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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Free pattern – the Cafe hat

The last of the hat patterns… (at least for a while):

When I designed this hat, I pictured something that I could wear out to brunch with friends, enjoying a latte at one of Wellington’s hip cafes, and then strolling along the waterfront, basking in a bit of early winter sunshine.  This hat is big enough to tuck long hair into, or just to wear as a piece of chic head-gear.

An easy knit, it is knitted in the round.  I’ve designed a unisex version with ribbing in the brim, as well as the more feminine version with cabling.  Attach or embroider your favourite motif for your own unique style.  I’ve attached one of Alice’s cool felted badges with lace motif to my ribbed brim, to give mine a bit more character.

This hat is knitted in possum, just because I have a fetish for lovely warm hats in winter. It’s a heavy’ish DK weight (light worsted) and you could substitute it with the yarn of your choice.  It works equally well with an angora or alpaca mix, or a nice soft cashmerino yarn – something that’s light and with nice drape.

Free Pattern – Cafe hat

I hope you enjoy knitting and wearing the Cafe hat.


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What knitting addiction?

It’s time to admit what Darling Daughter has told me all along.  I’m hopelessly addicted.

I think all that knitting has got to my arms a bit – I’ve been suffering from slight RSI for the past couple of days.  Today, I thought I’d give it a break. 

I did not do any knitting pre-breakfast. I made Eric’s breakfast and packed his lunch and got him off to school.  I hung up the laundry.  I made the beds.  I did the dishes.  I made Welsh Cakes.  I ironed the sheets.  I had tea (and ate Welsh Cakes) with neighbours who dropped in for a cuppa.  I washed the kitchen floor.  I sorted out the (long overdue) paperwork.  I vacuumed.  My little balls of perfection kept calling to me, and I’d go over to them now and again and give them a loving stroke, a squeeze, an adoring examination of their gorgeous colours, and put them down again.  I did sort of bind off a cushion cover I’ve had on the needles for while, but that doesn’t count does it?  I had lunch. 

Then, I made a fatal mistake.  I decided that since I couldn’t knit, I’d get on the laptop and start editing the pattern for the last hat that I’ll share with you – the Cafe hat (because I know you’re probably all rather sick of hats by now!).  And of course, one thing led to another…

Contented sigh.  I just can’t keep away from you my love…

It’s all Melissa Leapman’s fault.  If I hadn’t been dribbling over her book Cables Untangled (while trying to rest my arms) I wouldn’t have been tempted to incorporate that gorgeous little cable detail into the brim of my hat pattern (instead of the simple cable I had planned).  Which of course, means that one needs to knit another hat, just to make sure that it works… pain in arm is being ignored.  I’ll rub more bee venom cream into it later.

Which is another reason one shouldn’t visit libraries for good books.  Because if you meet one, you then have to buy it!  Well, I do anyway.  So this book has just gone on to my wish list, because it has the most.gorgeous.cables.on.earth in it, and I want to knit them all!

I realise that I have not updated you on the market endeavour yet.  Despite it being a uncooperatively hot day, I sold 10 hats, which made a small contribution to the community cause.  But I also had on the table a sample of the pretty cabled gloves that I knitted, and I got orders for 14 pairs!  It was interesting watching the ooooh look on people’s faces as they put on the gloves (I say people, because even hardened country boys wanted a pair – in man style, of course).  Possum is so gorgeously soft and comfy to wear.  😉  And in winter, it’s deliciously warm and snug.

I do have to admit here to a slight suspicion to being the object of sympathy as well, from friends who wanted to support my efforts. 

So you’re going to have to put up with patterns and pictures of pretty gloves (in varying degrees of cabling) for a wee while until I’ve chugged through those projects.  And as I suffer from boredom doing the same thing more than twice, guess what Melissa Leapman will be providing inspiration for…!

So the market day was a success from my point of view.  I met a fellow yarn addict, who loved the hanks of Little Wool Co. and Utiku Perendale (The Wool Co) I had on offer as a one-off.  She was selling the cutest felted cat badges.  She’s an expert crocheter, who has her own lovely blog, Crochet with Raymond

Now, do you think it is possible for me to keep off the needles for more than 24 hours?  Perhaps if you tied my arms to a chair.  I’m not addicted, seriously! ;-p


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Free pattern – the Pixie Flower cabled hat

Thank you, Claudia, for prompting me to try Zealana Tui for the creation of this hat.  In reality, the Tui clamoured “me, me, me!!” the whole time I was test knitting my pattern for this hat.  But I was determined not to knit a red hat as this colour is so tricky to photograph, and I only had Tui in red!

It turns out one should really listen to one’s yarn when selecting a suitable medium for a project.  And here we have it – the nailed version, in Zealana Tui! 

Just to reveal a bit more of the story behind this hat – I’ve been in love with this kind of flower ever since I was a little girl – it looks just like the flower skirts and hats worn by fairies and pixies in the illustrations of old-fashioned story books.  I used to dream about wearing a petaled skirt just like it. 

Now that I’m a grown woman, the design has become slightly more abstract.  But still, it does remind me of a flower hat that might be worn by a pixie…

I’m very happy with the little knob at the top, like the point of a flower turned upside down, and the way the deep cable start has gently pointed the brim, just like flower petals.  The alternating length cables give the hat a gentle roundness and more width over the head.

Knitted to a tighter-than-normal tension for this yarn, it’s warm, cosy, and wind-proof.  Everything a girl needs to keep her head snug on a freezing winter’s day when a howling gale is blowing.  A brisk Southerly breeze obligingly sailed in just as I was finishing this hat.  And I can confirm it is very cosy and comfortable to wear! 

As this project is an energetic chunky knit, it’s best to use needles that are steel or have a steel core for this exercise.  I would hate to be accused of destroying one’s favourite set of KnitPro needles!  My weapon of choice was Addi circulars. 

If you have been following the posts about these hats, you’ll know I’ve already knitted a couple of versions in different yarns, to try to get just the right yarn for my concept.  Zealana’s Tui is indeed the exact, perfect yarn for this hat.  Tui is a soft-spun yarn with possum, merino and cashmere content.  Its super-softness makes it a total pleasure to knit, and very cosy to wear.  You need just one 100g ball to make this hat – an economical and playful knit for the winter season.

So here it is – The Pixie Flower Cabled Hat (free pattern).

Have fun!


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The pixie flower hat

I’m rather thinking this hat might be a FAIL from a design point of view.  Sorry kb!

Maybe it’s just because I’m not feeling too hot today.  I have a headache.  It’s also a bit warm to be wearing very cosy hats. 

When I first thought up this hat, I wanted something pretty, playful and windproof.  Something that reminded me of this flower:

I’ve always wanted a hat shaped like a flower for some reason…

And something that stays in place on freezing winter mornings when I walk Eric down to the school bus and a Southerly gale is blasting down the valley at 100km/h, knocking our hats and eyelashes off.

I think it will certainly fulfil all that criteria.

It’s very fitted.  It’s very chunky.  And the tension is very chunky too – to make it windproof (heavy enough not to be blown off and not let the wind through).  I used 5mm needles for a yarn that is normally knitted on 7mm needles.  I think I’ll wait until winter before passing final judgment though.  The original hat in red I’ve shown you before is better, but the yarn is different – very slightly finer, and you can’t get that yarn on the market – it’s a one-off.  To give you the pattern, I need to use a yarn that is readily available.

In the meantime, I think I’ll sit on the pattern and tinker a bit more.  I think I’d like slightly more frill at the brim (like the original) and more point at the crown (a new thought).  I’m not quite happy with it yet. 

On the subject of hats, I’ll spend tomorrow writing tags for my 20+ hats (and toys, of which there are not so many) and organising myself.  Sunday is the day!

After which, I have a host of posts planned, on subjects nothing to do with hats (do I hear a sigh of relief?) 😉  I thought I’d talk a bit about the community cause I’m contributing to from the proceeds of my stall, as well as continue my review of possum yarns.  There’s also an update on New Zealand wool industry happenings.  And of course, a few more hat patterns.

On a completely different subject, I did some dyeing for the first time today.  I’ve been reading The New Zealand Woolcraft Book by Constance Jackson and Judith Plowman and got totally inspired.  So yesterday, I gathered two separate kinds of lichens that grow around the garden, and brewed them up… and this morning, I added the yarn.

It’s gorgeous, and looks absolutely stunning against my purple sweaters that are hanging up to dry with it (that is a navy colour you see in the background in case you are wondering).  One colour is almost orange, and the other is a beautiful pale greeny yellow/brown.  The yarn is a New Zealand eco merino from Woolrae Studios, which I’ve mentioned before in a previous post.  I had about 40g left over from one of the hat projects, so decided to have fun with experimentation.

I know it’s a bit naughty to use lichens given they’re so rare these days.  But they were growing all over the letterbox, so I’m hoping that’s a good-enough excuse.  You don’t need to mordant the wool beforehand to dye with lichens, so it’s chemical-free and eco-friendly.  I’m not sure how colourfast it will be – I guess time will tell!  It will be a lovely addition to a colourwork hat at some point.  Just can’t get those hats off the brain!


Only days to go

Well, the market day is this Sunday, and here’s what I’ve done in the way of hats:

Believe it or not, there are 21 hats there.  In varying sizes and shapes.  With a few days left, I will be adding to that tally, although I really ought to contribute a few more creatures…

Apart from the Rivulet Hat, the fair isle hats are my favourite.  They tell the story of the area I live in.  Can you tell what it might be..?

I’ve used the Little Wool Co‘s 100% wool naturals in 8 ply.  It’s got to be my favourite New Zealand wool yarn.  It’s durable, softens up beautifully when worn, doesn’t pill, and is wonderfully tactile to knit. 

There’s also the Pixie Flower Hat, the next free pattern – a chunky cabled number in Rowan Colourscape.  I’ll show you more next time.