Foggy Sunset

Foggy Sunset
Photo by Aisling Doonan

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Valentia and a rant...

Would you believe, I had written and published this post last Thursday, a lovely long post full of things! When I went back in the next morning, all my words had disappeared and the photos were just sitting there looking forlorn. I have no idea what happened.

So here I am again. It has taken me a week to get over my 'do I have to do it again?' moment and I have been dragging my heels. I am reminded of Jo in Little Women (Louis May Alcott) when *Spoiler Alert* Amy burns all her stories and she has to write them out again from memory. This is my Jo moment. I have it on good authority that the version the second time around will be superior to the first, but already it looks nothing like it, so I'm not even going to try...

I did go into a bit of a semi rant over the lack of RDS National Crafts Competition this year. They have decided to unceremoniously scrap the competition as was and introduce a set of bursaries for students and graduates instead. The bursaries are fantastic, €10,000 each and there are five of them up for grabs, but as I am neither a student nor a graduate, I do not qualify. For established crafts people, they are sponsoring the Design and Crafts Council of Ireland with a single €10,000 bursary for established makers. Also a wonderful idea, but to qualify you need to be in professional practice. Again I am out of the running.

So I have been frustrated and annoyed and sad that crafts people like me, who are neither formally trained or working in their craft can apply to a competition where their work has the chance of being showcased. My shawls, through the RDS National Crafts Competition, have been exhibited at the RDS Horse Show, the RDS Christmas Craft Show, in the National Museum in Mayo and several places in Northern Ireland. I have lost my little platform and it is difficult to see where I will find a similar outlet for my creative endeavours. 

Ok, so rant over!

I wanted to share some beautiful photos of Valentia Island in County Kerry, a haven of serenity and magic in the Atlantic Ocean. I spent a wonderful week there last year with Mr RS and the two mini people. We rented the quaintest little cottage hidden by fuchsia and surrounded by wandering sheep. The week was spent exploring Kerry and eating every homemade ice-cream that we could find. 

I love the sea, especially the Atlantic and I could happily spend all my days there, watching it crash against the rocks and turn moody in a nano second.

I was so inspired that when I got home I decided to plan and design a shawl in its honour. 

The Valentia Shawl is a large, warm and airy Shetland Square Shawl. It begins with an all over lacy centre square and the traditional Shetland motifs in the borders are knit outwards, in the round. It is finished off with a gorgeous edging and I love how it turned out.

Yardage: 2,625 yards approx
Weighs: 300g
Needles: 3.25mm
Size: 68 inches square
Time Taken to Knit: October 28th 2017 to January 12th 2018

The yarn is finer than the usual Jamieson and Smith 2 ply lace weight and it is worsted spun, so you get a completely different feel from it. The yarn is silky but woolly and it has a gorgeous halo when you block it. The shawl is airy but cosy and big enough to luxuriate under, I am completely in love with it.

I think I could make it again, this time using the 1ply Shetland Supreme, which is half the thickness of yarn again. I think it would make a pretty companion to this one. A Winter and Summer shawl!

So that's all the story I have for you now. I hope everyone is well and knitting away in the background.

Until next time.

Happy knitting


Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Princess and Kate

Oh dear! It's been a while. I can't believe it is now January 2018 and I have been MIA since September. I have a lot to catch you up on then! 2017 was a full year, I managed to knit my way through 20,347 yards of yarn. That's 11.56 miles! 

My biggest piece of news is that I finished my Princess Shawl. Wow, what a project. I really wish I had just stuck with it when I started it, because it was such a shame that it sat languishing miserably in a bag for so many years. 

I can see how much I have learned in the meantime, at the beginning I remember talcing up my poor sweaty hands and struggle to knit even one point of the edging. When I began the borders, I fought with my needles as every stitch became stuck on the joins. It led me to discovering Chiaogoo Red Lace Circulars and I don't think I could use another brand ever again. They have revolutionised fine lace knitting for me, no tangled cables and no catchy joins. 

I love how you can overcome the overwhelming feelings of ever getting to finish a project of this size. It was a perfect practice of taking one stitch at a time. One element at a time and celebrating the completion of each section with great vigour!

The edging at the beginning did seem to go on forever. At the time, I had never knit a project in yarn this fine, or with such tiny needles. There was a lot of practice involved before I could comfortably churn out an edging point with any confidence. There are 72 such darlings across the bottom of the shawl and it was a full year before I picked up my stitches for the borders. 

Seven years and countless projects later, I finally finished the borders. In the end, they were an interesting and joyful knit. The pattern is stunning and to see it appear one row at a time is like waking up to Christmas morning, every day.  I did a little practice run on the laurel leaf insertion, with some smooth cotton and bigger needles, just to familiarise myself with how it looked, row by row. I heartily recommend doing this, as even with the additional practice, I managed to fluff up the final rows somehow. Nothing that is noticeable, but my stitch count was out. At least I think it was, counting and recounting 648 teeny tiny stitches was enough to give me a headache and a growly temper.

Getting to the centre pattern was a huge milestone, I felt like I was so close to the end. I knew it would be a bit monotonous and take a while, but I think I was in strict denial that I was only halfway there. It took three solid months to plough through it, what a slog. I refused to give up, I also knit 2 hats and 2 shawls in the same time to stop my brain from melting, and I got to the end of it without too much bloodshed. I think I needed to adjust a few rows to finish at a completed motif, but otherwise it was pretty uneventful.

The top edging surprised me a lot. I picked up and knit my stitches across the border sides, because I like to have definite stitches to attach my edging to. I knit 63 edging points along the top edge, only 9 less than the entire bottom border, wowee! I was not expecting that. 

Finishing the Princess left me a little bereft. I was done. 8 years of thinking about it and it was done. After a marathon knitting session of about 9 months in total. My largest project to date. All 4,885 yards of gossamer deliciousness! So what do you think? Is anybody else knitting it?

The pattern details are as follows:-

Needles: 2mm Chiaogoo Red Lace
Eye strain: Balanced out by the sheer beauty of the finished shawl
Headache: Especially with the wrong needles & having to recount stitches after little people take no heed of mammy's 'counting face'
Sweaty Hands: Talc is your best friend
Palpitations: I popped a hole in the border as I was blocking the shawl. My heart stopped. 
Guilt: Should I knit or make dinner, knit or sleep,  knit or housework, knit or check kids homework...
Late Nights: Too many to count

Next up were some Winter woolies. I recently bought my dream coat, so I needed a whole new wardrobe of accessories for it. Obviously.

All were Kate Davies Designs, her Funchal Moebius cowl, Stranded Bunnet and Stranded Pawkies. The hat and gloves were quick projects in DK and the cowl took a little longer. In fact I didn't knit the full 15 repeats but ended at 10 as I ran out of yarn. I think the shorter length suits me better, but if you want to loop it twice around your neck, definitely knit all 15 repeats.

Fair isle accessories are so satisfying to complete and I am especially pleased with how the cowl turned out, the pattern is so striking and I love wearing it.

The details are as follows:

Needles: 3mm circulars

Needles: 3.25mm & 3.75mm

Needles: 3mm & 3.5mm

The came Christmas and I made two pairs of simple sock weight mittens for my friends daughters. 

I am currently coming to the end of a large square shawl that I am very excited to block. I haven't seen it all properly stretched out yet, so blocking will truly be a magical moment.

So until that's finished!

Happy new year and happy knitting