Kiwiyarns Knits

A blog about New Zealand yarns, knitting and life


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Wool musings

As I work my way through the Christmas gifts and other projects, the subject of wool and the different characteristics of wool is very much in my mind.  All the projects I am currently knitting are pure wool (with the exception of the socks with nylon added).  I wondered why that was.  I think there are two reasons:

  1. The yarns I have selected have the characteristics I want to produce the desired fabric of the finished garment; and
  2. A lot of the projects I’m knitting (in particular, the hats) will see vigorous use, and must be able to stand up to abuse and wear and tear, and particularly the unique conditions of hat wearing – being stretched across a very warm (and often moist) head, and still retain its shape and elasticity.  Wool is absolutely the best material for this purpose because it is durable, elastic, breathable and warm, and can handle a bit of water if rained on.

The inadvertent consequence of choosing different wool yarns to knit is that knitting each of the projects has also highlighted to me just how different wool yarns can be, depending on sheep breed, processing method and spin.

Take the hat that I have just completed:

Hat for Q

This is a commercial New Zealand wool yarn that has since been discontinued.  Judging from the way this yarn feels and behaves, the wool used in this yarn would come from composite sheep – multipurpose types that are raised for both meat and wool in New Zealand. They are not a particular ‘breed’ as such, but a mix of breeds that are combined to create sheep suited to the climate and conditions where they are farmed.  Different breeds of sheep perform better in different environments, be it hill country, on the flat, in wet conditions or dry, etc., and farmers here often specifically combine breeds of sheep so that their progeny are able to thrive in the conditions they are farmed in.  It is the same concept that has brought about the different breeds in history – each sheep breed was developed in its time to be the ideal animal to raise in the conditions it lived in.  Unfortunately, (in the view of this knitter), a changed world means that the majority focus now is more on the animal’s ability to produce meat rather than quality of wool for hand knitting purposes.

Back to the yarn – it is a natural colour, spun semi-worsted to an aran/worsted/10 ply weight.  It is a perfectly acceptable workhorse yarn, which will wear very well.  It has that ‘standardised’ feel,  nothing special to write home about, but it is still wool, with all the properties that make wool amazing nonetheless.

The 3-ply has given the yarn a roundness and a smoother quality to the fabric than the next yarn that I used…

IMG_1549 (1024x768)

This yarn is very different to the first!  I could tell from its handle the minute I started knitting with it!  It is from a blend of the fleece of Corriedale and Perendale sheep, carefully selected for suitability for hand knitting.  It is Ashford Tekapo, a lofty semi-worsted spun yarn.   Two singles that are plied together in a lively twist to form a DK weight yarn (personally, I use this yarn like an US worsted weight).  When examined more closely, I found that the singles are minimally twisted before plying.  Yet the yarn is extremely elastic and feels lively in hand, with a wonderful squish and comfortable handle that makes it a delight to knit with.  I suspect that has to do with the quality of the original fleece in addition to the twist put into the plying process.  It is not a superwash yarn either, which has preserved the characteristics of the fleece.  It is not super soft, but it is not scratchy or coarse.  It is ideal for outerwear.

The resulting fabric is lofty (not dense) and has a rustic look that I particularly enjoy.  That energetic 2-ply creates a fabric with more texture than a 3-ply.  If you compare the photos of the hat below with the hat above, I think the difference in the fabrics due to the differing spin methods is quite noticeable. I would add that the characteristics and quality of the original fleece selected also plays a large part in the end result.

Hat

It will wear very well.  I think the thing that I love about this particular yarn is that it feels like fleece/unprocessed wool. If you have ever had the privilege to bury your hands into freshly shorn fleece (or even while it is on the sheep’s back), the feel that you get is much like knitting with this yarn and the fabric that forms in your hands.  Minus the greasy lanolin and vegetable matter of course!  I shouldn’t be surprised.  Ashford is a company that is primarily known for its amazing spinning wheels.  It does go to say they should know a fair bit about spinning a good yarn! Mental note to knit more with this yarn!

What interests me a lot about the wool yarns I have been knitting with is that I am particularly enjoying the yarns where the character of the fleece of origin is preserved in the yarn.  Perhaps it is because it makes me feel more connected to its origins, the sheep itself?

Incidentally, the subject of different wools and their characteristics was one of the fascinating topics of the Wovember campaign this year.  If you’d like to read more about wool and its yarn, visit Wovember and have a browse!  Just start at the top and scroll down… 🙂


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The trouble with handknit socks

I have been visiting family this week, and it has been lovely to see everyone.  It has been quite some time since I saw them all properly.

While I was there, I gave one of my sisters a pair of handknit socks.  She opened the package and said “The trouble with handknit socks,” (as I began to worry) “is that there is never enough of them.  You wash them, and then you have to wait for them to dry before you can wear them again!”  Ah!  That was a relief to know.  I was worried she wasn’t going to like her present!  A happy grin spread across my face.

“Well, there are plenty more where those came from, now that I know you like them!” came my happy response.

Then her husband came home and noticed the socks.  “Nice socks!” he commented.  I got the feeling he might have liked a pair too, maybe?

Then my mother popped in to visit, and eyed my sister’s socks enviously.  “You could knit some socks for me if you like…” she ventured.  “Of course I’ll knit you a pair!” came the obvious reply.

I gave her the finished sock of a pair that I am currently knitting to try on, so that I could figure out what size to knit her.  I hadn’t been sure she wanted socks before now, as she doesn’t usually wear shoes that need socks, so it was good of her to request them.

She put the sock on and wriggled her toes happily.  “I don’t know what it is about these socks, but they feel so much nicer and are much more comfortable than commercially made ones!”  (Happy glow emanates from knitter).

I am not sure that I have ever heard this much enthusiasm for an item of knitting clothing from my family!  They are always very appreciative of what I give them, but I don’t think I’ve ever registered as much excitement about the prospect of something knitted for them as socks generate.

And that, my friends, is the trouble with handknit socks.  They are so delightfully comfortable and so wonderfully warm that everyone in the family wants a pair (or should I say, as many pairs as I can possibly send their way).

At least I will never have a shortage of candidates to knit socks for!

I wonder if I can crank out two pairs a month!?

Socks in progress


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The Void of Lillia Hyrna

You’ll recognise this moment.  The last stitch has been bound off, the project is nicely blocking, you sit down back in your chair and…

??

Why this feeling of sudden loss?  That emptiness of hands?  The sense that a great void is rapidly opening up in one’s cosy corner of creativity? That friend whom you went back to finish an enjoyable conversation with, only to find she is gone!  Oh, the panic!  Oh, that spiralling disquiet!

Project grief.  It gets me every time.

The gift

This is a gift for my sister to celebrate the birth of her second son.  I think it’s starting to become a tradition for me to knit a shawl to celebrate a baby’s birth.  I was waiting for her to receive it before I showed it to you.

It’s Lillia Hyrna, from the Knitter’s Book of Wool.

Lillia Hyrna

It’s very pretty.

Lillia HyrnaI especially love the edging, even though it is a crochet bind-off, and I dislike crocheting very much.

More Lillia HyrnaThe beautiful yarn is Anna Gratton‘s Little Wool Co. 4 ply 100% wool naturals in Oatmeal and White.

This fingering (4ply) weight yarn is worsted spun which means the fleece wool has not only been carded but also gilled and combed to remove short fibres. This process allows the long wool fibres to lie in the same direction before spinning, resulting in a very smooth strand that is perfect for shawls. Also, the grade of New Zealand Corriedale wool selected for this yarn is a very fine micron, which means the yarn is also extremely soft, and perfect for against-the-skin wear.

I was very jealous sending this off.  Now I have to knit me a shawl in Little Wool Co.  4 ply!

If you are thinking of knitting one of these for yourself, I encourage you to read my notes here.  Although technically, there is nothing really wrong with the pattern (one very small errata is already mentioned on the pattern page), I did find it a tad frustrating to knit because some of the design elements were not to my taste (such as incomplete lace motifs along the centre increase panel).  My notes might help you to anticipate what you’d like to do at the points in the pattern that I mention if they concern you like they did me.

Overall, it is a lovely pattern, and I am pleased with how it turned out, and glad that I knitted it.

As for the void?  Do not worry, it has been rapidly filled by a veritable flood of new (and current) projects.  Although I think I also hear another shawl calling my name…


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The making of

I think one of the best things about the making of the two jackets was in the finishing.

Here are all the pieces for the black jacket, all laid out, ready to be sewn together.  I always feel like the elf in the story about “the Shoemaker and the Elves” when I get to this bit. 😉

Pixie work

I took great geekish delight in sewing the seams and fitting the sleeves – I’ve included this picture of the navy jacket being sewn up as it shows the wool yarn I used to sew the seams.  I find that possum is generally not good for sewing up.  All that pulling the yarn through the seams tends to weaken it, and your seams will pop quickly, or you’ll find the yarn breaks during sewing.  A wool yarn keeps it together much better (not machine washable yarn though – I don’t like how it’s so slippery).

Wool for sewing up

Fitting in the collar.

Fitting in the collar

I quite like those ‘do it yourself’ furniture kits – like the ones in Ikea – where you have to put all the bits together to make a finished result.  Sewing up all the pieces after knitting feels a bit like that. This collar was especially rewarding.  It wasn’t until I tacked the pieces into place that I saw how it fitted in.

Inserting the zipper was slightly less delightful, but so rewarding to see a nice result.  This picture was taken after I’d tacked in the zipper – I took a picture to make sure the fronts were lying flat and the zip wasn’t wrinkled.  Somehow I can see this detail better in a photo than if I look at it with the naked eye.

Nearly done

I used what I call the Russian zip technique.  I blogged about it the first time I used this, so I will just refer back to the original post if you’d like to know how to do it, rather than talk about it again.  It’s my favourite method.  Such a neat result!

It was a mighty relief to see that the zip was exactly the right length for the jacket fronts!!

As you can see in this picture, this is the inside of the jacket – I’m covering over the back stitching with another edging (slip stitched into place).  It creates a very neat zip with no rough edges or edging that feels scratchy on the inside.  Apologies for the horrible pictures.  It was close to midnight when I did this…

Russian zip technique

I am afraid I was singularly unsuccessful in obtaining modeled pictures.  😦   The jackets were cursorily admired before being stuffed into a suitcase.  Sigh. Hint to non-knitters:  This is not the way to inspire one’s Knitter to do future knitting for you.

The pattern was well written and clear.  I’d definitely knit it again for anyone needing a basic jacket.  It fits very well, and the collar folds over to create warm, windproof protection around the neck.

Yarn:  Supreme Possum Merino in navy and black respectively

Pattern:  Adult unisex raglan jacket, a free pattern by Patons


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Solution

Turns out you guys are really good advisers.  Thanks so much for all your helpful comments on the mohair dilemma over the past week!

In the end, I sent a note to my dad and told him about the issue of eye irritation and difficulty with knitting the yarn, and my step-mother (who does not read English and therefore needed his translation) was happy to agree to a change in yarn.  I think they’ll like the alternative better anyway.

Supreme possum merino

More deliciously warm, soft and cuddly Supreme Possum Merino.  In the colours of their choice (there’s a similar quantity in black that I haven’t shown you).  Thanks so much to Pam of Supreme who recognises urgent need and for getting it to me so quickly!

I knitted very fast this weekend.

Market Jacket

The Market Jacket is done.  I just need to add the buttons as it wasn’t completely dry when I took this pic.  The yarn is a slightly darker green that what you see in the pictures.  It’s quite hard to photograph!

Buttons

Ravelled here if you want to see knitting notes.

I’ve been feeling guilty about this cardigan.  It’s that time of year when I feel the need to dress my family in preparation for winter, and this cardigan, even though it is gorgeous, and I want it and I cannot say how much I love it every time I look at it, is the exact right size for someone else in my family.  So it’s going to be gifted, because I owe her.  Which makes me feel even better about it than owning it myself.  🙂  Plus, if I’m totally honest, I think it will suit her better than me.

Here’s another pic which shows up the softness quite well:

Soft

There’s enough of this totally gorgeous green left over for me to make a scarf, so I will be happy with that.  Besides, I have greedy plans for other knitwear for myself, and how many sweaters and cardigans does one person need!?

So… on to the two jackets!  In case you’re wondering which pattern, it’s this. A basic unisex jacket that will ‘go everywhere’, as requested.  It’s a slightly tighter gauge than the Market Jacket.  They’re meant to be proper jackets, so I figure the tighter gauge will make them extra weather-proof.

Wish me luck!


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The generation of tomorrow

For my son’s birthday party, I knitted several of these little guys as favours:

I’m not sure what happened to my head, but I forgot to take pictures of the others.  Probably something to do with rushing around trying to prepare for the party, and then giving them away to the boys before I thought about photographing them!

I knitted them because my son asked me to do them as favours, and I trusted his instincts on the matter.  It struck me as each boy received their small favour, how much they really liked their gift.  The boys immediately thought of a use for these little guys, attaching them to their balloons, and using them as very cute parachutists.  It was a very happy moment.

Reflecting on this, I remembered the time that I taught knitting at the school, and how the kids actually wanted to learn how to knit, not just because it was the thing to do at school that day.  The older kids were off doing another class while I taught the younger ones, and their disappointment at having missed out was palpable.

It’s such a contrast to my childhood.  As a child of the ’70’s, receiving something hand crafted was unfortunately (and shamefully) not appreciated.  I remember my uncle brought back a present of a handmade cloth doll from a trip overseas, and I actually cried with disappointment, and refused to accept the gift because I thought it was so ugly.  Later on, I did play with it, but I never really warmed to it somehow.  Plastic Barbie ruled the day!

My relatives were not knitters, so I was never given anything hand knitted.  It’s a good thing, as I am ashamed to say it probably would not have been graciously received.  Like the time I was allowed to request a treat as a reward for fulfilling all my chores and received… handmade doll’s clothes.  Not the factory-made ones that I asked for, and coveted.  I was crushed.  For years!

I don’t think my childhood values were that different to those of others of my generation.  It seems that times have changed though.  My son’s most treasured possessions are toys and clothes that I have knitted him.  He’s always asking me to knit him something, and he jealously watches hats and other items go out the door that are knitted for others.

Attending his friends’ birthday parties, and presenting a hand knitted gift (with some trepidation), it’s still a surprise to see genuine happiness and delight when the child opens his/her present.

While I am a solid convert to the beauty and quality of the handmade, my memories of childhood reactions to the handmade means that I don’t automatically expect others to appreciate what I do.

It still amazes me that my nieces love receiving the things I knit them, and the one time I sent something to one niece without including something for her sister, there was an outraged “Where’s mine???” (and possibly tears).  Needless to say, I won’t be sending single items again!

I think it’s a good and wonderful thing that today’s children are growing up appreciating the handmade, and by the same token, true quality.  It’s a small indication that perhaps their values will develop the changes of today, and it fills me with hope for the future.