More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Friday, 30 September 2011

Music and knit tips

Just got tickets for the Show of Hands concert on December 1st with Richard Shindell guesting.  Richard's song, You Stay Here, as sung by Steve Knightley, has been one of my favourites recently and when I have just a bit more time I'm going to learn it - best anti-war song I've heard in years.  I love the modal tuning that Steve Knightley uses on the mandocello. 

Been reviewing my best selling designs for this year and Stomp, a dress I designed for Vogue Knitting seems to be the outright winner.  I don't know why it's so popular, calling for  techniques that many knitters shy away from -  cables and fairisle.  However, I've been amazed by the number of knitters who have risen to the challenge and there are many fabulous pictures on Ravelry of finished projects.

So for those of you who may have been put off by the rigour of the techniques, I thought I'd share a few thoughts on knitting fairisles and cables.

Many knitters are afraid of cables, but actually they’re not difficult to master and are a great way of getting movement and texture into your knitting.  The technique is simply a way of crossing one set of stitches over another and looks best when worked against a contrasting background stitch ie a stocking stitch cable on a reverse stocking stitch background. Basic cables are worked by placing the first set of stitches on a cable needle and holding them at the back or front of your knitting, depending whether you want the crossing to slope towards the right or left.  Holding the stitches at the front will result in a left-sloping cable and holding them at the back in a right-sloping cable.  By working a right- and then a left-sloping cable across a row you’ll get a symmetrical cable meeting at the centre. 

Two-colour stranded knitting (Fairisle)
Many knitters remain in awe of this technique, but once you have mastered stocking stitch, it’s just a matter of organising your yarn and making sure you don’t pull the yarn too tightly.  Carry the contrast yarn loosely on the wrong side, either weaving it in or stranding it.  Do not strand the yarn over more than 3 stitches.

I usually teach the two-handed method, but this does involve being able to work simultaneously with the British method (throwing the yarn)  in the right hand and the Continental method (picking the yarn) in the left hand.  This produces an even, pleasing effect and is wonderfully rhythmic when working in the round where all rows are knit rows.  

However, when knitting back and forth I’ve found that a lot of knitters have a problem with the tension on the purl side.  A speedy and even alternative is to use either circular or double-pointed needles and work across the row, knitting every Colour A stitch and slipping (purlwise) every Colour B stitch.  Do not turn the work at the end of the row, but slide the stitches back to the right hand point of the needle, drop Colour A, pick up Colour B and work every stitch that should be Colour B, slipping every stitch which was previously worked in Colour A.  Then turn the work and proceed in the same way on the purl side.  When working in the round, work one round with Colour A and then one round with Colour B to complete each single round.  If after slipping a group of stitches you always stretch them out smoothly on the right-hand needle before stranding the yarn, this method makes it easy to control the tension of the strands and avoids the fabric becoming gathered.  

In my new book Sweet Shawlettes, there are several small projects which can get you up to speed with both fairisles and cables, without making the commitment of knitting a whole sweater.  Here's one of them, Miss Garricks, a fairisle cowl, named for two Shetland sisters and trimmed with vintage crystal beads to reflect the colours of their island home.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Bread, cats and the knitted textile awards 2011

Lots to do since we got back from Ireland, but Philip found some time to make bread - wholemeal, spelt and rye.  I love it, specially slathered in butter just out of the oven, with Marmite for breakfast or for a quick ploughman's lunch with plenty of cheddar and apple chutney - I can feel the pounds going on as I write!

One fun thing we've done since getting back was to collect our new kitten, a Maine Coon called Arlo.  He's a very loving little fellow and is dying to make friends with our other kitten, Django, who's four months older.  Django's not so sure about this, but I can feel Arlo winning him over by the minute and I'm sure they'll soon be inseparable partners in crime.  

I was thrilled recently to be asked to be one of the judges of the 2011 Knitted Textile Awards  at Alexandra Palace next week.  My friend, Sasha Kagan, and I had a wonderful time in Harrogate last year judging the gorgeous submissions.  There's such a wealth of design talent in Britain and it's inspiring to see all the fabulous pieces.  However, this year's awards coincide with my mother moving into a local care home - she needs lots of support both in the moving and also settling into a new place, so reluctantly I won't be heading for London this time, but hoping they ask me again next year.

It's National Knitting week 3-10 October so I've got my thinking cap on, considering what I can do to heighten knitting's profile.  Autumn is certainly the time to get your needles going again. I love starting new projects at this time of year and I automatically gravitate to the reds, golds, and burgundies that make autumn sparkle.  That reminds me it's time to get the wood delivered for the winter - if only you could bottle the smell of wood smoke.  

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Back home!

We left Killarney early yesterday morning for The Dingle peninsula.  We hadn't been there for fifteen years, but had fond memories of walking on Inch Strand in the mist and exploring the dunes with Felix, our youngest son. It was a similar misty moisty morning when we set off, with the sun breaking through for short sharp bursts, lighting up the landscape when it did.  The hedgerows in the Dingle are fabulously colourful at this time of year, fuchsias dripping with blossom, interspersed with fiery crocosmia and bright yellow ragwort, with a backdrop of the autumn - just magic!
We passed an interesting little shop on our way which was basically a Spar and post office, but it also had an Irish quilt shop upstairs, both for making and also readymade.  Unfortunately we were too early and our schedule was so tight we couldn't wait, but we made a note to go back next time.  Inch beach was as evocative as ever - white sand stretching for miles into the distance, white horses on the ocean, crashing waves (great for surfers) and fierce Atlantic winds, reminding me what a harsh environment the West Coast dwellers had to endure in the past.
After a quick walk along the edge of the ocean, we decided to press on and have our morning coffee at Dingle town.  Benners Hotel was warm and cosy, and we sat round the fire with a biscuit and a frothy cup of black coffee - just what was needed to boost energy levels again. You may be able to see the founder, Mrs Benner, in the painting over the mantlepiece.
Then on again - Dingle has such a lot to offer, it's hard to know where to look first.  We strolled down to the harbour, where we also found one of the local music shops and had a long chat with Catriona about the possibility of setting up a traditional session for our visitors.  She was very helpful, also filling us in on the local music scene and we went off bearing their collective CD. I left her with my own CD More Yarn Will Do The Trick  - she was tickled pink by the idea of knit music! Irish music travels well and we're now sitting here enjoying it immensely over coffee in our kitchen at home now.  Haven't worked out how to put music into the blog, but when I do I'll post some favourites.

On the way back into town we came across the dingle institution that is Dick Mack's and found the man himself inside.  We just had to have a preprandial glass with him before speeding on. 

Next checked out the fibre interest and came across a great shop on the main street, selling Kilcarra, Cushendale and other handspun Irish yarns as well as some beautiful handwoven and handknit stuff.  They also have a fabulous knitted window display.  I was trying to be good and make do with feasting my eyes, but I just couldn't resist a beautiful merino handwoven shawl by Eugene and Anke McKernan.

There's also a local handweaver a few doors down from Dick Mack's - well worth taking a look at.  Also several outlet stores for wool and woollens - in fact Dingle is spoilt for choice and it depends totally on personal preference.
We grabbed a quick lunch on the hoof and all too soon we had to head back to Shannon for our evening flight back.  We had intended to go down to Dunquin, where there's bee-hive huts and the fort, probably most famous for having Ryan's Daughter, the 1970 David Lean film, filmed there.  Next time...
So goodbye to the Emerald Isle for now, where even the plane is green!  

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


Up early yesterday for our last morning in Dublin, checking out the Hugh Lane Contemporary Art Museum.  En route we came across James Joyce, talking to the Dublin eccentric, Gogarty, outside the colourful Oliver St John Gogarty bar, presumably named after himself.  Philip couldn't resist joining in.

Coming back, also in Temple Bar we found a lively music mural, where I felt the urge to get out my spoons as they hadn't had an outing yet this trip.

Then on our way to Killarney, via the Kerry Woollen Mills, situated on the beautiful Ring of Kerry on the Atlantic coast.  The mill has been creating fabrics and yarn from fine wool for over 300 years, remaining faithful to the traditions of its founders. Today it takes advantage of up-to-date weaving technology, marrying tradition with contemporary styling.  I couldn't resist the lovely 3-ply aran yarn, dyed and spun at the mill.  They also do  natural coloured organic and Jacob's wool.  

After checking into our hotel that evening, we were out again quickly to find food and a session - as you can imagine, as this is Killarney, we didn't have to look far.

Visited Crafty Alley in Killarney this morning - great shop stocking everything craft-related, including the Irish yarns used in Carol Feller's book - Cushendale, Kerry Woollen Mills and Studio Donegal.  Spent the afternoon at Muckross house in the national park - beautiful house and gardens with fabulous sculptures and jaunting car trips around the lake.

Fantastic meal tonight in a family-run Killarney restaurant.  Johnny and Paddy McGuire and their team gave us a warm Irish welcome - can't wait to come back next year.  I had veggie boxty - a speciality, sort of potato pancake, sooooooo good.  Ingredients are sourced locally, the wine list is to die for and for the craic - look no further. There were also quite a few veggie options on the menu which is refreshing as we lettuce eaters usually have to make do with a token lasagne.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Dublin alive alive-o!

Up early this morning and wandered along fairly empty dublin streets to see Molly Malone before the crowds got there.  Then along to Bewley's, where we sat back and enjoyed the bustling ambiance, the magnificent stained glass windows and the excellent coffee and croissants.

Then on to local yarn store - This is Knit.  Thankfully we arrived just as it was opening, as five minutes later the whole place was a hive of activity, both with customers and a class in progress.  It's a very well-stocked store and Jackie, one of the owners, showed me the new Studio Donegal (aka Kilcarra ) yarn, a gorgeous merino 2-ply (knits on 4mm as DK), with all the fabulous Donegal tweed colours.  My eyes lit up - I'm SO looking forward to getting it on my needles and trying it out.  

Jackie also presented me with a copy of Carol Feller's new book, Contemporary Irish Knits.  Carol is doing a workshop for us on Knit Ireland, and used the new merino yarn in one of the projects (Rossbeg, a pretty little girl's cardy) and I must say the stitch definition looks fabulous.  Carol's book is the story of her own personal knit journey and showcases the Irish yarn mills and hand dyers who have been instrumental in inspiring her work.  There are lots of great pictures and the book offers twenty projects, each with a new take on cabling.  I'm saving it up for when we get back home, when I can snuggle down in front of the fire, glass of wine in hand and enjoy it.

Reluctantly we had to leave the friendly knit haven that is This is Knit, but not before arranging a Knit & Natter session when we return on the tour.

Next the Book of Kells, truly amazing, a must-see and great inspiration for cabled knits - they must have had incredibly good eyes in those days, the mere thought of having to create something that small sends my eyes into blurry panic!

Book of Kells
Watching the match in O"Donoghue"s
Can't finish today without mentioning that it was the All Ireland football final between Dublin and Kerry.  This is a game we'd never seen before, a cross between rugby, soccer with a bit of basketball thrown in.  We were helpfully enlightened by a local on the scoring and a few rules.  Apparently Kerry were expected to win and it was an exciting final with Dublin emerging victorious in the end - there'll be much carousing and rejoicing around the bars tonight!

Saturday, 17 September 2011


Checked out of our hotel this morning en route for Dublin via Kylemoor Abbey, where we returned for another look - hoping the weather would be better today.  As it turned out the weather was the same, but Kylemoor is such a beautiful spot that it looks equally charismatic when swathed in autumn mists.  There are some quirky sculptures to discover as you wander through the grounds and of course I was particularly taken by these playful sheep!

Then on to Dublin, a four hour car ride in the driving rain, arriving early evening at our hotel.  We needed to stretch our legs so went for a walk and stumbled on Oscar Wilde in all his louche glory, peering through the trees on the corner of Merrion Square.  A fine sculpture hewn out of natural-coloured stone, Oscar's spirit lives on, surprising passing visitors with his quizzical gaze.  

Lovely walk along the canal, especially as the sun came out, bathing the elegant Georgian architecture in sunshine. Our programme is jam-packed tomorrow, it's fifteen years since we last visited Dublin so we need to see what's new.  Would dearly love to follow my nose, do some people watching over a cup of coffee and enjoy the unique atmosphere of Ireland's capital city in a leisurely way, but duty calls and we'll be dashing around, first stop the Book of Kells.

Friday, 16 September 2011

The West

I love it in the West of anywhere - it's a homecoming for me.  Wales, California, Scotland, France, Ireland, or my native Lancashire, there's something very special about being on the shores of the ocean.  Being in Ireland takes me back to another life when I considered myself to be a serious folksinger.  Travelling around these shores brings back all the old songs I used to sing and looking at the map I can see that the place names are also the names of many of the songs - The Reason I Left Mullingar, Fare Thee Well Enniskillen, The Galway Shawl  etc etc.  At the moment they're providing the soundtrack to our trip, especially a song I first heard Davey Arthur sing - Over The Ocean, but also Andy Irvine's Thousands Are Sailing to Americae.
Our hotel hear is truly unbelievable, something lovely wherever you look, inside or out.  We managed to get a lot done again, despite the rain and mist, ranging from a hand-dyeing workshop with local plants to a demonstration of the sheep dogs doing their work up the mountain.  However inconvenient the rain might have been, it did give us the most beautiful rainbow.  Only lasing for a few seconds, I quickly grabbed my camera before it disappeared!
The gorgeous Kylemoor Abbey Gardens looked great in their autumn colour despite the weather and Clifden was very lively with the Arts Festival in full swing - traditional music spilling out of many of the bars and restaurants.
We even found some local sheep, which had been missing from our travels further south and Philip got very excited to see the piles of turf, cut ready to be taken away for the fires.

Our day was rounded off with a session of music in a local pub.  We got talking to Philomena, a lovely woman who told us her interesting story about her difficult life on a farm on the island of Inisboffin.  Despite having a very hard life, there she was, with all her relations having emigrated to the US, still enjoying the craic at 85!  My kind of woman!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Inis Mor, Aran Islands

Been a very full exciting day today - farewell to Galway and off early to drive to Rossveal for the ferry to the Aran Islands.  Weather smiled upon us and the crossing was a little bumpy but nothing we couldn't deal with.  Arriving an hour later, the ferry was met by many minibuses ready to take us tourists to all the must-see spots on the island.  Our driver and guide was Gabriel, who grew up on Inis Mor and he regaled us as he drove with fascinating insights into island life.  He quickly took us up to Kilmurvy, a tiny but very pretty settlement where we met several Aran knitters.

Dun Aonghasa, a prehistoric hill fort presides over the landscape here, perched perilously atop the sea cliffs.  Look carefully and you can see me half way up the cliff.
From the top of the fort it's definitely next stop Boston!  Very scary - there are no rails or warnings, so you have to watch every step.

Then back along the coast, visiting the seven churches, where there are some beautiful celtic crosses (inspiration for future cables), passing the seal colony on the way.  The boat below is a curragh, a tarred canvas boat used by the fishermen.

It was a fabulous day and we enjoyed a quick glass of Guinness whilst waiting for the ferry back.

En route from the ferry to Letterfrack, our next destination in the Westernmost point of Ireland, we lost our way and ended up on an island and only turned back when the only option was the ocean! Eventually found our beautiful manor house hotel an hour and a half later after driving through the most amazing lakeland scenery up the West coast.  The hotel overlooks the only fjiord in Ireland and it was just what we needed - a tranquil place to settle into as the winds where starting to howl again.  Despite the winds and driving rain which pounded the windows all night, we had no problem sleeping and woke refreshed to a typical misty moisty morning of heathery colours on the mountains and autumn tints in the trees (view from our window below).  We're now deep in the Gaeltacht - the Irish-speaking community.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Just stopping for breath back in our hotel room before we check out a restaurant and a music session tonight.  Had a good day wandering around Galway - lots of interesting people out in the sunshine. Dropped into O'Maille's, the first shop ever to sell Aran sweaters.  Had a lovely informative chat with Anne O'Maille, who agreed to do a cable workshop for us and bring along some vintage Arans to our Show & Share.  Very exciting to meet her and look around her shop.

Galway was humming with people today - locals, tourists, students and musicians on every corner.  I managed to curb my urge to buy another Claddagh ring, although I love the sentiments they express.

Spent some time people watching outside a local bar with my first Guinness of the trip, before checking out two other yarn stores and exploring the music scene which is, as you might imagine, very vibrant.  

Off to find the craic now - supper at a fabulous restaurant by the Spanish arch, which prides itself on cooking local and organic food, then along to sample some music - I'll be taking along my spoons!

Tonight's supper - I had the goat's cheese and Philip had polenta, both were superb - it's a hard life on the road!  Night night.