wool, alpaca, llama, or even vicuna at one end of the continuum, what goes at the other?  Why, Red Heart Super Saver from Walmart, of course.  Now, while I don't always consider this a REAL fiber,  I knit with it, and here's why:

I have two teenaged sons.  When they were small, I thought that I would be handknitting sweaters for them throughout their youth and in to adulthood.  Well....no.  However, the one item that they do like handknit is hats.  According to my source, chullos have become popular in western cultures due to British rapper Dappy.  When knitting their chullos, I use that Red Heart for its ability to reflect B's high school colors, and its durability in the wilds of Maine

Here's the pattern that I base my chullos on.  I do a gauge swatch, measure head circumference, and reduce the number of stitches given in the pattern, adjust the graphs accordingly.

Red Heart easily survives a dunking in the Allagash River 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Noro and Holiday Knitting

I went to my lys in Hilton Head several months ago, with no particular purchase in mind.  When there, I found this book

I liked the cover sweater for a little girl who is related to me, for Christmas.  The pattern, called Rita, is in the yarn Aya.  However, I have found in the past that yarns-that-change-color and lace often don't mix. Sometimes, its just all too much for me.  For example, in this shawl which I knit in the last year:

I really like this shawl pattern which is Windsbraut-Herbstwind, by Monika Eckhert;  it is done in minimochi.  I loved both the pattern and the smooth yarn in my favorite purples/greens, but together the lace and the changing color didn't work.  The shawl went to Afghans for Afghans. So, I learned my lesson this year, and decided to go with a solid yarn for the pattern.

I went with some Plymouth Encore instead, here's the result

It wasn't as boring as a lot of children's patterns with vast prairies of stockinette or garter, thanks to the lace pattern.  I need to add buttons.  And I just need to finish the sweater for her brother, also from this book.

Now, I'm not saying that I don't like the Noro thing, here's an example of what I love. I've been working on this afghan to be for about four years.  It's  a mitred square afghan, in Kureyon.  I have more squares done, but not sewn together. I love it.  But in its own way, it's a vast prairie of stockinette, interrupted by the occasional k2tog, so I've got a long way to go.

Back to the topic of gifting for children;  if I run out of knitting steam, I buy a book.  This is one of my favorite childrens books

A Symphony for the Sheep is the story in rhyme of sheep-to-sweater, set in Ireland, by Cynthia Millen, with lovely illustrations by Mary Azarian, who is a woodcut artist in Vermont.  Unfortunately, it is out of print.  Available used at Amazon.  If Houghton Mifflin had any sense, they would do a reprint and sell at our favorite knitting venues.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I steel myself: Unsteeking

I love this book

I've knit several items from this book, including this

I finished it in 1992, obviously.  It was knit on very small needles, perhaps size 1.  Knit on  12" double points.  The gauge is 8 stitches per inch.  I am no longer that crazy.  I bought the yarn in Vermont, long ago.

The sweater, according to Pagoldh's book is an old Swedish pattern.

The challenge:  I can't recall ever wearing this.  It's lain fallow in the closet since 1992.  I do love it. 

I hatched an idea.  My good friend Bob does home decor.  I don't.  My living room decor is what I like to think of as not-on-purpose-it's-just-me-19th-century-natural-history-museum:  inherited primitive antiques, my butterfly collection, an old velvet patchwork quilt on the wall done by a distant Grandmother, some dusty starfish and sand dollars collected from South Carolina beaches on the book shelves containing Peterson's Field Guides and The Southern Living Garden Book.  I still need the phrenology head for this, and would like to have some bird skeletons under bell jars.  Oh yeah, there are a few Peruvian backstrap woven textiles.

Bob is a talented knitter and designer, among other things he designs and decorates with pillows, and looking at his on Ravelry made me think of turning the fallow sweater into a pillow.  The red and black? Perfect for my dark and dusty decor.

Cutting was tougher than cutting the steeks for it back in 92

I much prefer knitting to sewing, but did take the time to baste it to get the pattern lined up the way I wanted.

Finished today, not sewn up yet at the bottom, but I love the result.  I plan to do some little "kidney pillows" (lumbar rolls?!) with the sleeves

Here's the view with the Ashford

I think Bob will approve.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What would Frida knit?

Answer:  probably nothing.  However, she did paint this:

I am a Frida-phile and naturally think of her through October, perhaps as the November 2nd celebration of Dia de los Muertos, approaches.  I am ignoring the whole Frida cult thing and only writing what I know.  Frida Kahlo was born July 6, 1907 and died July 13, 1954.  She was born just before the Mexican revolution in 1910.   Her talent, intellect, love of her country, its people, and their culture created this woman who was realized for her genius only years after her death.  Her influences included religious and indigenous art.  Her paintings were surreal before surrealism was acknowledged;  primitive before primitivism was acknowledged. She dressed in traditional clothing to celebrate the working peasant women in her country.  However, she had  better beads.

Mom and I talked for years about going to visit Frida's home in Coyoacan, and  Mexico City. In 2006 we went to Iceland.  On the return from Iceland, there were two signs that made it clear that our next trip would be to Mexico. Here were the signs:

1) On the plane back, I spied this in the in-flight magazine:

Who knew that such a tequila existed?  I now have some in my small liquor cabinet.  I have the blue one.

2) We saw a woman at Newark Airport wearing this:

I now own several Frida shirts.

2007 was the 100th anniversary of Frida's birth.  We made the trip that year.

 Here is Frida as a young woman:

Here is my favorite of Frida's self portraits, which she painted for Leon Trotsky to whom the Mexican government gave asylum when Stalin came into power.  Frida had an affair with Trotsky, who was later assasinated in Mexico City.  Trotsky kept rabbits.

Frida's home was Casa Azul "blue house" in Coyoacan, outside of Mexico City.  She was  born and died there.  Here's Mom outside the entrance to Casa Azul, now a museum:

Frida painted the house blue;  it was not blue when she grew up there.

My images:

The inner courtyard is full of plants, cats, and a miniature aztec temple that Diego Rivera, Frida's husband,  had built for her:

Diego  was a famous muralist and communist.  Here they are on their wedding day:

Diego depicted the history of Mexico in huge and numerous murals at the National Palace in Mexico City.  Here is  Frida, as the corn maiden, if I recall correctly.

To celebrate Frida's centenary, the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City had a huge retrospective of her work, including works loaned from five US museums and one in Japan.  The halls were packed; museum attendance records were broken.  Here's Nancy in front of the Palacio as we entered:

Diego built a house in San Angel, also outside of Mexico City.  This house had two parts, connected by a bridge.  Frida's side was smaller and is blue.  Diego and Frida lived together on and off during their lives.

Here is one of the best photos I've ever taken on my no brain point and shoot, at Teotihuacan, a site of the preColumbian civilization outside of Mexico City.  The Teotihuacan civilization dates from 200 BCE.  This view is from the Temple of the Moon, looking at the Temple of the Sun.  In the movie Frida, the lovely Selma Hayek as Frida, leads Geoffrey Rush, as Trotsky, up the steps of one of these pyramids.

I read her biography, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera and found no evidence to support any knitting.  But as we might gather, she was busy painting and dealing with the tragedies in her life.  I recommend this book if you like a detailed biography.  If DVD is more to your taste, I suggest:

The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo is  a lovely documentary by Amy Stechler.

The movie Frida portrays a somewhat-close-to-reality life of Frida.  Salma Hayek is amazing.

There are lots of others.

When in Mexico, we did spy some fiber activity:

Here's what I'm sporting this month, think of your forebears on Dia de los Muertos, November 2nd