2014 was a busy year on the knitting front. After the rush at the end of 2013 to complete Christmas presents for nieces and friends, it started fairly gently with a lace shawl or two, followed by a decision to take on a City and Guilds course in hand knit textiles. No local colleges seem to offer C and G courses any longer, but luckily there are a couple of teachers offering online tuition and I was most fortunate to be able to sign up with Loraine McClean. The course is rigorous and the work required for assessment is substantial; there are twelve modules in the Level 3 course, starting with basics such as the different methods of casting on and off, creating textures just with combinations of knit and purl stitches, and using inspiration such as textured rubbings to create your own texture designs. In addition, there is a study of the different fibres available to knitters spread over multiple modules but beginning with wool from sheep. This study gave me an opportunity to improve my spinning skills (begun with the help of Ruth Gough at Wingham Woolworks) and to explore the huge variety of fibre from sheep – from the softest Merino to the coarse Scottish Blackface. Module 2, which I am just completing, take this study to other animal fibres, such as Alpaca, Angora and Cashmere, and I have had the opportunity to spin some beautiful fibre as part of my coursework. Module 2 is also about colour, and involved exploring the topic in paint and yarn. This aspect has resulted in choosing interesting colour combinations for my various projects, in experimenting with striping, and in giving me an overall appreciation of colour from the design perspective.
In between the studying and pressing domestic issues (more about those in a separate post) I also found time for more fairisle (in the shape of Kate Davies’ Rams and Yowes blanket – a wonderful centre knitted with a steek, sadly a very boring border which I have struggled to finish), more lace shawls and scarves (one for mum-in-law’s birthday and one for a friend’s Christmas present), and commissions for Christmas presents for other people (baby hats and socks, adult fingerless gloves), I also helped start a knitting group.
Joan and I used to go to a knit and natter group in a church hall a few villages away, but many weeks the nattering, instead of an enjoyable exchange of ideas, was mainly unkind gossip and nasty remarks about people – more stitch and bitch in fact. We grew tired of this and wanted something more stimulating and closer to home, so we abandoned that group to their griping and started our own. It is early days yet, there are only 4 or 5 of us most weeks and we are meeting in Joan’s conservatory until the group expands and we can hire a room in the village pub. But we have already established links with a local charity for whom we knit baby clothes and blankets, and we spend 2 hours on a Tuesday afternoon having a pleasant conversation and a pot of tea and biscuits while we churn out hats, socks and blankets for babies and cowls and hats for their mums. A much nicer way to spend our time.
On days when we are not knitting and nattering, Joan and I have been exploring local wool shops. Our favourite is Unravel in Denby Dale, fortuitously close to the wonderful Denby Dale Tearooms; we also have visited on more than one occasion World of Wool in Huddersfield for fibre, felting and dyeing supplies; and Top Wools in Barnsley for baby yarn and a nice selection of unusual and expensive yarns, such as Eden Cottage. These outings have been a great way to investigate the wealth of choice in yarns available locally and to discuss our projects with like-minded people. My other go-to favourite wool shop is Up Country in Holmfirth, which stocks the full range of Rowan yarns as well as Louisa Harding, Sublime, Debbie Bliss, and Noro.
Another wonderful outing was our visit to Yarndale in Skipton in September. This is a relatively new exhibition, 2014 being it’s second year, but the range of stalls was fabulous. I was like a kid in a candy shop, I didn’t know what to look at next! I bought a wooden wool winder from The Threshing Barn a necessity since most of the really good yarn is sold in hanks these days. I wanted a wooden one largely because they are robust, well-engineered, and made from a sustainable material. The plastic ones I have tried have been flimsy and uncomfortable to handle, even the more expensive brands. I chose the Strauch Jumbo Wool Winder because it is readily available in the UK (most wooden brands seem to be manufactured in the USA) and was easy to set up and use. I also bought a lot of specialist yarn, such as hand dyed laceweight, and a fair bit of fibre, from Hilltop Cloud (from whom I have previously bought some great fibre on Etsy) and from Wingham Woolworks (because they have the very best range of colours and are lovely people as well!) I should love to come back to Yarndale next year and perhaps stay for the two days so that I can sample some of the courses and talks as well as buying from the stalls. Failing that, Wonderwool in Wales or xx in Cockermouth get very good reviews and would be worth a visit. But first I must knit up all the yarn I purchased this year!