Wednesday 30 September 2015

32 things, #2: Go to a yarn festival

One of the things on my 32 things list was to visit a big yarn event. Finally, last weekend, that actually happened, and I made a trip to Skipton to visit Yarndale. Yarndale is a two day yarn event held in Skipton Auction Mart and is now in its third year. It's a big event, with over 180 exhibitors, a few sheep, a couple of alpacas and a selection of workshops.

A Yarndale sheep

I had been looking forward to Yarndale for some time, even when I realised it would just be me and my daughter going as all the other people who would have been interested in joining me already had plans. Durham isn't that far from Skipton (a couple of hours), so rather than driving down the night before and staying somewhere closer, I got up early on Saturday morning and had an uneventful two hour drive, enjoying the scenery as I got closer to Skipton, which is in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales, and getting more and more excited. Parking was easy - Skipton Building Society has its headquarters in Skipton, and they had allowed use of their car park for the weekend, and mini buses had been put on to ferry people over to the auction mart. Unfortunately the queue for the mini buses was quite long, so I, along with several other people, walked down to the high street to catch one of the bigger, double decker, buses from there to the auction mart. On my walk I had a lovely time chatting to other people on their way to Yarndale - everyone I met was very friendly. I ended up walking with three other people and we totally overshot the bus stop, and ended up walking all the way to the railway station, not that it mattered - we caught the same bus we would have done had we stopped at the first bus stop, but got to enjoy some sunshine!

Yarndale crocheted bunting

I finally made it to the auction mart some time after 11, by which time the entry queues had vanished and I got in really quickly. The auction mart was rammed with people and stalls, so I decided it would be easiest just to walk methodically up and down the aisles so I could see as much as possible. I had been very good before I set off and wrote a list of the things I hoped to buy, and had set a very strict budget, so decided that I would look round the whole event before I purchased anything, to make sure that everything I bought was something I really wanted. This was actually pretty hard as I saw many, many amazing things! I loved all the things being sold by Max's World - yes, I need ball of wool earrings - and the colours of yarn sold by Triskelion Yarns were pretty unbelievable in their intensity. I also loved the project bags and needle cases made by Quince Pie, which I'd previously seen on Etsy, but they were much more lovely in real life. I had a nice time chatting to Joeli of Joeli's Kitchen, and she gave us a couple of scraps of sock yarn for my daughter to play with, which was excellent as it stopped her grabbing the yarn from stall shelves!

Two balls of wool that kept my daughter entertained for much of the day

John Arbor's Colour by Numbers yarn

By lunchtime, we had seen about half of Yarndale and my daughter and I were getting pretty tired and in need of fresh air, so I popped to the Yarndale hub to buy a Yarndale bag (an essential purchase from my list, and essential by the time I bought it to keep hold of all the leaflets and business cards I'd picked up). I joined the queue for food, but after a couple of minutes realised it wasn't moving as fast as I needed it to, so went and sat at a picnic bench outside in the glorious sunshine, let my daughter have a run around and between us we ate all the emergency snacks from my bag, with the promise that we'd have something better at about 4 when things had quietened down.

After lunch we went back into the auction mart (which had become slightly less busy), and browsed the rest of the stands. I saw lots of lovely things to buy, but the only impulse purchase I made was a set of 2mm 9 inch long circulars for socks as Purlescence were down to the last set, so I thought I ought to buy them while I could - not an item on my list, but one that I am looking forward to testing out, even though I'm not sure they'll work for my hands. I loved all the colours on the EasyKnits stand, but soon realised the problem of not buying things when you saw them: certain colourways and products were selling out fast. I had wanted a flash yarn - one with a white background and a flash of colour on one end of the skein, but by the time I got to the EasyKnits stand they only had three colours left, and they weren't colours I fancied. And at fivemoons the gradient packs I'd wanted had also gone (although the stall holders were amazing at suggesting other people that might sell what I wanted; turns out everyone at Yarndale wants every to leave happy and with yarn!).

As I'd been walking round Yarndale I'd had a notebook in hand, noting down things I wanted to go back and have another look at. This was a tip from my friend Lynda, and I am so glad I did it, otherwise there are many things I would never have been able to find again! Once I'd seen everything I looked at my list and worked out what I was going to buy. I didn't stick rigidly to the list in the end, and several items got substituted, as you can see:
  • 100g of gradient + 100g of a background colour became a 250g gradient pack from Woo Sheeps (possibly the best yarn-related company name ever!)
  • My something random was a skein of a mustardy yellow sock yarn from Weaver's Loft that I fell in love with when I saw it, even though I don't generally do yellow. It will become sunshiney happy socks
  • My rainbow thing was a skein of sparkly cornflower blue rainbow yarn from Cuddlebums (that was a tough decision, I could have bought all the colourways!)
  • And in leiu of a flash yarn I bought a skein of Fyberspates Vivacious 4ply in a beautiful rich green. I am in love with this yarn. I haven't decided what it's going to become, but it is just so beautiful I had to have it
  • And some buttons. Because everyone needs buttons with boats and with polka dots

My purchases

At 4 pm we left, tired but happy. There were a couple of stalls I would loved to have gone back to, but I was out of energy and my brain could no longer navigate! I swear I shall dream about the Triskelion Yarns stall for months to come, but I never made it back to them. We chatted happily to people in the bus queue and admired their purchases, and once we were on the bus back to the centre of Skipton enjoyed admiring the yarn bombing in the bus ("The sheep on the bus go baa, baa, baa..."). I was very glad though when we found a cafe to sit and have a drink and some cake in before heading to my friend's house for the night.

Yarn bombed bus

In summary, Yarndale was lovely. I had a lovely time chatting to stall holders and people I walked into as I walked round; I was delighted to meet several people who I recognised from Instagram and Facebook, and Jodi from Cuddlebums (I could have bought her entire stall), as well as many, many other people whose names I didn't necessarily catch, but who made the day excellent. I am very happy with my purchases; I got to see my socks on the sock washing line; and I stuck to my budget. I already have next year's Yarndale in my diary and one of my friend's who couldn't make it this year will be joining me. I might even get to leave the baby at home (she'll be two by then, two year olds and yarn do not mix!).

The sock washing line

And that's another thing crossed off my 32 things list. If you'd like to see my progress so far, the list can be found here.

Excuse the poor quality pictures - I was getting too carried away with looking at yarn to get my proper camera out.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Rainbow cake

Sometimes my son comes up with excellent ideas; a few weeks ago when I collected him from school on Friday afternoon he had one request for the weekend: to bake a vanilla rainbow cake.

On the Saturday we took a trip to Sainsbury and bought all the necessary ingredients, including six colours of food colouring (Dr Oetker gel food colourings; my son was a little disappointed when I said we wouldn't be having an indigo layer - dark blue is hard to make in cake) and set about baking six brightly coloured sponge cake layers.

The following morning, I whisked up some butter icing and we make a beautiful (rather unstable) stack of rainbow cake. To stop the pile collapsing I had to push two straws through all the layers, not an elegant solution, but it did stop the cake collapsing on the floor.

This bake was really good fun, and very tasty at the end. I would definitely recommend giving it a go if you have small (or not so small) children. Use a smallish tin unless you have loads of mouths to feed (ours was 6 inches wide and we managed to finish it between six of us in a couple of days), and if you want a slightly more stable cake, make them thicker than you want them to be and trim them so they're level. I'd still recommend using some supports though, unless you like to eat your cake off the floor!

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Stash busting

These past few months I have become aware that I am buying yarn rather faster than I can knit it. Sometimes the problem is that I'm designing something, so no one has handily told me the precise amount of yarn to buy, so I have to guess and it's always better to go for too much over too little, just in case you can't get more of the same dyelot; sometimes it's those pesky market nights on Facebook, where indie dyers lay out their yarns so beautifully that I want them all; sometimes it's a sale of something I can't normally justify (like a jumper's worth of Rowan in the perfect colour at half price); sometimes it's just popping into a local yarn store and feeling obliged to buy something; and sometimes I just see something I cannot resist. And yarn clubs, there's something about a yarn club I find rather enticing. In any case, the yarn habit is getting a little out of control. A friend asked whether my yarn stash weighed more than the combined weight of my children. 35 kg. And it might. I'm not going to check. All I know is that there is yarn stashed everywhere, and there isn't really space for any more.

So over the past few weeks I've been planning. Remembering what is in all those boxes. And having lots of fun matching yarn to patterns. I have planned a purple aran weight shawl for a school-run friend (winter is fast approaching); a cowl for a friend for Christmas - it'll be made of about 250 g of beautiful green Blue Faced Leicester bought when Artesano discontinued it just before my daughter was born; I'm using up some Sirdar Snuggly to make an adorable vest and hat set for a friend's new baby; I'm going to hunt out the black, white and pink sock wool and finally cast on those LoveSocks; and I've started a long-requested wiggly worm blanket for my son, which should make a large dent in the DK acrylic stash (and is perfect autumn crafting). And once I've done all of that, I shall pop back upstairs, open a cupboard and see what else is in stock in my personal yarn store.

Stash busting project one: Sirdar Snuggly vest and hat

But I can't quite manage not to buy any yarn. I am off to my first yarn festival later this month and I cannot wait. I will be taking a carefully curated list and am aiming not to buy more than 300-400g of yarn that is for specific projects. Wish me luck, I think I'll need it. Notions don't count, do they?! And you can never have too many project bags...

Sunday 20 September 2015

All the colours: more adventures in yarn dyeing

In April I made my first attempt at dyeing my own yarn, and had a great time. When I bought the Kool Aid for that round of dyeing, I also bough several other sachets in a variety of colours with the intention of dyeing a few more skeins of yarn to make socks with.

Well a couple of weekends ago, I finally got round to it, and decided that it might be a fun thing to do with my son. As autumn is rapidly approaching, we went for dyeing some aran weight yarn (West Yorkshire Spinners Blue Faced Leicester) to make into winter accessories for the kids. As the yarn comes in balls, the first step was to wind the yarn into skeins (wow, that made my arms hurt!). I made sure to add lots of ties to make it easier to untangle the skeins once they were dyed.

Once the yarn had been soaked for a bit, I mixed six colours of Kool Aid into individual pots of water, laid the yarn on some cling film in a big glass bowl, and let my son loose with some medicine syringes. He had a great time, squirting the colours all over the yarn. The dyes weren't put on as I would have done (a boringly conventional rainbow was my plan), but I went with it as he was having so much fun. When we ran out of dye, I wrapped the yarn tightly in cling film and put it in the microwave for several two-minute-microwave, ten-minute-cooling cycles (I don't know how many, we stopped when the liquid at the bottom was clear, probably four or five cycles).

When I hung the yarn out to dry, I did think it was a little bright: my son's favourite colour is orange, which was rather dominant, and the yellow and blue had rather been absorbed by the other colours and vanished. But once it was dry, the colours had become rather more subtle.

Now the yarn is in balls, waiting to be knitted into hats. I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

Thursday 17 September 2015

New pattern: Shake it up mitts

I love hand-painted yarns, so was very excited when Knit Now wanted designs for Artesano 's hand-painted alpaca/wool blend double knitting yarn. Hand dyed yarns can sometimes be hard to work with, creating unwanted or unexpected pooling when knitted in straight stocking stitch, and cables and lace are often lost. To make the most of the yarn's colours, I designed my Shake It Up mitts. They feature a slipped stitch pattern that break up stretches of knitting, shuffling the colours in the yarn as you knit. To reduce the chances of pooling even further, I alternated skeins every couple of rows while I was knitting, a technique that can be really useful with multi-coloured yarns.

I'm really pleased with the finished mitts. They're lovely and cosy - alpaca is well known for its warmth, and the slipped stitch pattern makes for a thicker fabric, so these mitts are properly snuggly. The yarn comes in lots of lovely colourways: my mitts are knitted in Grape Harvest, but I also love Sea Serpent and Peacock Feather, and might even make a second pair in one of these colourways.

I meant to photograph these mitts before they got sent off for their official photoshoot, but in my rush to get them dried (we'd had several days of rain when I knitted these, which is not the best weather for blocking things; so much for summer) I totally forgot, so you'll have to make do with a photo of the photo of them in the magazine. Should you wish to knit a pair, the pattern is available in this month's issue of Knit Now, which is available from today.

Knit Now is available in supermarkets, newsagents and craft stores across the UK. 
Alternatively, you can buy it online here: 
Digital editions are also available here:

Saturday 12 September 2015

A month in yarn: August 2015

Somehow we've got to September. And proper knitting weather! I'm ploughing through lots of projects at the minute, and am looking forward to updating you about them, but for now, here's my August yarn summary.

Socks for my husband
These feel like they've been on the needles forever (they weigh 117g!), so I was very glad to get them finished. He didn't let me take much of a photo, but he does llike them.

Owl hat for Amy
A replacement for a hat I'd knitted for Amy a few years ago, that had been worn so much it wore out. I was very happy to make another! The pattern is Who?
A lovely quick project in lovely rainbow yarn. My socks have made it to Yarndale HQ, and I'm looking forward to seeing them on the sockline.
Rainbow socks for my son
With the leftovers from the Yarndale socks. But I ran out and had to buy another ball...
Rainbow socks for my sister I'd had to buy another ball, I had enough yarn for another pair of socks.

Hermione's everyday socks
No progress.

Whale blanket
All the squares are done, I'm down to finishing touches now. There are quite a lot of finishing touches needed, but I'm hoping to get this one done by the end of the month. 

Charity mitred blanket
The only progress made was to complete one square so I could use the needles for something more exciting!
A cardigan for my daughter
A break in the yarn means I have to concentrate to get the sleeve stripes right. I hate it when that happens. This one probably only requires a couple of hours, but it does require good light and a little bit of quiet. Hopefully I should get it done soon.
Melodie shawl
No progress.
Commissioned shawl (top secret)
Nearly there. 

Watermelon striped socks for my daughter
Using yarn I sent my friend Amy for her birthday; she knitted a pair of socks for herself, then sent me what was left. The yarn is from Hand Dyed by Kate.

Chunky blanket for a friend's new baby
Cast on, but I haven't worked out the intarsia section yet.

Yarn in
200g My Little Pony box from The Yarn Tree
I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, having been a bit disappointed by the Doctor Who box from the same dyer, but I loved this box!
100g basic sock yarn
300g basic acrylic
150g Sirdar Snuggly
100g for a commission
500g chunky for a blanket
150g rainbow sock yarn as I ran out before I could finish my son's socks
800g green Rowan baby merino silk for a cardi for me. It was in the sale. 

Yarn out
117g for my husband's socks
97g for Yarndale socks
50g for Amy's hat
46g for my son's socks
88g for my sister's socks
69g of rainbow sock yarn donated to a friend as I couldn't face making a fourth pair!
Total +1533g. I see an impending yarn purchasing ban... Using 5kg of stash wouldn't be unreasonable, would it?

Plans for September   
Finish the whale blanket
Buy less yarn

Saturday 5 September 2015

Bake Day Wednesday, week something or other...

I started watching this series of Bake Off with the intention of baking along and writing a blog post to accompany each week's episode. How hard could it be? Ten weeks, ten bakes. I managed last year with a newborn baby and a pre-schooler to contend with. This year has been a completely different story. I half-heartedly joined in with the baking for the first few weeks, then one week got delayed until the weekend, and last week we were on holiday so no baking got done, and now I'm two weeks behind and just don't feel like baking.

I started back at work a few weeks ago and feel like I've been running ever since; my baby is now a feisty one year old who needs rather more active attention than a newborn baby (newborns love a snuggle, and my baby carrier left my hands nicely free to do other things); and my favourite baking buddy started school this week. So, just this once, I'm going to give myself a break. No more committing to baking on a Wednesday, I shall bake when I feel like it instead, even if that's not until the next round of school holidays. I shall still be watching Bake Off, but possibly with some shop-bought biscuits and a nice mug of hot chocolate. After all, autumn as begun. Happy baking everyone.

Friday 4 September 2015

New pattern: The Knitbots

So finally here it is, my The Knitbots baby blanket. I knitted this blanket earlier in the year for my friend Sam for her new baby. Sam said she wanted something boyish, but otherwise I had free-rein. I decided I wanted to base my design around bright colours and robots, so had a hunt through my Hayfield Bonus DK stash to see if I could find enough yarn to make a rainbow-based blanket (I was on a yarn-purchasing ban at the time). I then set about sketching an assortment of robots based on basic geometric shapes, using a google image search as inspiration.

Designing the robots was really satisfying. I limited myself to a six-colour pallette, plus black and white, and used only three colours per robot. I thought this might feel a bit limiting, but I think it made the blanket nicely balanced in the end. I almost made the whole blanket out of stash yarn too, but ran out of yellow before I had cast on a yellow robot, so had to order another ball.

This blanket is great for beginners, as the intarsia is pretty straightforward, and you can make the whole thing using oddments of yarn if you like, so it's a great stashbuster. My test knitters did a great job at reinventing the design, with different stripe sequences and altered expressions. I really like the two-colour stripe approach - it's a great way of toning the whole design down.

Canuckeh's colourful robots knitted in Manos del Uruguay Cotton Stria, a cotton yarn. Image copyright Canuckeh.
SaniDolphin's two-colour stripe version, with modified eyes. Image copyright SandiDolphin.
Slmwhr's bright two-colour striped blanket; only two of these robots have smiles. Can you spot them? Image copyright Slmwhr.
Another way to use the pattern is to select a chart and knit it into something other than a blanket - maybe a washcloth, or a motif for a jumper or pullover.

The pattern is available now on Ravelry, and when you buy it you can get my intarsia tutorial Ronnie the Robot for free, just add them both to your basket and the discount will come off automatically. And remember, I love to see people's finished projects, so if you knit any of my patterns, send a photo my way, I'd love to see.