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Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Yarnbirds at Whaley Bridge

It's Yarn Shop Day at the end of this week so it seems quite appropriate that I should be visiting yarn shops at both ends of the week!

On Saturday, I drove to Yarnbirds in Whaley Bridge, which is not far from Buxton in the Peak District, for a sock clinic and book signing.  It's in the opposite direction to the way I drive up to Skipton - down the M6 rather than up, but the landscape looked familiar as I drove out of Stockport and into the small Peak District towns.  I love these rolling hills and stone walls, and despite the rather ominous-looking clouds, it was a warm and sunny day.  Just right for yarn shop visiting!



I've never been to Whaley Bridge before, although we've passed the turn-off many times when we've driven over to Buxton.  It's always good to find a new place to explore!  Just as you get over the bridge into the town is the canal basin (again, I was reminded of Skipton!) and just a bit further on from there is Canal Street where Yarnbirds is situated.  


Although Yarnbirds faces the main road, you have to turn off onto a side road at which point the maps function on my phone helpfully went into meltdown - "turn left!", "turn right!", "make a U-turn!", "head north on the A1!" - but luckily I had spotted the large yellow building which Yarnbirds shares with the Pear Tree Cafe and was able to ignore the sat nav, even when it triumphantly announced, "You have reached your destination!".  "No thanks to you," I told it, and parked the car.

It felt a bit like going into a secret garden, pushing open the gate and crunching across the gravel drive.  Once inside the door, you are confronted with delicious smells from the cafe upstairs and displays of yarn and knitted samples ... it's like following the yellow brick road to the shop which is in a bright room to one side. 

If you do visit, the Pear Tree Cafe is also well worth a visit - I can recommend the "all day brunch" of avocado, poached eggs, rocket and halloumi on toast.  Yarn shops and cafes do go together very well, I think! 


This is Claire, who owns Yarnbirds.  She's a lovely, jolly, friendly person and has a warm welcome for everyone who comes into the shop (and on this particular Saturday, there were a lot of them which was great to see!).  She really knows her stuff with her yarns and has a really good selection of them, from the inexpensive Drops sock yarns to beautiful hand-dyed silk and yak mixes and pretty much everything in between.



The shop isn't huge but is crammed with yarns.  Juniper Moon Farm, Eden Cottage Yarns, Stylecraft, Rico - there's a yarn for every project and to suit every budget.  I went to talk to people about socks but found myself discussing school projects, university knitting, clothes for grandchildren - it's wonderful to know that knitting is spanning every age group in this little corner of the world!

In this photo, this central unit has been taken over by socks, but twice a week it transforms into a craft table for the hugely popular knit n natter groups.  I've written before about how important it is to have somewhere that you can go and be with like-minded people.  It doesn't matter whether you actually do any knitting (I tend to spend more time chatting and then unpicking what I've done wrong because I was too busy chatting to get much knitting done at knit n natters!) or whether you just sit there in the company of kindred spirits with your cup of tea - what's important is being part of the group and it's always a huge boost to your wellbeing.


More hand-dyed yarns.  These are Peak District Yarns dyed by Carrie who came to the shop to say hello.  Her yarns are beautiful and yes, some of it did come home with me!  I love that Claire has local yarns in her shop - after all, you buy food locally to reduce "food miles" so why not buy yarn locally too? (Would that be reducing "yarn miles"?  Or "sheep miles"? J)


This is my skein.  It's called "Sorbet" and although it hasn't quite chosen what it wants to be  yet, I'm sure it won't be long before it does.


It was lovely to be able to talk socks and admire socks with the people who came to the shop.  I do love to meet people and see what they've created!  The chairs were full, there was lots of happy conversation and there was even an impromptu Kitchener stitch workshop going on at one point!


Yarnbirds has only been open for two years but is going from strength to strength.  Claire has a good vision of what she wants from her shop and her focus on well-being and the knit n natter groups are an integral part of this vision.  I'm very glad.  It's important that we have the opportunity to take part in these groups and with yarn shops closing down every week, it's wonderful to see one that's doing so well and is such an important part of the community.


If you're in the Peak District area, it's definitely worth taking a detour off the A6 to visit Whaley Bridge and the Yarnbirds shop (and the Pear Tree Cafe!) - you'll be glad you did!



Yarnbirds, Pear Tree Cottage, 10 Canal Street, Whaley Bridge, High Peak, Derbyshire, SK23 7LS


Friday, 22 April 2016

Couthie Shawl - free pattern and tutorial

Good morning everyone!  It's a beautiful day here in Winwick, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and it's the perfect day to start a new shawl!  

Thank you so much to everyone who commented on the ta-dah post and let me know what you thought about the name - Couthie it is!  (I did like the other suggestions too and will tuck those away for future projects, thank you J)  I'm glad you liked it - I love the idea of wrapping myself up in something that is not just cosy and comfortable by nature but by name as well.  

Couthie shawl

So without further ado, let's get started.  As I said in the ta-dah post, this is a really simple pattern - blocks of stocking stitch broken up with rows of drop stitch.  I'll show you how to do that below. The curved shape is created by increasing and decreasing on opposite sides of the shawl, but that's very simple to do as well.


Couthie shawl

Couthie Shawl 
(you can download a PDF copy of the pattern here

Couth-ie  (Scottish)     cosy, comfortable, not over complicated

                                         of a person - sociable, friendly

The shawl is knitted in one piece and increases in size as you go.  There is no limit to the size of the shawl other than the length of the yarn in your skein or ball.  It can be knitted in any weight of yarn, and with any needle size that you prefer.  I knitted this shawl on 3.25mm needles, but with 4ply yarn you could choose any size between 3mm and 3.5mm - the best way to determine which size needles to use is to do a small swatch to see how the yarn knits up.  You are looking for a fabric which is soft and drapey but not so loose that all of the stitches will look like drop stitches.

As far as the yarn goes, you could use any weight and any type of yarn that you like.  Stripes, variegated, gradient - they will all look perfect as a Couthie!  It's just the thing for showing off a special hand-dyed skein too!

Materials

3mm-3.5mm needles depending on preference (I used a 3.25mm circular needle in 80cm length)
One skein or ball of 4ply yarn (I used Cuddlebums merino sock in colourway Melted Crayon, 425m in the skein)
wool needle
Pins, thread or blocking wires for blocking

Abbreviations

K            Knit
P            Purl
D           Drop stitch (wind yarn round needle twice when creating knit stitch)
Kfb        Knit into the front and back of the stitch to make one new stitch
K2tog    Knit two stitches together
P2tog    Purl two stitches together

Pattern

The pattern for this shawl is worked over 28 rows which do not change however many stitches you have on your needle.  This chart shows how the rows are made up: starting from the bottom and with the right side of your work facing you, work 15 rows of stocking stitch starting with a knit row on the right side, 5 rows of stocking stitch starting with a knit row on the wrong side (therefore a purl on the right side), 1 row of drop stitch, 1 row of knit, 1 row of drop stitch and 5 rows of stocking stitch starting with a knit row on the wrong side (therefore a purl on the right side).



You will increase one stitch at the start of every right side row using the Kfb increase (indicated in red) and decrease one stitch every 5 rows using K2tog at the end of the row or P2tog at the start of the row depending on whether you are on a knit or a purl row (indicated in blue).  It really is much easier once you start knitting than it might look on the screen!

To follow this chart, simply start knitting at the right hand edge of row 1, and when you have completed 28 rows, start back at row 1 again to work the next block of the pattern.  The number of blocks you have will depend on the yarn you have chosen.  Note: you will need to keep count of your decreases so that they occur every 5 rows as where the decrease falls will alter from where they are marked on the chart as you get further up your shawl.

For those who don’t like charts, the pattern is still very simple to follow:

Rows 1–15:              knit on right side, purl on wrong side
Rows 16-20:            purl on right side, knit on wrong side
Row 21:                    drop stitch
Row 22:                    knit
Row 23:                    drop stitch
Rows 24-28:           purl on right side, knit on wrong side

You will still need to remember to increase on every right side row and decrease every 5 rows.


Still with me so far?  We're going to do the set up rows and everything should fall into place as you see how the rows fit together.  It really doesn't take long for your shawl to take shape.

I've created another chart which can be used to keep track of where your decreases should go.  If you prefer to follow a written pattern rather than a chart, this should make it easier for you. Simply start at the top left hand corner of the chart and tick off each row as you complete it - the colours indicate which row you should be on.  The decrease rows are outlined in bold.  It's included with the PDF pattern that you can download above, but if you need another copy or you just want one so that you've got it to hand whilst we work through the tutorial, you can download it here


(This photo shows the prototype I used whilst designing the shawl, the chart you will download has a "D" instead of an "L" written on it to indicate the drop stitch rows.)

Set up rows

Start by casting on 2 stitches.  (I chose to use a circular needle for the whole of my shawl but if you'd rather start on straight needles and switch later that's fine.)

Row 1 (RS):     Kfb, K1, turn

Kfb is an increase stitch and this is what's going to create the inside curve of your shawl (if you look at the picture at the top of the post of it lying flat, the Kfb side is at the bottom of the picture) and you create it like this:

1  Put your needle into the first stitch as if to knit ... 

How to create a Kfb increase stitch

2  wrap the yarn around the needle and pull it through as if to create a knit stitch but don't slide it off the needle. 

How to create a Kfb increase stitch

3  Swing your needle around and put the tip into the back of the first stitch ...

How to create a Kfb increase stitch

4  wrap the yarn around again and pull it through as if to knit.  You now have two loops where you would normally have one, and now you're going to slide your stitch off your needle.

How to create a Kfb increase stitch

Knit the next stitch and your 2 cast on stitches have become 3!

How to create a Kfb increase stitch

Row 2 (WS):    P to end, turn
Row 3:               Kfb, K to end, turn
Row 4:               P to end, turn

Now you need to do your first decrease row.  
Row 5:               Kfb, K to last 2 stitches, K2tog, turn
Row 6:               P to end, turn
Row 7:               Kfb, K to end, turn
Row 8:               P to end, turn
Row 9:               Kfb, K to end, turn

Here comes your next decrease row:
Row 10:             P2tog, P to end, turn

You're going to continue knitting your shawl, but don’t worry too much about keeping track the number of knit and purl stitches on each row – what’s more important is that you follow the chart as set, increasing and decreasing as required until are almost at the end of your yarn. If you use the tick-off decrease chart it's easy to see where you're up to.

When you come to a drop stitch row, you create the stitches like this:

1  Insert your needle as if to knit and wrap the yarn around your needle twice ...

How to knit a drop stitch

2  then pull the needle with both loops through as you would with a normal knit stitch.

How to knit a drop stitch

You can see here that it creates a double stitch on your needle.

How to knit a drop stitch

When you come to knit the stitch on the next row, you simply put your needle into the stitch as you would do for a normal knit stitch ... 

How to knit a drop stitch

and pull the yarn through.  Don't be tempted to try to knit both strands of the loop, just treat it like an ordinary knit stitch.

How to knit a drop stitch

When you take the stitch off your left hand needle you'll have a big loop and this is your drop stitch row.

How to knit a drop stitch

It doesn’t matter which row you finish your shawl on, but to be sure that you have enough yarn left to cast off, you need to have enough yarn to stretch approximately three times the length of your row.  Cast off loosely and weave in the ends.

Just in case you end up playing the game of "yarn chicken" as I did (which will run out first, yarn or stitches? J), and in case you're not quite as lucky as I was ...


this is a useful video to watch.  It shows you how to cast off even if you've run out of yarn - sometimes a better option than having to unpick your rows!

Now all that remains is to block your shawl.  Do you really need to?  Well yes, you do, despite the fact that you're probably impatient to wrap your Couthie around your neck.  Otherwise your shawl will look like this and although it is a rather fetching ammonite shape, it's not going to drape quite so beautifully across your shoulders in it's current curled up state.

Couthie shawl before blocking

Blocking is simply the process of soaking your shawl and then pinning it out to dry in the shape that you want it to dry in.  You can also pin it out first and steam it depending on your yarn and your project. This is a good article if you want to read more.

I don't block things on a regular basis so I just use regular pins and a towel on the floor to block my projects.  It works just fine for my occasional one-off blocking requirements, but if you're going to be doing a lot, it makes sense to buy the proper kit such as T-pins (which won't rust when they get wet and damage your knitting), blocking wires and foam mats to pin onto, and I really should at least get myself some of the pins as I know I will be making more of these shawls.

In the absence of blocking wires which hold the edges of your project straight, I run a length of quilting cotton along all of my edges and then use the cotton to pull the edges straight whilst I am pinning.  It's best to do this before you wet your knitting!

Couthie shawl - blocking

Roll your knitting in a towel to get rid of the excess water.  Don't wring it or squeeze it out as you could end up felting your yarn.  I use an old towel just in case any dye comes out.

Couthie shawl - blocking

Then all you have to do is position your shawl in the shape that you want it to dry.  It's surprising how big it is when it's all stretched out!  I really like this bit.  It's a kind of magic to see it become what you imagine in your mind's eye, and after the magic we've already created with our pointy sticks and yarn, there's a seriously big dollop of the feel good factor in there!  

Couthie shawl - blocking

Use your pins and threads (or blocking wires) to gently adjust the shawl, pulling the edges carefully so that the drop stitches are stretched to their full extent.  Blocking is ideal for lace projects that you want to show off to their best advantage, and some people are far more ruthless in how far they stretch their knitting than I ever am - at the end of the day, it's your shawl so you can choose how far you want it to stretch.  And don't forget that if you wash it, you'll need to block it again as it dries because the blocking only holds until the shawl gets wet again.

Couthie shawl - blocking

That's pretty much all there is to it.  Once your shawl is dry you can remove the pins and threads (or wires) and then artfully wrap yourself up in knitted cosiness.

If you want to add more skeins to make a bigger shawl, there's no reason why you can't do that. This is a wonderful project for mindful (or mindless!) knitting and knits up quickly enough to make last-minute presents (as long as you don't need it within an hour!).

Don't worry, I haven't abandoned the socks and have already got some samples on the needles for more tutorials later in the year.  It is nice to find other ways to use beautiful yarns though, and I've had a lovely time creating the Couthie shawl.  I hope you enjoy knitting it as much as I have!  If you are on Ravelry, I'd love it if you added your project to the pattern so that I can see - I do enjoy seeing what other people create!


This shawl pattern is free and will always remain so, but if you have enjoyed using it and would like to make a donation towards future projects, it will be gratefully received!  You can find the donation button on the sidebar on the left hand side.
  Thank you! xx

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Shawl ta-dah

Today's the day when I get to show you my new shawl and I'm really looking forward to doing so ... but first I must say thank to everyone for your kind comments on big daughter's Peru preparation post.  She was really delighted to hear from you and she will be replying your comments as soon as she can.

Now though .. on with the ta-dah!

I have long believed that yarn knows what it wants to be.  It might sound crazy but there has to be some explanation for why some projects knit up quickly and beautifully and others just don't seem to flow - the colours aren't right, the yarn doesn't slide across the needles properly .. whatever it is, it seems to me that the yarn often wants a say in what it's going to become.  

This yarn, a skein of hand-dyed Cuddlebums merino sock yarn in the colourway Melted Crayon, did not want to be socks.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that it was coming home with me and it sat in my basket for a while, uncomplaining, until we were both ready for it to become something that wouldn't mean it ended up hidden in my boots. 



And this is what it became.  


And some days it might want to be this.


I've only recently become a convert to wearing shawls as scarves but now I wonder why it took me so long!

This is what it looks like when it's not wrapped cosily around my neck ...



I just love the gentle curves and the way the colours melt together like - well, like melted crayons. It's no wonder this yarn didn't want to be socks!  I really loved knitting with this yarn; it's soft and smooth, the colours are just right and the yarn slides beautifully across your needles.  I'm very glad that I didn't have to cut it as I would have done to make two socks.  I loved watching the rainbow unfold, and the nice thing about this hand-dyed yarn is that it's not an exact science where the colours are going to change.

The shawl is really easy to knit.  You start at one end and keep going until your yarn runs out.  The size of your skein will dictate the size of your shawl, and I like that mine is big enough to wrap round my shoulders if I want to.  


I'm not a fan of garter stitch so it's all knitted in stocking stitch, broken up with sections of dropped stitch which is also really easy and creates zigzags of rainbows which make the colours seem to run horizontally instead of vertically in those sections.  Alternating the sections of stocking stitch so that you start on both the front and back of the shawl means that there is no right side or wrong side ...


you could wear it either way around and it would still look just as good.  I've got to say, I'm more than a little bit in love with this shawl!


It doesn't have to be knitted with hand-dyed yarn, though.  This is the second ball of Debbie Bliss Rialto sock yarn that I had and I wanted to see how it knitted up in a different project.  Pretty well, I'd say, although it came out a bit smaller as there was less meterage in the ball.  The colours do blend beautifully into each other (this is shade 05, Mutek), but it's a fluffier yarn than the Cuddlebums yarn (something to be aware of if you ever use it for a project that might involve a lot of unpicking) and this shawl feels like it would be just right for the winter months.


The pattern works very well with gradient yarn, though, doesn't it?  In fact, I think it would look lovely in any yarn, even stripes, and it would work in any weight as well.  If you wanted it to be bigger, you could use more than one ball or skein and just keep knitting!


So all in all, I'd say that my skein of Cuddlebums yarn is happy now, and I'm very happy with my new shawl.  It just needs a name to go with the pattern than I'm going to be sharing with you later this week.  I'm thinking "Couthie", which is a Scottish word meaning cosy, comfortable and not overly complicated.  I think it's a lovely word, also meaning sociable and friendly if you use it to refer to people and I think that generally, that's what knitters are.  What do you think?  A Couthie shawl?  Or would you call it something else?

I'll be posting the pattern in a couple of days - just in time for Yarn Shop Day in case you need an excuse to buy more yarn ...!