July club – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby, the classic American novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, relates the story of how the nouveau-riche, young war veteran, Jay Gatsby, throws extravagant parties during the summer of 1922 in the hope that someday, the love of his life, Daisy Buchanan will attend and he’ll be able to sweep her off her feet with his impressive wealth and gaudy mansion in West Egg, Long Island.

One little detail which seems irrelevant to Gatsby – Daisy is already married.

Gatsby’s reputation precedes him – did he go to Oxford? Where did his fortune come from? Did he really kill a man? And Gatsby, who tends to hide behind a slightly absurd formality of speech, likes to keep his background mysterious – for good reason.

Nick Carraway, the narrator, is Gatsby’s neighbour and Daisy’s cousin, and although attracted to the fast, lavish lifestyle on the East Coast at first, he gradually becomes disillusioned with the empty, hedonistic pursuit of materialism, drunkenness, deceit and immorality. He is the protagonist who gradually reveals the true nature of the Gatsby’s character, unveiling the man behind the reputation. And ultimately becomes disenchanted with the demise of the American Dream – from the pursuit of something great and noble, to the empty pursuit of wealth, for wealth’s sake.

Colourway inspiration

Gatsby’s glittering lifestyle calls to mind gold and champagne – with the riches of chiffon, marble, chauffeurs, cocktails and finger-bowls of champagne. So for the semi-solid colour, that’s exactly what I dyed up – a champagne gold.

Champagne Gold

For the variegated option, I took the champagne gold, and added a paler champagne, a strawberry pink and a rose pink. Gatsby favoured wearing pink suits and Daisy tells Nick that he reminds her of “a rose – an absolute rose”. The French windows on Daisy and Tom’s mansion are described as reflecting gold and the interior as rosy-coloured.

Strawberries and Champagne

As for the yarn type, Enchant seemed to embody the degree of luxury required – a heady blend of baby alpaca, silk and cashmere – and Gatsby tells Nick that he “seemed to bear an enchanted life”.

I’m running a little behind on blogging the club yarn photos – partly because several club members have been on holiday and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.

Also, I’ve taken a break for September due to show commitments so will be signing up the autumn clubs in the next week or two – just to say there is a rather long waiting list, but if you do want to join, I’ll add you to it and if you don’t get in this time round, I’ll try to get you in the winter round.

Many, many thanks to those who were part of the summer club (still August photos to show) and I hope you’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Inspirational Greece

Greece is known for its beautiful blue Mediterranean waters.

And stunning ancient monuments.

This is the Acropolis at Lindos dedicated to Athena.

And the view of St Paul’s Bay from the acropolis.

Immaculate beaches with crystal clear waters.

And the sparkling sea is so good for the soul.

Rhodes Old Town itself is a World Heritage Site, occupied by the Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem in medieval times.

Pebble patterning on the pavements and roads.

The stag is a recurring theme as modern bronze statues top the pillars at the entrance to the harbour where the Colossus of Rhodes is fabled to have stood.

Down every unnamed street in the Old Town and around every corner, there was a surprise to behold.

But an even bigger surprise was that there was a small Museum of Folklore in the resort, on the floor above reception.

It seemed incongruous with the holidaymakers in bikinis flip-flopping down to the beach, but contained some interesting needlework pieces and costumes.

Differing traditional wear from different Greek islands.

The Rhodian male costume had some amazing boot toppers or socks knitted in striped rainbow colours.

The black and navy lacework in this collar was exquisite.

 

There’s a distinct lack of information on the Internet about Greek needlework – if anyone has any information, I’d be interested to read about it – which does make me wonder slightly if the traditional skills are passed from one generation to the next, and makes me hope that they’re not dying out. But more likely, there are papers and books somewhere in existence, mostly probably in Greek, maybe in a university library somewhere in Athens.

And is this lacework, cutwork or crochet on these bed curtains?

I particularly liked this adorable crocheted shelf decoration which would make a welcome addition in any vintage-style home.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite capture the beauty of this piece of whitework embroidery on black silk.

It was like finding a treasure chest of old objects – an absolute gem, and from the comments in the visitors’ book, not overly visited or fully appreciated by those who’d discovered it.

I’d been reading The Thread by Victoria Hislop, which discusses the incredible standard of couture and tailoring skills of the seamstresses of pre-World  War II Thessaloniki and contains fantastic descriptions of the opulent fabrics and threads available, so it all tied together so beautifully to see some examples of the work described.

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The Random Socks of Many Colours Just For Fun

Hours before we were about to leave, I did that thing of panicking about which knitting project to bring. I needed a new project, but it had to be fun and use a lightweight yarn as we were heading off to 40 degree heat. I ended up bringing almost my entire stash of Koigu and some ends from Skein Queen mini squeens, and every morning on the balcony before it got too hot, knitted a few rounds of some plain vanilla socks – my first two-at-a-time using one needle socks.

I just changed yarn when I felt like it. And I used more of the colours I like. It was sort of mindless, though I did make an attempt to tie in a colour from the previous colour. The entire time I had “They were red and yellow and green and brown and scarlet and black and ochre and peach…” running round in my head.

I took them down to the pool early one morning. There were a handful of men shotgunning (bagsying) the sunbeds, and me knitting away with a book propped up on my knees. The maid kept hovering and wanted to say something to me – though she had very little English, and I had very little Greek – it turns out she was very impressed that I could knit and read at the same time. I didn’t tell her that was the first time I’d ever tried knitting and reading at the same time, but I did think that knitting is a sort of universal language and does bring people together. If I hadn’t been knitting, we wouldn’t have talked.

They do look like a pair of odd socks, but I like that.

They look cute with a pair of Converse, but I think I’ll mostly be wearing them in the workshop in the cold winter months.

Although we’re back from Greece, and I’m dyeing up club yarn, custom orders and magazine work today, I still have another week off and I know I have a bajillion emails to catch up with. If you’ve emailed me, thanks for doing so, and I will get back to you over the next few days.

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Last orders at the Skein Queen bar for Summer

 

As temperatures soar here, tonight sees the last Skein Queen shop update for the summer.

Doors to the online shop open at 8pm BST tonight and last parcels will be sent out on Saturday morning by noon before the shop closes for an extended summer break.

Apart from an array of Cute Little Mini Squeens in Squash and Blush, you’ll also find:

Entwine in neon brights

Oasis Lace in antique metallics

A range of pastel skeins of Voluptuous

Also making an appearance will be Opulent, Tinkled Mink (only one skein), Tweedore, Lustrous BFL Heavy Lace, Oasis Grande and Voluptuous Skinny.

I intend to spend my summer doing stuff with the children before they get too old, going somewhere hot, reading, knitting, sewing, walking the dog, having a wee operation, generally getting re-inspired and mulling over which direction Skein Queen will take next – I have a few ideas brewing.

If I don’t see you tonight, have a splendid, inspiring summer and see you in September. If you’re in the club, don’t forget the inspiration for this month is Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke.

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The Fibre East experience

What a marvellous weekend we had.

It was hot, hot, hot but not wet, wet, wet like last year, so that was a bonus.

There were Cute Little Mini Squeens on the yarn tree.

Piles of Oasis Grande and neon coloured sock yarns

A wide selection of laceweights including 100% mink

A whole suitcase of Voluptuous – and if you look carefully in the background, you might see my new Southwold in the Snow shawl design due for release in September.

A beauty shot of the Oasis Grande

Tickled Mink colourways

Oasis Lace

And Glister silk

Lastly a huge thanks to everyone who came by to say hello and squidge the yarn, to the organisers, and most of all, to my partner-in-yarn – alabamawhirly.

I think one of my favourite moments was when the tiara girls tweeted us to say that they were driving round the field looking for our camper van and that they were in the tent with fairy lights and we tweeted back to say we couldn’t quite see them from where we were in our comfy B&B sipping prosecco. Maybe next year, we’ll camp again… or maybe not!

The shop is now restocked and open. There’s not a whole lot of hand-dyed left, but hoping to get the remaining skeins into the shop for Thursday’s update. Today is all about getting July’s club yarn out.

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June club – Wool

Wool by Hugh Howey isn’t so much about wool in the sense that we all love, but more about a post-apocalyptic world unwinding and unravelling. As far as the residents of the giant silo are concerned, they are the last living humans on Earth, and they must be born, live and die in an underground silo which they cannot leave, as the outside atmosphere is fatally toxic. I suspect W.O.O.L. is an acronym with hidden meaning in subsequent novels.

This Silo-world is highly organised, like an intricate piece of knitting, with mutually dependent levels running off the central stairwell, devoted to different functions ranging from a cafeteria with view of the desolate world at the top, through IT, Supplies, the Nursery, the Bazaar, the Garment District, and Infirmary, Hydroponic Gardens, Dirt Farms and in the Down Deep – Mechanical and the mines.

Punishment for the slightest misdemeanour, or indeed for just questioning the way things are run, results in the culprit being sent to “cleaning” – a form of capital punishment whereby they are evicted to the outside, where they must clean the lens which offers the only view of the rolling hills to the desolate city beyond with wool pads, and then suffer death once the limited protection the clumsy suit affords finally fails.

Howey’s novel has been widely compared to The Hunger Games and 1984, and although there are similarities in terms of dystopian worlds being portrayed, Howey’s imagination and characterisation make his work distinctive in its own right.

As an aside, I read that his mother owns a yarn store, hence the knitting titles of the novelettes when he first electronically published them. And there’s a marvellous description of Mayor Jahns knitting – “With practiced care, she looped the end of the yarn around the point of one needle and crafted a triangle-shaped web with her fingers… this was her favorite part, casting on. She liked beginnings. The first row. Out of nothing comes something.”

It’s incredibly difficult to describe anything more about the plot without giving away major twists and turns in the novel – suffice to say, don’t get too close to any of the characters! And even if you don’t consider yourself a traditional sci-fi fan, don’t let that put you off a good read.

Colourway inspiration

Choosing colourways was a challenge. Colours in the book tend to be either blue and green of the enhanced landscape, metallic descriptions of the silo’s innards or the primary colours of the colour-coded coveralls for each department.


For the variegated version, I didn’t want anything as harsh as separate primary colours, so I took the colours of the coveralls – blue for mechanical, red and silver for IT, yellow for supply and green for the horticulturalists – and left the wool quite wet, squidging all the colours to blend together. Because of the high percentage of blue, yellow and green, the overall result is toning shades of greens, with occasional hints of purple, with every skein a little different. A perfect contrast for the semi-solid.

Don’t Go Outside

For the semi-solid colourway, I opted for green to represent the emergency lights which are Juliette’s lifeline in Silo 17. There is a green glow described throughout, helping her navigate her way, even during her treacherous dive to attempt to get the pumps working to alleviate the flood conditions.

Emergency Lights

For the yarn type – well, it had to be wool! A little incongruous for summer, I know, but as I type, the rain is coming down in true British summer style. I thought you might appreciate some Voluptuous – it is DK, but you get a whooping 560 yards per skein – very long like the book – so you should be able to knit something fairly substantial with that. And it’s a true wool – Exmoor Blue – from sheep raised in Devon mixed with organic merino.

Inspiration for July: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


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A wee dye project I’ve been working on – from sheep to woven fabric

A London textile designer approached me last year about a project they were working on with a Danish textile company to produce a woven  cover for a European artist’s book.

They needed very small shots of colour worked onto a grey wool and concluded that hand-dyeing would achieve the best effect.

The brief was to emulate smit marks – the daubs of colour on sheep that farmers use as one means of identification.

Here were my initial attempts on my own yarn base which I took up to London for a meeting in September.

The intensity of colour and fact that shortish colour runs were possible were favourable.

Fast forward a few months, yarn was chosen – a laceweight grey wool – and several mini skeins arrived to begin experimenting with. Colour selection was key as they had sent some airsprayed paint samples to try to match and I was working with the dye in its rawest form – no colour mixing involved.

It was a learning process. The first few I tried looked perfect as the dye went on, but after they’d been steamed, the colour had spread out far too much – it didn’t react at all as it would on my usual yarn bases – and the fact that the skeins were so small compounded the problem.

So I learnt to squeeze the water out of the wool as much as possible to restrict the movement of the dye – this is something I do regularly when dyeing – I’d just never encountered a yarn quite like this one to work with.

I sent off the samples, and they gave the designers a good idea of which colours they wanted and in what proportions.

A few weeks later, 60kgs of grey wool arrived from the mill.

I started soaking the first batch on the day one of the designers came to visit the studio to get a handle on the process, see exactly what was involved and finalise colours, proportions and quantities of each colour. She, of course, had to try to visualise the width of the final woven fabric and work out the order of how the colours would be introduced once they’d been wound back from hanks onto cones.

It immediately became obvious why the yarn wasn’t reacting in the same way as many of my processed yarns – lanolin!! And lots of it. Because lanolin affects absorption of the dye into the wool, I had to make sure I rinsed and rinsed and rinsed the wool to get as much of it out of the wool as possible before adding the dye.

We spent the day experimenting with different techniques to try to get the strip of colour as thin as possible. Some of the skeins would have two colours: red and yellow, and blue and orange.

Once the dye was applied, the 250g skeins were wrapped in clingfilm, ready to be steamed.

They had to be regularly turned (with my asbestos fingers!) to ensure the heat reached the centre of the large skein.

They had to cool to room temperature and were then rinsed thoroughly and hung up to dry.

There was wool EVERYWHERE – from the Shieling dryer, to the whirlygig and then when it started raining, all over the bannisters and doors in the house. And this stuff took a LONG time to dry.

Despite wind and some sunshine, most skeins took a whole week to dry through properly.

It took five solid days of hard, physical work for the dyeing alone.

As it dried, I sorted them into tens and the wool mountain gradually took over the dining room.

Then all the colours were labelled.

And then boxed up, ready for the courier to bring them back to the mill ready for the next process.

It was one of the hardest, most physical weeks of my life, which came just after the post-viral fatigue I had, but I honestly cannot wait to see the final product and feel honoured to have worked with such an esteemed team of textile designers. What a fantastic opportunity and experience.

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Shop update preview for 9th July

Oasis Grande collection

From rich and silky to light and summery, tomorrow evening’s shop update brings you a range of truly luxurious Skein Queen yarns, including the new 100% mink yarn, which proved extremely popular at a recent trunk show and Sumptuous 100% cashmere laceweight.

From cobweb to DK, hopefully there’ll be something to delight and inspire you for your summer projects and plans.

Having garnered Twitter opinion, I selected the three colourways on the right to start my Pop Spots shawl by Juju Vail which I cast on during a trip to Paris over the weekend, but it wasn’t easy to choose!

The yarn below will be available from the Skein Queen shop from 8pm BST tomorrow evening (Tuesday 9th July).

Plumberry – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 2 skeins

Minkstone – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 2 skeins

Silver – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 1 skein

Lichen – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 1 skein

Midnight Green – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 1 skein

Marine  – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 2 skeins

Cerulean – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 3 skeins

Fox – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 2 skeins

Tea Rose – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 3 skeins

Dragonfruit – Oasis Grande – 4 ply camel/silk – 2 skeins

Dewberry – Oasis Lace – 2 ply laceweight camel/silk – 2 skeins

Ranunculus – Sumptuous – 100% cashmere – laceweight – 2 skeins

Cape Cod – Sumptuous – 100% cashmere – laceweight – 2 skeins

Winter Sky – Sumptuous – 100% cashmere – laceweight – 2 skeins

Mother of Pearl – Sumptuous – 100% cashmere – laceweight – 4 skeins

Cosette – Oasis (cobweb) – camel/silk – 1 skein

Green Violetear – Oasis (cobweb) – camel/silk – 1 skein

Summer Peacock – Oasis (cobweb) – camel/silk – 1 skein

Barnacle – Oasis (cobweb) – camel/silk – 1 skein

Elephant Grey – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein

Winter Sky – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein

Blue Haze – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein

Moonstone – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein (with apologies, will no longer be available due to one-off magazine request)

Rose Taupe – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein

Pale Rose – Tickled Mink – 100% mink – light fingering 600m – 1 skein

Entwine collection

Shell – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Taupe Pink – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Sweet Papaya – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Coral Blue – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Celeste – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Bird’s Egg – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Waterlilies – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Grape – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Wisteria – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Sweet Nothings – Entwine – 80% merino 20% nylon high twist – 4 ply sockweight – 1 skein

Posy – Flockly – 70% BFL 20% silk 10% cashmere – 4 skeins

Delphinium – Flockly – 70% BFL 20% silk 10% cashmere – 3 skeins

Persian Green – Flockly – 70% BFL 20% silk 10% cashmere – 4 skeins

Pea Green Boat – Noble – 80% alpaca 20% silk – sportweight – 2 skeins

Lichen Wall – Voluptuous – 80% Exmoor Blue 20% organic merino – DK – 512m – 2 skeins

Florida – Voluptuous – 80% Exmoor Blue 20% organic merino – DK – 512m – 2 skeins

Flamingo Lake – Voluptuous – 80% Exmoor Blue 20% organic merino – DK – 512m – 2 skeins

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Dainty Dragonfly shawl pin

NovaSteel have done it again. And have crafted steel into something delicate and beautiful.

I sent off my dragonfly design to Rowena in France a few months ago, we collaborated on this final design, and NovaSteel’s skilled metalworker, Simon Kidger made the design a reality.

It’s a little smaller than previous designs using the magnets, so perfect for holding lacy shawls or shawlettes in place – rather than heavy winter coats or wraps.

The Very Attractive Dainty Dragonfly shawl pin design is now available from the Skein Queen shop.

Also, a new delivery of Fripperies and Bibelots stitch markers have arrived including new colourways. Find them here.

Mandarin Duck

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May club – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Dearest Reader,

I am writing to tell you a little about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, a book by Rachel Joyce. There’s so much emotion tied up in this novel, that I think I’m going to struggle to summarise it for you – and I challenge you to read this book without getting a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye and yet not belly laugh at some of the moments.

Harold Fry is an unlikely hero – he lives a suburban life in a west country seaside town, hen-pecked by his wife, Maureen, and locked in a seemingly loveless marriage in a spotless house in which he’s afraid to touch anything for fear of being rebuked. Even their son, David’s room is kept clean and dust-free as Maureen is unsure when her beloved son will come back.

Harold and Maureen are not really living, they’re just existing. “The net curtains hung between herself and the outside world, robbing it of colour and texture.”

One day, much the same as any other in his lingering retirement, Harold receives a letter which shakes him to the very core. It’s from Queenie Hennessy, a lady he used to work with in the brewery finance department, who relates the news that she is dying from cancer in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Unsure of the correct response, Harold pens a letter of response, and heads to the post box – but he fails to post the letter, and just carries on walking – at first to the next post box, then the next, and eventually, begins a pilgrimage to walk the length of the country in the yachting shoes that he left the house in, and personally deliver the letter. He hopes that by letting Queenie know that he’s on his way, that she will fight to stay alive.

Along the way, he meets many people, at first reluctantly, and his pilgrimage to Queenie makes him a media legend, leading to other lost souls and media-hungry pilgrims joining him, whether he wants them to or not.

But will his endeavours save Queenie? What does Maureen think about her wayward husband and why does Queenie mean so much to him if they weren’t lovers? When did the love between Maureen and Harold dissolve into disappointment and resentment?

So you may be wondering where the colourway inspiration came from? There were many colours to choose from in this novel, but strangely, the shade which stuck with me throughout was the colour of Queenie’s notepaper to Harold – a Turkish Delight pink. I’m not sure I’ve truly captured this in the semi-solid colourway I’ve called Turkish Delight, but I went for a vivid reddish-pink, perhaps a little more vivid than the intended delicate colour of the letter, but striking for a pair of summer socks!


And for the variegated option, there’s a lovely description of a beautiful May, in which Harold walks past gardens crammed with lupins, roses and lady’s mantle; hedgerows filled with wild clematis, dog roses and elderflower and fields of vetch and campion, amongst other flora. So I took the vivid pink, added a rose pink, a fresh green, a lilacy purple and left some white, and came up with an old skool kind of SQ colourway which I’ve called Cottage Garden.

 

For the yarn base choice, it had to be a sock yarn – some of Harold’s fans knitted him socks for his journey – so I went for Squash – 100% merino.

If you’ve decided to stay on to see what Summer Club has to offer, the next inspiration book will be Wool by Hugh Howey (Omnibus – Trilogy 1)

Yours sincerely,

SQ

x

PS If I’m not around much online over these few days, it’s because I’m dyeing a rather large order for a private client. But I’ll be back soon.


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