Sunday, 19 June 2016

Knitting with linen

There’s a common complaint amongst knitters, that knitting with linen can hurt your hands, or be uncomfortable, because the fibre is inelastic.  Knitters look for wool (or other animal fibre) blends to  balance the lightness of the linen with the bounciness of the wool, and make for a pleasant knitting experience.

I’ve done very little knitting with plant fibres in my time, but I was positively drawn to the colours and sheen of the beautiful Kalinka linen at Wild and Wooly in Clapton – the shimmering petrol blue demanded to be purchased, and ultimately knitted in a drapey and cool wrap. 

I chose the Bernstein pattern, originally a garter stitch pattern, with two separate stitch patterns worked in, and true to form, I modified it.  In my version, it has become a stockinette stitch shawl with just the 1 stitch pattern (a mesh pattern) in panels.  The designer does not speak English as a first language, and some of the shorthand and abbreviations used in the pattern are German, which was a little confusing in the beginning, so I re-wrote the instructions into more common knitting English.

The linen was lovely to work with.  It’s a substantial feeling fingering/sport weight yarn.  I enjoyed hand winding the skeins into round balls to work from – in fact, there are lots of recommendations on the internet (therefore taken with a grain of salt) that the more you work the yarn, even from the skein winding stage, the softer the linen becomes. The internet also recommends some pretty rough treatment of the finished shawl to get the linen to soften further, but I have not been that brave.  I have washed it roughly and ironed it through a pressing cloth.  There’s still a long way to go to truly soften the shawl, but it feels lovely and cool on the skin, and still gleams.

I used almost 2 full skeins of the yarn, or about 565m, and have ended up with a shawl longer than I am tall, which is my preference.  I also like that the shawl is not too deep, and it only comes down to my mid-back if I wear it with the point all the way to the back.  

Kalinka has released a wool/linen blend, which I am keen to get a hold of and try

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Ceremony of the Keys

Each night 40-50 people are let in to the Tower of London (for the grand total of £1 per booking) to watch as the Yeoman and beefeaters secure the Tower for the night, a series of steps call the Ceremony of the Keys and Geoff and I booked 10 months in advance to attend (yes, really, and that was for a Thursday night).

After a security and a bag check, Yeoman Watts (who later told me that he had only joined the ranks of Yeoman in the last few months) told us some stories about people have met their fate within the walls of the tower (generally in a gruesome manner) and then explained the ceremony.   After checking for the umpteenth time that our phones were switched off (imagine the embarrassment if your phone rang during the silence), the ceremony that has endured for the last 700 years began. 

There are 2 sets of wooden doors that are locked before the Chief Yeoman was visible to us, in a knee length red coat, tudor bonnet and carrying a lamp.  He approached a handful of armed guards, and answered the necessary questions before being allowed to pass.  He proceeded through a gate and was met by more armed guards, and after he waved his bonnet and announced that the Queen was safe, the last post was played by a sole bugle player before the Yeoman took the keys through to safety. 

It was a fantastic experience (that you are not allowed to photograph), and I would recommend booking in if you have enough notice of a trip to London!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Careless whispers

When it comes to accessories, I rarely knit the same pattern twice.  However, when it comes to garments, the opposite is true.  I love to find a basic pattern that I can tweak through stitch patterns, yarn choice and by lengthening/shortening the different elements.

One such pattern is the Whisper Cardigan, designed by Hannah Fettig and first published in Interweave Knits in Spring 2009.  If you click through, you will see that the Whisper has bell sleeves, wispy, curly tails in the front and is quite cropped (8 inches from the underarm if memory serves). None of these elements are particularly appealing, but I really liked the idea of the cardigan.  So I set about making it work for me, and then knit it twice more for good measure.  My modifications are sleeve shape, increases on the body rather than the short rows, edgings to minimise rolling, and some lengthening.

Firstly, the sleeve shape.  Instead of casting on vastly more stitches than required, I cast on almost a sock cuff and knit ribbing for more rows than I cared to, before switching to stockinette and knitting increases at set intervals to the underarm.  I knit as per pattern across the back, as I really like the little gathering detail, and as per pattern for the ribbing all around the shrug portion.

On to the body, rather than knitting short rows and ending up with considerable ‘tails’ on the front, I knit increases on the skirt – starting with every right side row for 3 inches and then tapering off to every 3rd right row, then every 4th, until the end.  The increases are immediately after the edging stitches – which is another modification that I have repeated (though with different patterning) to minimise the rolling.  I did garter rib on the first Whisper but for numbers 2 and 3 I’ve used seed stitch.  I kept the first stitch as stockinette on the right side and then had 7 seed stitches of edging.  I then used seed stitch on the bottom of the cardigan, for 10 rows.  I like the seed stitch edging as it lies flat on the sides and doesn’t pull in so the cardigan still drapes nicely.

The yarn was heavenly – a little cashmere sure makes a difference!  Lovely to knit with, and I alternated skeins through the back (flat knitting only) but didn’t need to because the dye is consistent.  The red is a great true, blue-based red, almost my perfect colour, and the little cardigan is just the thing for a London summer (or a Melbourne spring).

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Storming the castle

This past weekend Geoff and I spent a very enjoyable, and sunny bank holiday weekend in Canterbury and Whitstable.

We stayed very close to the castle ruins, and set off to explore them after we had put our bags down where we were staying.  The castle was built in about 1070 and was a prison for much of its useful life, eventually being a ruin sometime in the 17th century.  It’s quite accessible – you can wander in, climb most of the way up a tower and marvel at how small it is inside as those stone walls are incredibly thick.  

During what shaped up as a gloriously sunny afternoon, Geoff and I meandered along the ‘Great Stour’, a trickle of a stream that does not deserve either the moniker ‘great’ nor ‘river’.  We had a delicious lunch from The Goods Shed, and ate cake and drank coffee in the sunshine.  The Goods Shed was positively laden with local produce, gleaming red strawberries, luscious asparagus and heavenly smelling bread and biscuits, and we partook across the board. A pity it was not open on Monday, as we would have liked to taste more of the offerings.

We attended the Choral Evensong service at the Canterbury Cathedral, and enjoyed the choir and surroundings.  The Cathedral is undergoing significant repair, and likely will for some time, so the scaffolding impinged on the view of the Cathedral as a whole, but it was lovely to explore nonetheless.  We were on the hunt for the most recently buried person, but couldn’t come up with anyone in the last 500 years!

On Sunday we took the bus to Whitstable, about half an hour away from Canterbury and on the seaside.  It’s difficult to describe it as the beach, as it was mostly rocks in place of sand.  A very crowded boardwalk runs between the fisherman huts and the boats, and the tide was a long way out when we arrived.  We explored the little marketplace at the harbour, and enjoyed some delicious oysters, as well as a milkshake and donut (Geoff can be relied on to find them).  Finally we worked up enough of an appetite to enjoy simply delicious fish and chips at a little cafe on the beach – a piece of cod, a piece of skate, and very freshly cooked chips that were nice and crispy.  Skate is a tricky fish to eat deep fried, but we managed to enjoy it rather inelegantly!

Monday was the only let down, weather wise, but we enjoyed our overcast walk, nice coffee and delicious lunch before heading back to London.