A pause for inspiration

Welcome back. Did you have a good Spring break? (Every time I hear the words “Spring Break” I think of the Kevin Bridges‘ Chad Hogan sketch and giggle inwardly).

I didn’t exactly mean to take all of the holidays off – it was only supposed to be Easter Sunday and Monday, but then I got ill – for a whole week. It was the kind of You’ve-Survived-All-of-The-Longest-Winter-Ever-Without-Getting-Ill cold from hell, where you can barely manage to knit mixed in with a lovely dose of asthma. After a week of complete vegetation on the sofa (as well as minimal work involving posting out orders, answering emails and sorting out Royal Mail account – nearly there – only taken 6 weeks so far), it was then time for a few days’ holiday in Wales.

I have a confession to make – I’d only ever been to Wales twice before – once on a family holiday to a farmhouse near Lampeter when I was young, and once to Builth Wells for Wonderwool.

Our dog, Cookie, loved the wide expanses of deserted beaches. She could chase pebbles, dig in the sand, jump through rockpools and generally run til her heart’s content. The park at home just isn’t doing it for her now we’re back home.

I was blown away (almost literally – it was quite windy) by the scenery.

Many beach cliffs were a lesson in geology in themselves.

I really wasn’t sure that anywhere could top my love of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset and Devon, but the Pembrokeshire coast is truly stunning.

And the colours!

Some of the rockpools looked Jurassic or like something out of an early Dr Who episode (no, better than that – most of those were shot in quarries!)

I sound like I’m working for the Welsh tourist board! I’m sure most of you have discovered this beautiful area of this little island we live on and I’m late to the party, but if you haven’t been, it’s always good to get a recommendation.

And it has just served to compound my desire to live by the sea.

As for knitting, in Wales, I wanted something luxurious but simple enough that I could chat to my family – so the Lobelia by Meghan Fernandes from the latest issue of pompom magazine was perfect – just enough lace to keep it interesting. I had cast on at Unravel, but other knitting priorities meant that it languished a while in my knitting bag, and I had made a school girl error of not moving the markers after the first two repeats, couldn’t quite work out where I was, so ripped it back to the ribbing, and got to knit the lovely lacy bit which frames the sleeves again.

I’m using Skein Queen Lustrous BFL Heavy Lace and have knitted to the sleeve division. I’m planning to lengthen the body, to make it a bit more, ahem, boob-friendly.

My not-so-well knitting ended up going a bit creatively awry! It started out as an Aranami shawl by olgajazzy in a selection of Koigu yarns I’d been collecting over the years. I then realised I’d probably never wear a shawl in such a randomly weird variety of colours. I had a commercially bought owl cushion from Camden Market, so with a bit of tweaking, a few upside down shapes and some extra short rows, it is slowly becoming a cushion cover.

I’m thinking I’ll take the original buttons off, knit or crochet some concentric circles, and sew them back on for the pupils.

It’s not easy manipulating these semi-circle shapes that want to lie in a crescent shape. I’m not 100% sure what I’ll do when I get to the top, I’ll probably “wing” it – ho, ho. So that was my crazy illness knitting. Almost embarrassed to show you.

The fact that it’s an owl reminds me of Tracie from The Yarn Cafe. She’s really not keen on owls. When we were on our knitting retreat to Southwold, she told us of her dislike of owls plastered on so many products in the shops. I don’t know, I still like an owl. AnyOldHoo, I reckon foxes will be taking over next… if they haven’t already done so.

Anyway, what I’m getting to is that Tracie came up with the idea of these neat little knitting counters. So, when you’re casting on, or dividing for sleeves, or anything else involving counting your stitches, you place one of these markers for 10, 20 or 50 stitches to save you counting and recounting.

I just liked the idea. They are made by Atomic Knitting and you can find them in Tracie’s shop here.

So, enough with the blether, I hear you say. When will you have any yarn? The answer is Friday – shop update at 8pm BST. I’m busily working to get it all dry, skeined up and photographed, ready for release into the big, wide world at the end of the week. Also hoping to get new stock of yak and NEW 60cm Addi needles into the shop by then.

And just a quick final word on forthcoming shows – I’m signed up for both Fibre East and Yarndale. Hope to see you there.

Here’s to feeling refreshed after taking time out – and thank you for your patience.

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Made it to Easter

Have I made it to Easter? Just about in one piece. Utterly exhausted with bags under my eyes the size of suitcases!

The good news is that March clubs were posted out today. There’s a bank holiday on Monday, but they should be landing on doorsteps next week and I cannot wait until you see it – loved the book, and loved dyeing the yarn for it – there were so many options to choose from too. Wish I could give you a sneak preview now, but that would spoil the surprise, now wouldn’t it.

It’s been the busiest few weeks I can remember – two shows back-to-back with a knitting retreat in between, with work piling up in the meantime, followed by a couple of small shop updates, with very little yarn in the shop. Royal Mail pricing changes coming into effect on Tuesday has meant a whole month on researching the best option to give you, the customer, the best deal on postage. What this means is that I’ll be switching from SmartStamp to a business account and have a meeting with a Royal Mail manager on the 15th to get everything up and running. The upshot is that I’ll be keeping prices in the shop the same as they currently are with no rise.

Added to the work pressure is that the electrics in the workshop trip out on a regular basis – meaning that some days, my dyeing capacity has been reduced by three-quarters. I called the electrician who installed the circuit back to check who offered some advice on protecting the plug sockets to ensure moisture wasn’t getting in, but I think it’s time for some major changes, so have another electrician coming next week to get his opinion and talk about possibly upping the strength of the extractor.

But to make things a bit easier, and to avoid winding yarn into the wee small hours any more (yes, it’s all been done by hand, by me up til now – goodbye biceps!), two large-scale electric skein winders arrived from the States this week. The adapter plugs have just arrived, so we should be able to get them up and running this weekend. I think there will still be a fair amount of hand-winding due to some of my dyeing methods, but at least the straight-forward skeins will be more straight-forward.

I’ve also been working with some very talented people of late – not all knitting-related – but I’m going to take a chunk out of my schedule very soon to complete a couple of projects with them.

And we’re currently looking at a complete change to the website.

Much on the go.

I’ve been so exhausted these last few weeks that I’ve just collapsed into bed without much knitting time. But I did manage to finish some spinning I started in Southwold.

 

This is from the Hedgehog Fibres club – have lost the label so can’t remember what it was – possibly merino/nylon? But just love the colours.

And, although I have been doing a bit of designing again for the first time in over a year, I fancied something really colourful and pretty easy for Easter – I have a considerable Koigu addiction, so thought an Aranami shawl by Olga Buraya-Kefelian would be perfect. You may have seen alabamawhirly’s version at recent shows.

One final little achievement I accomplished with my friend this quarter is that we managed to run a total of 100 miles since January 1st. We’re aiming for 500 miles in total – running from Thatcham to Aberdeen – and are tracking our progress on the walkjogrun app. We’re just doing it to make things a little more interesting and to give ourselves a goal, and also maybe because I had The Proclaimers song If I Could Walk 500 Miles swimming about in my head for most of January!

I’m going to sign off now for Easter – have a relaxing holiday, eat plenty of chocolate and squeeze in some knitting time if you can.

SQ x

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Shop preview for 21st March

Dear Squeenies,

You know when you have one of those days? They don’t happen all that often, but for me, today is one of them.

I spent most of yesterday and this morning editing all of the photos for the preview.

Then went to upload them onto here from my Mac, and the Select Files button had completely disappeared. All of the photos are on my Mac, so I was looking for options to transfer them over to my laptop, or put them on Flickr, when the batteries ran out on the wireless keyboard. Went to replace them, and hey ho, wouldn’t you know, one of the batteries is stuck and doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the snug battery holder. Took me about an hour of fiddling around to sort it out. But Select Files button on the blog is still missing – I think I know why, but it’ll take some time to play around with.

The upshot is, I’ve lost much time.

So, for this week, I’ve uploaded the preview photos onto Flickr and you can view it here at THE PREVIEW – if you hover your mouse over each photo, you should see a description of the yarn type, colourway and in brackets, the no. of skeins available.

We’re in the process of looking at new technology options at the moment too to simplify the website, blog and shop.

That leaves me this afternoon to ensure all of the yarn is loaded into the shop… it’s going to be tight. Fingers crossed for 8pm tonight. Well, it all adds to the excitement! (And my stress levels!)

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Edinburgh Yarn Festival – and then back down to Earth

You know how much I was looking forward to this event? Well, it surpassed expectations and more.

My sister, Denise, was helping me out and we arrived at the Old Drill Hall at 6.45am, had a bit of a scout about for an open shop to grab a bit of breakfast, but in fact, didn’t get to eat anything until 3.30pm! That’s how busy it was. My poor sister was hurtled into the world of yarn at the deep end, and she coped admirably, even answering questions about olgajazzy’s Aranami shawl design by the end of the day.

We had a good spot in the wee room (which had electricity), along with Susan Crawford, Textile Garden, Ysolda, Woolly Brew, Alpaca Loft and my memory fails me for the others, but all rather gorgeous. As the day wore on, we realised that having the gridwall and little yarn tree positioned where they were perhaps wasn’t one of our better plans, due to sheer amount of people traffic, though there were some college students filming the stand from behind the tree for quite some time.

If you popped by, you may have seen my dad sitting at the stand, and latterly, my nephew and niece, so it was a real family affair.

(Though there was an underlying crisis going on – suffice to say, all was resolved in the end.)

As you may have seen on Twitter, I was CONVINCED I had brought too much yarn this time – thought there’d be loads left over for the shop update on Thursday, but the Edinburgh crowd were so good to us that I only came back with one bag of yarn again *she says a bit sheepishly, but I promise to do a really good and proper dye for the next update*

Highlights included chatting with Ysolda, Emma Lamb, Emily from Tin Can Knits who was wearing her Lush cardigan, designed in Voluptuous (more on that in a later post), the lady from Eribe Knitwear, Karie Bookish, catching up with my old school friend who I hadn’t seen in over 25 years, meeting a lovely customer who’d worked with my aunt, seeing what people had made with previous SQ purchases (my very favourite thing) and just generally getting to meet loads of wonderful people, all with the same passion. Though it was so busy, I didn’t get to talk to Dani Sunshine from Lioness Arts or Lilith from Old Maiden Aunt. We’ll catch up another time hopefully.

The calm before the storm. Big shout out should go to Mica, Jo and Linda for fantastic organisation. They’d done an incredible amount of promotion via social media in the run-up to the event, and I think that showed – the queue at 10am alone went to prove what a great job they’d done. It was also publicised on BBC Radio Scotland and mentioned on the Simon Mayo show on Radio 2 – a knitter said that’s what she was planning to go at the weekend, but wouldn’t divulge her budget in case her husband was listening!

And the melee around 3.30pm when things were starting to calm down.

So the upshot was, that no yarn purchasing took place. I did put a couple of SQ skeins to one side for something I had in mind, but they got snapped up too, which was fine as it was only a half-hearted idea I’d just thought of.

So the lack-of-yarn purchasing situation had to be remedied!

During the day, we’d met Kathy of Kathy’s Knits in Broughton Street, a yarn shop which opened in August of last year and specialises in smaller producers of British yarns.

She happened to mention that she was open on the Sunday, especially for the festival. So, we headed to Broughton Street and caught her just before closing time. I managed to pick up these tweedy balls of JC Rennie, not sure what for yet – I have a few ideas in mind.

And Kathy told us about a newish vintage tea shop which had opened around the corner called Casa Angelina.

Angelina was an old Italian grandmother who welcomed all and sundry into her kitchen and was always baking tasty treats and knitting the next thing for the next grandchild.

The coconut and lemon cake was divine and the surroundings included a modern take on an old aunt’s sideboard and lace curtains and there was even a dressing up box, should you be so inclined.

After refreshments, we stumbled upon Curioser and Curioser, a gift shop, just as it was closing, and spurred on by my dad buying a painting of North Berwick, I decided to go for a print of Sound of Jura II by Arie Vardi. Hopefully it was worth them staying open an extra few minutes.

Love the colours and most of the artwork in my house depicts seascapes, so very hard to resist.

I’m back down south now and the reality of the work that awaits me after a couple of weeks of galavanting around the country has really hit home today.

Priority is to get the stock counted back into the shop and get that open tomorrow. Then sort out new Royal Mail account, answer emails, photograph yarn for shop update (then blog about it and send out link to mailing list), get yarn wound for a couple of orders, get reserved yarn out, order new motorized skein winders, order new stock, sort out wholesale orders, fill in show application forms and most importantly, dye up March club yarn.

I’d better make a start…

…and think of the memories of a wonderful weekend in my home city.

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Goodbye Southwold, Hello Edinburgh

Our little Southwold knitting retreat last weekend was a fantastic opportunity to chill, knit, spin, walk along the pier, drink and eat in a gorgeous, enormous 5-star house right by the sea in fantastic company. Despite an unnerving amount of snow, we managed to stay warm and have lots of laughs and indulge in more than one cocktail.

This was our daytime workspace and in the evenings, we’d retreat into the warmth of the sitting room.

 

I managed to finish my Flukra shawl – pattern by Gudrun Johnson, yarn is Lotus Yarns laceweight (fingering) yak – and it’s blocked up beautifully.

I’m now furiously getting ready for Edinburgh Yarn Festival which is this Saturday at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall on Dalmeny Street from 10am-5pm and my sister, Denise, has offered to help all day. We look a little alike, so could get confusing on the day!

I’ve had a couple of requests for some previews, so here’s a small sample of what I’ll be bringing.

Don’t forget it’s VAT-free and often I knock £1 off some of the hand-dyed yarns for shows, rounding the price down, so keep an eye out for that.

Tweedore

Oasis Grande

Flockly

Entwine

More Entwine

A whole bunch of Entwine

A new sock yarn – Blissful Duro – BFL/nylon

Add to that Delectable, Indulgence, Enchant and Voluptuous to name but a few – and a brand new stock of Fripperies and bibelots stitch markers and NovaSteel shawl pins – and hopefully a whole stand of yak and I think we’ll be able to put together a tempting stand, so don’t forget to swing by.

So, so looking forward to this event.

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The Ready, Steady, Go collection

The Ready, Steady, Go collection is the brainchild of VeufTricot aka Jim, the husband of tech-editor and knitter extraordinaire, Jen Arnall-Culliford. Jim is running the London marathon and has set himself a hefty fund-raising target for Refuge, the charity that helps women and children facing domestic violence.

So to support his quest to raise as many funds as possible, he’s put together an ebook of three patterns. The first pattern was for a pair of red mitts featuring Fyberspates yarn, the second pattern is for an amber hat featuring Skein Queen yarn and the third, yet-to-be-released pattern is for a green scarf using Babylonglegs yarn.

Jim says “As with the Ready Mitts, the Steady Hat was designed with a particular function in mind. One of the problems I have with winter running is getting cold ears when I start off.”

“I decided that a folded brim would keep my ears warm, without having a really thick hat that would cause me to overheat. The outer layer of the brim is in the same stitch pattern as the Ready Mitts, so that there’s continuity within the collection.  It’s fairly straightforward to knit, with enough variety to keep you interested. The Skein Queen yarn is a great colour so I will stand out in a crowd!”

To support Jim’s pattern, I have a limited amount of the Steady Saffron for Refuge colourway in Desire which will go into the shop at 8pm GMT tonight. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. A good reason to grab yourself a skein is that ALL of the money you pay for it will go to the Refuge charity (with the exception of the PayPal fee and postage). The reason I can do this is thanks to Andy of Bluefaced.com who donated the undyed yarn.

This colour is just a shade more amber than the Blackbird’s Beak colourway I used for my Coraline.

The Ready, Steady, Go ebook is available for purchase here on Ravelry.

And the skeins of Desire will be the usual price of £12.95 per skein.

For tips on how to work a Folded Brim – visit Jim’s blog here.

And while you’re there, you can read about why he chose the Refuge charity.

Please help if you can.

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Unravelled

This was our fifth year of doing Unravel, and I can honestly say, it just gets better and better every year – and it was pretty darn stunning to start with. Actually, we were wondering if it was the same Unravel which took place at Southhill Park in Bracknell back in… ooo, maybe 2006? I blogged about it in one of my very early posts back here. **cringe**

Here’s the SQ stand all set up and ready for customers. If you squint carefully, you might catch a glimpse of the elusive alabamawhirly, getting a bit of knitting in before the show starts.

I honestly could not do this show without her, and she really deserves the biggest thanks for three days of hard work (but also a lot of laughs and fun).

She also kindly allowed me to borrow her two wooden trees which made an excellent display for mini squeens. Though by the end of Day 1, we’d sold out and you may not have seen them on Day 2.

To start with, there was much yarn. In many hues.

And a whole stand of yak.

By the end of the show, we had just one measly bag of hand-dyed yarn left to bring back for the shop update tomorrow. But do swing by the blog tomorrow to discover another reason to visit the shop update at 8pm GMT.

So I’m afraid all we’ve got are a few skeins of Wisp, Delectable, Opulent, Blush, Enchant, Tweedore, Voluptuous Skinny, Voluptuous and Grandiose, which sounds pretty impressive, but there may just be one or two skeins in each category.

You have my lovely, lovely customers who came by the stand and snapped up all the goodies to blame for that ;-) Thank you to each and every one. It really does feel more like a social occasion at Unravel every year and so great to see so many familiar faces, and some who I may have met once and need reminding, and some completely new. Not only that, but it’s a chance to catch up with other dyers and it was fantastic being opposite Asti of Juno Fibre Arts and seeing Queenie Amanda and Jeni Fyberspates and Ce of the Uncommon Thread and Dani Sunshine of Lioness Arts dropped by and Emily from Viola. Afterwards, we were wondering on Twitter what a collective noun for a group of dyers would be and concluded that An Exhaustion of Dyers pretty much fitted the bill.

Here’s yours truly sporting the Puffin sweater knitted in yak. This is especially for Evee, who asked why I wasn’t wearing it on Day 1.

And if you happen to be curious about what I’m casting on, it’s the Lobelia from pompom magazine. And great to see the pompom girls, Meghan and Lydia, so successful at their first show.

And if you happen to be curious about the yarn I’m using, it’s the brand new Lustrous BFL Heavy Lace – a heavenly Bluefaced Leicester/silk.

Yesterday was spent getting stock back into the shop – very low on fripperies and bibelots stitch markers; new order on its way in a few weeks. And one or more new designs of NovaSteel shawl pins underway too.

So, better get dyeing for Edinburgh Yarn Festival in a week or two – eep! Before that, have a little knitting retreat to Southwold to look forward to.

 

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Unravel preview (or making lists in my head)

Entwist in Spring-like colours

The last few days of preparing for a show are beyond hectic. I worked out I’ve spent at least 45 hours since Monday winding up yarn by hand. Today is all about labelling every skein, pricing every skein, putting kits together from scratch and more mini squeen winding. Tomorrow is about digging out all my show equipment, going to the bank to get a cash float, getting signs sorted, checking the laptop, ensuring we have samples and hangers, making sure I have the bags, postcards and business cards, packing the van (thanks to alabamawhirly) and setting up. We should be back home by 9pm or 10pm. And then drive back to Farnham in the morning all ready to welcome you at the Maltings on Saturday morning.

With all that said, I thought I’d take some time out to give you a sneak preview of a very small amount of what will be available.

New colourways in Tweedore

A whole array of Oasis Grande

 

 

Delectable – lots of blues – I was going through a blue phase last week.

And a brand new heavy laceweight yarn.

I regret to say that I’m unable to reserve any of the above, but very much looking forward to seeing you for a fantastic, knitterly, friendly, cosy weekend.

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Sea Urchin shawl by Kyoko Nakayoshi

This stunning Sea Urchin shawl appeared in issue 82 of Knit Today magazine. It’s by Kyoko Nakayoshi – who works under the name of Cotton and Cloud. She regularly designs for magazines, so you’ve probably come across her work before, and releases her own collections twice a year. Kyoko also has a beautiful website – check out her look book – and her blog has some amazing insights into the design process – ever wanted to know how to place pattern over short rows?

The Sea Urchin shawl looks decidedly classy and easy to wear and would make an excellent addition to any Spring wardrobe. It’s made with 3 skeins of Skein Queen Elixir – alpaca, silk and merino – and to support Kyoko’s design, I’ll be adding several new colourways to the shop at 5pm GMT today.

Knit Today issue 82 is the February issue and is still available in the shops or by subscription.

The colourways available will be Plumberry, Pink Oyster, Rose Petals, Rambling Rose, Latte and Snow White’s Lips.

A huge thanks to Kyoko for creating such a beautiful design and for choosing Elixir to work with.

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January club yarn – The Night Circus

 

“The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen… Black-and-white stripes on grey sky.”

Welcome to Erin Morgenstern’s nocturnal world of the The Night Circus – a black and white extravaganza, so filled with entrancing magic and belief-defying tricks, that the visitor is usually left mystified and unsure of whether he just dreamt the whole experience.

Morgenstern weaves a caramel-infused realm centred on a white-flamed bonfire, which appears to be the very life-force of the circus. The significance of the bonfire is revealed in good time, but not before we meet a rich melee of characters including magicians, contortionists, Tarot readers, half-ghosts, orange-haired twins, costume designers and assistants.

A life-and-death magician’s challenge exists at the centre of the plot between Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair, although they are unsure as to whom their opponent is at first. Both have been trained and taught in very different ways – Celia by her father, Prospero the Enchanter, who now exists as a mere ghostly shadow after a trick he was working on went too far. And Marco by The Man in the Grey Suit.

The question is, why is an ambitious young man destined for life on a farm drawn into the Night Circus?

Colourway inspiration

I cannot express to you how much I mulled over what colours to use to represent this book. My heart sank twice. First at the opening sentence quoted above, and secondly when Mme. Padva says “We have a color scheme to work with, dear, or lack thereof, rather.”

I pondered whether to dye up the rich, sumptuous colours of Chandresh’s apartments, or whether to go for the emerald green of Celia’s dress and Marco’s “enhanced” eyes. Should I attempt the colours of the Ice Garden or recreate the colour of the scarf being knitted by a rêveur for Bailey in crimson yarn, but red had been the colour used for the December yarn and I don’t like to repeat a similar colour so soon.

There was no way out of it. If you thought of The Night Circus, you thought of black, white, grey and red.

Le Cirque des Rêves

For the variegated option, I based it on the black and white stripes of the circus tent plus the tradition of rêveurs attending the circus wearing black, white or grey with “a single shock of red” which might be a hat, scarf, handkerchief or red rose. When randomly dyeing yarn, I usually deliberately avoid painting yarn across the skein to avoid blocks of colour, but this time, I experimented with big, bold black stripes. And drizzled pale grey between them with a sprinkling of scarlet, leaving plenty of white.

The Man in the Grey Suit

For the semi-solid version, I dyed up a pale silvery grey. You don’t have to look too carefully to see how much grey there is in this novel.

Randomly dyed colourways work so well on the high twist yarn bases, so I ditched my original yarn plan and opted for Exquisite Twist, which has that little touch of cashmere magic on a practical merino/nylon base.

A swatch of stocking stitch in Le Cirque des Rêves

And here again with working a slipped stitch pattern.

I’m often asked how best to use such a variegated yarn. You could work a slipped stitch pattern, which breaks up the colour to some degree, but my preference is to use it along with a semi-solid colourway. Either using each yarn in colour blocks, or even holding two yarns together. Or you could just go with the flow, and enjoy the colours appearing one after the other.

Inspiration for March: The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler

The club is taking a break during February as I prepare for two shows.

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