Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life


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Wait…

Oh gosh. Since when did it become December!? Christmas is just around the corner, and there is still so much to do!

Isn’t it funny how the end of a year provokes a whole range of thoughts around life, deadlines, accomplishments, wishes. In a way, it is a good thing because it gives us a sense of time. In another way, it can unintentionally create feelings of stress that shouldn’t be there. I do find it a great motivator to remember to ‘do’ something with my life.

In this post, I think it’s time I fronted up and explained a bit about my less-than-regular posts of late. Make a cup of tea and settle in… this is a bit of a wordy one!

Life has been quite distracted chez Kiwiyarns over the past couple of months. As of November, I began working in a permanent role, although I have been in a ‘caretaker’ role for that position for a few months now. It’s a senior job that is giving me a lot of satisfaction (and finally, some life certainty!) but is also draining my energy and ability to keep up the blog on a regular basis. I do apologise for this, as I value your interaction with me so much. My life over the past few years would not have been anywhere near as rich or as fulfilling had I not started this blog and pursued the path of knitting creativity. But none of that would have been nearly as good if it hadn’t been for the support and friendship I have received from you. I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.

In my dream life, I would be a full-time knitting designer, fully immersed in the art of knitting and sharing that dream. However, from what I have seen and learned over the past few years, it takes a certain life circumstance for that to become a reality for most people.  Importantly, you need to have a financial backer (usually, one’s partner from one I can see!) to cover one’s life necessities while the business is growing into a going concern. This scenario is most likely never going to be mine, and I have to be realistic about ensuring some security around the rest of my life. Hence the pragmatic return to my former career.

This is by no means the end, and I do not regret for one moment, the risk I took to delve into knitting in a deeper way. Quite apart from the richness of human interaction (which is sadly lacking in a corporate environment), I also got to learn in an unfettered environment, I found freedom and the ability to create – independently of any rules or structure.  And I was able to live the life I wanted. It has been soul-restoring. This has been worth more to me than any money in the world. I also got to be closer to my son that I ever would have been otherwise, and that too, is worth more to me than any money in the world.

I am still knitting furiously in my free moments (another reason I am not writing as much) and would love to keep sharing bits of my life with you here. It just may not be as frequently as before. You’ll see I am reasonably good at keeping up on Instagram, mainly because it’s a very quick process to take a photo and say a few words – I would love to see you over on that forum too!

Now, what has happened with my knitting since I last wrote? There have been a few socks.

But as you can see, my usual output has been somewhat diminished.

I did make a start on the shawl I spoke about last time, but I am not in the mood for blue hands at the moment. The naturally dyed indigo based yarn I chose leaches blue on to your skin like nothing on earth, and perhaps in another head space I would be able to cope with it, but not right now. So today, I decided to frog it and use this instead:

anna-gratton-wool-silk-mohair-in-forest

It is going to be beautiful. It’s Anna Gratton Wool/Silk/Mohair blend in Forest.

I am on a bit of a shawl bender to be honest. Once I have got my Christmas sock knitting out of the way, or maybe after I finish Regenerate (using Anna Gratton’s Forest colourway above), I already have the next shawl’s yarn all ready to go:
supplejack-yarns

I am fairly sure this will be Supplejack. I’m using Tanis Fibre Arts Blue Label in Lotus, Dark Harbour Yarn Port in Limey and Ruataniwha Dye Studio 100% merino in Spruce.

And maybe the one after that…

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This one is also Mary-Anne Mace‘s fault. That woman just cannot stop producing the most breathtakingly beautiful shawl patterns… this yarn is earmarked to be Spring Creek, or maybe the newest pattern that she has designed that is still in testing. There will be time to decide. The yarn is also Dark Harbour Yarn Port in the Fairwater colourway. The light grey is also Dark Harbour Yarn Port but I have lost the label and cannot remember what the colour was called.

That’s the great thing about knitting. So much creative potential, so much to knit!  Just a pity there is so little time…

Wishing you a good run-up into the Christmas season. What are your plans? I for one, am much looking forward to my firm’s annual three week break over the Christmas and into 2017. It will be good to relax, enjoy family and friends, and knit, knit, knit!

 

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The cardigan

In a world of knitter’s worst nightmares, the following scenario has to come close to top of the list:  spending hours knitting a garment, laboriously stitching it all together, and then trying it on only to find that it doesn’t fit like you wanted it to.

I was very conscious of this possibility when I set out to knit myself a lightweight cardigan to carry me through Spring and into the early summer months. When I selected the original pattern I didn’t quite notice it had an odd garter stitch panel in the front. Nor did I realise that the shaping wasn’t right for my own body proportions, especially the armhole depth.

The garter stitch panel was easy to adapt – I simply left it off, as the garment was wide enough not to need it. The armholes needed a bit of adaptation. I worked more decreases to make a narrower shoulder, and I increased the length. This was a bit tricky – I think I cast off and then added in more length a couple of times before I decided it was right! The next thing was to sew the shoulders together so I could try it on and make sure that the fit was correct.

Because I had adapted the arm holes, I also needed to work the sleeves a little differently to make sure that they were as deep as the armhole. I also didn’t want three quarter length sleeves, nor did I want lace on the sleeves. The solution was to keep working decreases all the way to the end of the sleeve cap – this seems to have worked.

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Fitting the first sleeve into the cardigan was a good way to work out if I had the proportions right.

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I am checking the length of the sleeve here – it sits just above my wrist, which is a better length for warmer weather.

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The length works well too. I’d like to be able to wear this cardigan with a dress, and I find that dresses need shorter cardigans to look good.

I am also conscious this is a superwash yarn (Madelinetosh Pashmina) and I know it will grow once blocked. It is slightly shorter to accommodate that eventuality as well.

Once the second sleeve is finished, the next step will be to work a neat finish to the neckline, and to add in loops for the buttonholes.  And once blocked, I will finally have a summer cardigan after a couple of years of talking about it!

I am concerned about the large amount of dye that is coming off on my fingers as I knit this garment. Has anyone knitted with this colourway before (Tart) and have you experienced a large amount of colour fade?  Should I be looking at fixing the colour in the first block?  I’d appreciate your advice!

My garden continues to delight in a riot of super strong colours. Whoever planted this garden was a person after my own heart! It is soul restoring to spend a couple of hours pulling weeds and admiring all the new beauties to see in the weekend.

I have no idea what the second plant is called, but the top image is the Aquilegia. I’m so happy to have this flower in my garden again!

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This little flower captured my attention with the leaves echoing the shade of the flower.img_2927-800x449

We also have a regular visitor at the moment – how cute is this kereru, warily watching me from the safety of the pine tree!?img_2934-800x533

I am itching to get back into shawl knitting for some reason. They have been a very useful addition to my wardrobe this winter – they looked nice under a coat and kept me extra warm on the way to the office, but could easily be removed (or put back on) once at work. I continue to ponder yarn and pattern options, although it amuses me to see that I have the exact colours of my garden in my stash…

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I hope you are enjoying your weekend, and finding plenty of time for soul-restoring and relaxing activities.

Happy Knitting!

 

 


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Swan River

Swan River

It appears that I am completely incapable of monogamous knitting at the moment. I “had” to start Swan River this week. It is a pattern from Issue 72 of The Knitter. Time I got some value out of all those magazines that I buy!

It is knitted in Maniototo Wool’s Luxury Lambswool in 4 ply, which Mary very kindly did me a one-off favour by dyeing and selling it me. This weight of yarn is not normally sold by her – she prefers to make it available to indie dyers only.  (She makes the 8 ply and woollen spun aran weight available on her website).

What can I say about this yarn?  Well… I hope that more indie people get their hands on it, because it is truly luxurious and wonderful. It has been spun semi-worsted and at a reasonably tight twist, and it is the slinkiest, softest, most gorgeous yarn I have laid my hands on for some time. Mary really spied a good thing when she found the merino cross fleece that her yarn comes from. And to think that the rest of this wool goes overseas to garment producers!  Lucky us that Mary has been able to obtain some of it for use in New Zealand and by knitters.

I’m hoping there will be enough left over of this yarn to turn into a shawl, because it is perfect for that purpose. In the meantime, I have a great requirement for a lightweight cardigan for use in the office (mostly), and this is what Swan River is going to be.

If you are wondering where you can get your hands on some of the Luxury Lambswool 4 ply, I understand that both Happy-go-knitty and Ruataniwha Dye Studio have got some, and are busy cooking up pretty colours for it as I write. You’ll have to watch their sites for news of when it is available, and when I find out, I will let you know.

I will probably have at least one FO to show you next week because I am making good progress on both Waiting for Rain and Light Gale, which I showed you last week. I won’t bore you with more photos of the same looking WIP!

Autumn came late this year. I leave you with a view of the riot of colour in my backyard at the moment. I’m enjoying the show!

Autumn


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Seriously Pretty

For a long time, I have hankered after a pretty, feminine yarn, with the barest hint of blush.  Something that reminded me of the palest cherry blossom scattered over clean white sheets.  I never was able to find that colourway, until Circus Tonic Handmade appeared on the scene.

When I saw Hannah’s Galah colourway, that beautifully muted pink and grey, I knew it had to be mine.  And then I started knitting it, and the pattern I have had in my head for a long time (but wasn’t able to find the right colour yarn for it) sprang up and shouted “Me, me, me, me!!!”

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After much swatching and ripping, I realised the pattern had to be toe-up, which threw me a bit as I dislike the backwards (to me) way of knitting heels.  Then I remembered that I could always do an afterthought heel, and all was well with the world again!

This merino/nylon blend yarn (Revelry Sock) is the softest sock yarn I have ever laid my hands on.  The merino wool used to make this yarn is of very high quality. It is so soft, I was scared that it would be weak, but it is not.  It is very well spun, with a non-splitty, springy twist that is perfect for socks or anything else you want to knit it in. I like it very much.

I think there is definitely a place in the world for pretty, feminine colours.  Ones that aren’t super saturated, but not washed out either.  It’s my new favourite style of colourway!

I bet you want to see that design I spoke of?

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This is a sneaky peek of Mary, Mary.  All going well, I’ll be releasing the pattern towards the end of next week (dependent on testing time).  Mary, Mary, was inspired by the nursery rhyme, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?  With silver bells and cockle shells, and little maids all in a row.”  It is a feminine design to match a feminine yarn, and I am very pleased with how it turned out in the end.  (The sock hasn’t been blocked yet, which is why it’s still a bit wonky looking).

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Can you see the silver bells and cockle shells?  I took the bell reference to be flowers like the Lily of the Valley which have little bells, and the cockle shells are run up the sides, like little borders on the flower beds.

The pattern is not hard to knit.  I will give you links to the Turkish cast on that I used (it is so simple, it is my favourite method for double-sided cast ons) and how to work out the length of the foot before commencing the heel.  The heel will also have a surprise.  I worked out how to knit a cushioned afterthought heel that fits well.  I am very pleased with it and for me, it will help very much with the holes that always develop first on the bottom of my heels!

On a final note, speaking of pretty, I saw some truly amazing and exciting New Zealand produced yarn this weekend.  Mary Furness-Weir of Maniototo Wool has produced a special new yarn this season – it is called Luxury Lambswool (from the wool of ram lambs). It is a worsted-spun, DK weight yarn.  I have never felt anything so beautiful.  It has drape, sheen, it is incredibly smooth (due to the worsted spin) and it is soft.  Oh so soft (22 micron).  It is quite tightly spun, which makes it even more different to the usual DK weight wool yarns.  It makes my head burst.  I want it ALL.  I don’t have photos (Mary only had two skeins for her own use on her when she showed them to me and I stupidly forgot to take a photo… I was too busy coveting).  I have regrammed one of her posts showing the yarn – have a look at the Instagram photo on my sidebar (visible if you are reading this post on a PC), and you’ll see the yarn.  Or if you follow me on Instagram (Kiwiyarns), you’ll see it in my feed.

If you hurry, you’ll find some on the indie shelf at Holland Road Yarn Company this month.  Mary will be in store at lunch time tomorrow (Monday), in case you are in Wellington and have time to meet her.

I had better get cracking and produce more patterns so I can afford to buy some before it is all gone!


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Single breed wool in New Zealand

An interesting comment was made yesterday in response to the Wovember post that it was hard to know where to buy single breed wool yarn in New Zealand. This is quite true.  If you are interested in knitting single breed wool in New Zealand, it is often difficult to know where to find it.  As was observed, there are a lot of natural, 100% wool yarns available, but they are often blended yarns, and not of a single breed of sheep.

However, not all is lost!  I have put together a list for you below, detailing what I know about where to find undyed, single breed, pure wool in New Zealand that is also not superwash treated.  Given our relatively recent place in history as an agricultural nation, we do not have the variety of heritage sheep breeds that you can find in the UK. Many of the single breed wools available here are only sold as fleece due to the very small flock sizes.  What I have noted below is a general representation of commercially available single breed yarns in New Zealand:

Maniototo Wool – 100% pure merino crossbred

Skeinz – 100% cheviot (I have blogged about swatching this yarn here)

Skeinz – 100% Polwarth

Skeinz – 100% organic merino 

Skeinz – 100% rare breed merino

Anna Gratton – 100% New Zealand Corriedale.  Available in several shades of natural, undyed yarn, and in several weights (fingering – chunky), as below.  Contact Anna through her Facebook page to obtain.  I have written numerous posts about her gorgeous wool.  My Bedford sweater is made in this yarn, blogged about here. I have now worn it constantly for three years!  And it just gets better and better and better.  It is the classic wool story of wool that continues to develop and age like a great wine, into something utterly amazing as time goes on.

Image courtesy of Anna Gratton

Image courtesy of Anna Gratton

Stansborough – Mithril – 100% Stansborough Grey (Kokako Grey is undyed). This is also available from Holland Road Yarn Company (drop them a note – I have seen it in store this week) and Mynx

Treliske – 100% organic merino

BlackHills – 100% undyed wool yarn, except they don’t say what breed.  I am guessing it is Romney or Romney crossbred.  Very different to anything I have ever tried knitting before.  I’ve mentioned it in the post about swatching Cheviot above.

Briarpatch – 100% organic merino

The Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders’ Association of New Zealand also contains links to other rare breeds in New Zealand, but most of this is fleece.

Hallblacks often has a 100% Romney lambswool (which I am knitting for the Wovember WAL) but they are currently on hiatus.

If you know of any others, I’m all ears!  There is also a very interesting website on rare breeds of sheep (and other animals) that is worth a read if you are keen to know more about this area.


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COZI by name, Cosy by nature

Last week, a little package of sock yarn delight arrived in the mail courtesy of Zealana.  It made me extremely happy.

Zealana Cozi

Peppermint colourway

My fellow knitters, I am excited to introduce COZI, Zealana’s first sock yarn!

Cozi has been anxiously anticipated by me for what seems like at least a year, ever since I heard a little whisper that there was going to be a Zealana sock yarn. The wait has been torturous!!  I am not sure the yarn lasted an hour after arriving in my house before it was doing its thing on my eager needles!

Cozi is every bit as lovely as I hoped it would be.  Zealana’s aim is to make amazing yarn, and they have done it again with Cozi, producing one of the most interesting sock yarns to enter the market this year! Let’s have a closer look to see why!

Cozi is made from 58% merino, 15% New Zealand brushtail possum down, 5% baby alpaca and 22% nylon (2% of that is elastic nylon). This creates a yarn that feels luxuriously special, is very soft and yet durable.

The yarn had me smiling all over from the moment I cast on.  It is a beautifully plump, cohesive strand, with the most surprising spring and just the right amount of ‘squish’ factor.  Knitting with it, you quickly develop a smooth rhythm and even tension as the yarn slides easily over the needles and sits nicely in hand.

Construction

The tight twist and finely balanced combination of fibres has created a smooth strand that holds together very well.  I am very good at splitting yarn whilst knitting, yet I experienced only one incident of a strand not making it onto the loop with its siblings – a record for me, and a testament to the good construction of Cozi.  There is also no shedding of fibre as you knit.

Zealana Cozi sock yarn

Currant colourway

All Zealana yarns are constructed thoughtfully, and Cozi is no exception.  If  you have knitted with a possum sock yarn before, you are likely to have found it lacks much spring.  Cozi is different.  It is delightfully springy!  Jimad Khan, Marketing Manager at Zealana, tells me that using Zealana’s unique finishing technique, the 4 ply yarn was semi-felted around an ultra-fine texturised nylon filament (elastic nylon). This elastic nylon amplifies the spring from the twist by adding extra recovery to the fabric.  Add to this the qualities of possum down (softness and warmth and reduction of pilling) merino wool (body, spring and all of wool’s wonderful properties), baby alpaca (more softness and warmth) and nylon (for strength), and you get a super cushiony fabric which is soft, warm, light, comfortable to wear and adorably hugable – all trademark qualities of Zealana yarns.

High twist

Close-up of the high twist in Cozi.

I was initially concerned that the high nylon content would impact the feel of the yarn.  I’m not a fan of yarns where you can feel that nylon squeak.   My fears were at once pacified when I got hold of the yarn.  None of the beautiful feel of natural wool, alpaca and possum has been compromised at all.

I was very interested to see that the merino wool used in this yarn has not been superwash treated.  This aspect has also contributed to the spring and body in Cozi because the merino wool has lost none of its super springy characteristics.  I also like the implied environmental benefits of not using strong chemicals to treat the wool.  Jimad also told me that a higher micron merino wool was used, which should make it a more robust yarn.  The benefit gained in fabric texture and overall sock durability as a result far outweighs the traditional expectation of machine washability.  Given the nylon content, it is not likely that this yarn will shrink easily.  I am a reasonably careless washer of my hand knits and wash my possum garments (none of which are technically machine washable) on the handwash cycle using cold water. They always come out without mishap.  The same will apply to garments in this yarn.

Another side benefit of this beautifully textured yarn is that there is a bit more surface tension happening in the knitting than in most sock yarns.  If you happen to accidentally drop a stitch, you will find it sits meekly where you left it, waiting for you to pick it up, as opposed to naughtily running a couple of rows down like a few other sock yarns I know…

Gauge

Cozi has been made heavier (meaning, fatter) than most sock yarns.  At its recommended 28 sts/40 rows over 10cm/4 inches, (7 sts to 2.5cm/one inch) it sits on the outer edge of a typical sock yarn gauge.  Experienced socks knitters will recall that the standard sock gauge is usually closer to 32 sts/48 rows over 10cm/4 inches (8 sts to 2.5cm/one inch).  The heavier weight of the yarn has also influenced the meterage:  each 50g ball has only 170m (186y).  Many sock yarns are closer to 180m (200y) and above per 50g.  With 22% nylon and 15% possum down (both very light fibres) in the mix, you would expect more yardage in the ball – obviously, the extra weight has gone into a bulkier strand.

Because Cozi is a sock yarn on the heavier end of the spectrum, I strongly recommend experimenting with 2.5mm to 2.75mm needles when you first knit with this yarn to avoid extreme discomfort when knitting.  My own sock in Cozi is knitting at 32 sts over 10cm (8 sts to one inch) using 2.5mm needles, which I find is creating a very dense fabric and sits on the outer edge of my knitting comfort tolerance.  Even though the yarn itself may be comfortable to knit, if you create a fabric where the gauge is too tight, this can be very uncomfortable to knit as it becomes a struggle to manipulate the needles correctly.  I am surprised that despite using a larger needle than recommended, my gauge is still smaller than the indicated gauge, but this should mean that you will be able to get reasonably good results with most sock patterns that call for a yarn with average sock weight.  Zealana’s website recommendation for this yarn of 2.25 – 3.25mm is a good indicator of needle size range.

Bloom

The possum fibre in this yarn does not make itself fully known until after you start knitting, and creates just the gentlest haze over the fabric surface.  Zealana has cleverly used possum down in this yarn, the same possum down as used in their very coveted AIR range.  It creates a yarn with a very fine halo that is barely noticeable yet feels wonderfully soft to brush your fingers over it.

You never know how much a possum yarn will bloom until you wash it though.  Here is a comparison between a sock that has been soaked in warm water and a not-yet-washed sock.

Washed and unwashed sock

In reality, there is not much visual difference at all, apart from the washed sock (on the right) looking more ‘finished’ than the unwashed sock.  However, wet blocking (ie. washing) has brought the possum down to the surface, and the gentlest soft-focus haze covers the knitting.  My stitches have also evened out nicely.

I decided to tempt fate and used warm water to soak this sock (the ball band recommends cold washing).  It has not affected size at all.  However, if you were to put your socks in the handwash cycle of a machine, I would recommend sticking to the cold wash recommendation.

Here’s a closer look at the washed sock:

Washed sock

And the yet-to-be washed sock:

Unwashed sock

Uses

Cozi produces superb stitch definition and would suit any pattern that uses gansey-style stitch patterning, knit/purl combinations or cables.  You could get a lace pattern with reasonable amounts of stockinette to work but I’d be cautious about using it for anything too intricate.

Cozi was so compulsive to knit that I finished one sock in a weekend.  Slipping it on, I discovered another little secret to the elasticated yarn:  it creates a sock that really hugs your foot!  It felt like a warm, gentle embrace and most definitely cosy!  I did not want to take it off!

Although designed specifically for socks, the yarn’s great stretch recovery means that it would make amazingly cosy gloves and hats as well, and I can even imagine stretchy baby garments in this yarn.

Pricing

Sitting in Zealana’s cost-effective Artisan range, Cozi retails at NZ$14.50 a ball.  Given that the yarn contains 15% possum down, I’d say this is pretty good value.  It compares very favourably against other possum sock yarns in the market.

Conclusion

I think it is safe to assume that Cozi will take its place as one of the ‘must haves’ in the stash of any hard-core sock knitter.  Will I personally be knitting with this yarn again?  You bet!!  In fact, I was so anxious about using up the balls I received from Zealana, that I promptly ordered more online from Mynx!  I am yet to see this yarn listed at any of my local yarn stores, but I doubt that will be the case for much longer.

I can see much knitting of Cozi socks (and gloves, and hats) in my future!