Thursday, March 31, 2016

As a huge fan of all things sheepy, one of the main reasons I wanted to travel to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival was to see and pet and squish UK yarns.  Not yarns from the big companies that we all know about, but things from the smaller batch producers - the local stuff -- fibers that I imagine are milled with love in old, stone buildings somewhere near a pub.  You know the romantic images in my head - of beautiful flocks of sheep on a green hill overlooking a loch?  Set on hill by a countryside village full of quaint cottages, somewhere in Scotland/England/Ireland?  I had visions of luminous tweeds and wools that just had to be experienced and touched.  I imagined traditional colorwork and cables and highland motifs that needed to be seen in their own land, surrounded by samples knit by people who knew from whence they came - and I was not disappointed.  I wanted this yarn experience to be about the wool and the history of the industry, and it was to be in some kind of historical building, full of charming accents and cakes and tea. That's what I had in mind. A Rhinebeck of the UK, so to speak.

During our stopover in Dublin on the way over, my travelmate Ellen (if you sew, check out her new tunic pattern!!) and I got a taste of what was in store.  Beautiful Irish blankets and sweaters were found in the airport shop (not made in acrylic crap, but knit in soft, beautiful wool!) and the souvenir shops were dotted with sheepy keychains and lollipops and tee shirts.

That was nothing compared to what we found at the Festival. The Corn Exchange WAS a historic building in the early 1900s where local farmers exchanged their corn and grains.  It's now in a weird kind of mini shopping area, and maybe it's more of an event venue these days -but it had big stone columns out front, and they did offer tea and cakes inside. Plus there was a bar.

More importantly, it was also full of all kinds of UK fiber - rustic and soft, sheepy and smooth, in natural shades or vibrant colors - tons of tweedy goodness with gorgeous names like Wensleydale, Dover, Shropshire, Herbridiean (you had to smell Rachel Atkinson's deep dark skeins!!), Cotswold, Zwarbles and more.

Apparently - and not surprisingly - there was a game last year where you had to guess if each name was a sheep or a cheese - or maybe both.

The festival was exactly what I'd hoped - a celebration of the traditions and breeds found in the UK. The booths were full of small indie producers and a few midsize companies who are keeping the farming and knitting industries chugging along in the UK. There was all the petting and sniffing and "what sweater is that??" that one needed, plus two days worth of fabulous accents and tea and cakes. Jo and Mica really did put on a wonderful event - complete with opportunities to eat, drink and socialize so you could enjoy not only the yarns, but the people who had traveled from near and far to be there.

It was hard to choose what to take home, but at the end of the day, these are the skeins that traveled back to the states with me --

Up front are two skeins of Kate Davies Buachaille - a beautiful yarn Kate's created out of 100% Scottish wool and then dyed in shades reminscent of the Scottish countryside - this front skein here is called hedder and it's the color of the small flowers whose name I don't know that dot the hills near Kate's home.  It's gorgeous stuff, and I envision a colorwork hat out of these two.

Behind the Buachaille and at left down below is a skein of John Arbon's Voila, a lovely merino dyed a deep blue tweedy shade called North Sea. This one is also destined to become a hat, in a little collaboration later this year.  John and his wife spin a whole line of yarns at their mill in Devon, one of the remaining smaller scale operations out there. I'd gotten a few skeins of their Paint by Numbers yarn when I was in England this summer, and they are a well known producer of British fiber, so I was really happy to see ALL of their yarns in person.  They also spun up Ysolda's beautiful new Blend No. 1, which is the lovely gray skein on the right below ...

Ysolda's yarn is a soft, heathered mix of Merino, Polwarth and Zwarbles and the color is pretty much my dream gray. Light and delicate but dappled with lots of darker fibers.  I bought two skeins and was given two more by the lovely Ysolda  herself, so with over 1200 yards in hand now, I am torn between giant shawl or actual sweater.....

In the middle of those two heathered skeins is another special fiber.   This is Baskerville, by Linda of Kettle Yarns.  It's a mix of Exmoor Blueface, Gotland and Silk - and it's indigo dyed in small batches. It has a gorgeous twist to it, and although it's a silky fiber, it still has a lovely tweedy element to it. Linda says it "hails from the mysterious West County moors" which makes it even that much more awesome.   I definitely envision a shawl out of these guys.

One of my goals at the Festival was to touch some Blacker Yarns - after binge listening to the Pom Pom and Knit British podcasts prior to travel, they really were top of mind, plus it was in Sophie Scott's accent that their name had stuck in my head, so they were absolutely a proper British yarn in my mind. And again, the colors and fibers that Blacker offered didn't disappoint.  I had the hardest time choosing, but my head is full of traditional cables with this yarn, so I stayed with simple, natural grays in their Classic and Shetland Wools.  With maybe just a bit of mustard...

And last, but not least --- a skein of Eden Cottage Yarn came home with me. It was gorgeous and distracting to be in that booth, but I tried to narrow things down to one fiber.  In another British sheep variety I never see at home - Masham.  It's called Malham DK, and it's a mix of Masham and BFL - and it's sheepy with just a touch of sheen.  In Victoria's colors, so how can you go wrong?

I think I'm in a little bit of a blue-green-gray phase, but as I swatch and think about Fall, I'm excited to see how these guys will net out....    I may just skip summer knitting all together.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Introducing Talisker!  This one's named after a proper Scotch, inspired Edinburgh and Scotland, so it's an appropriate sidebar before I come back with yarn and the rest of my trip recap.

Especially since it's knit in YOTH Father, and I got to spend time with Veronika and Daniel in Scotland -- they are the brother and sister pair behind my current Yarn on the House obsession. And they could not be nicer. Here they are taking a short cocktail break at the festival with me -- and check out V's cool yarn-y tattoo :) Because, yes, the Corn Exchange had a BAR in the lobby.

We had plans to shoot photos of the cowl in the city, but time, weather, and other pursuits got in the way. Instead, Zoe was a willing model back here in Massachusetts. And for that, I may have to share the cowl from now on.  I'm in trouble because she's the same size as me already.

Talisker features the familiar cables from my Winter Drinks collection, which I am just in love with. I'm not promising that I'm finished with them either - they have this delicate unexpected detail and a little slant to them, but they still read as a classic cable.  And they're super easy to work, another of those motifs that only look complicated...

Here they were in hat form - on the first of the Tom and Jerry hats - worked in Big Sister, the DK weight and pale shade makes for a lovely delicate allover pattern.

But in the worsted weight yarn and the bright color, they feel bold and squishy.  Especially when worked in panels and paired with garter and slipped stitch details.  The difference in gauge makes for a subtle scallop shape, and the cowl has a lovely heft to it.

It's deep and cushy and worked out kind of perfectly with a mix of garter, ribs, cables, and reverse stockinette.  I used two skeins for this size/440 yds.  All the details and a few test knits are on the Ravelry page.  The pattern is available as a PDF download for $5 on the pattern page or here on the blog.

Back to work now -- I'm still catching up.  But a note on drinking a proper scotch?  I like it straight. No ice,  no mixers.  Just an inch or so in a tumbler at the end of the night.  Even better if it's cold or rainy or misty out....

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The hardest part about sharing this last week is picking which photos to share - because I have WAY too many.  Of the people, of the yarn, of the scenery.  And maybe that in itself sums up the whole experience.  It was full of moments that had to be captured and savored and remembered.  I'll try to recap some of the highlights here, but I'm absolutely going to have to leave off a great deal of it because 5 days in an enchanting city with all the yarn and all the people really should be a chapter in my personal Knitlandia - (right Clara Parkes?) - and neither you nor I have the time for that.

First, the city - it's just as enchanting as you imagine.  Our flat was in a crescent of row houses, and it was quirky and charming and had a spiral staircase made of stone.  My housemates were Ellen Mason, Sonya Phillips and Kirsten Kapur, which is an amazing and entertaining combination of both knitting and sewing talents who are intelligent, wonderful, and hilarious.  This pic of Sonya and Ellen on the steps of the castle is one of my favorite images of the whole trip.  It captures about one tenth of the joy in these two.

Edinburgh is a great walking city - charming shops and gothic stone buildings line the streets, and in the center of the town is the great castle, perched on a mound of volcanic stone and visible no matter where you go (helpful when you get turned around).

A bit by myself and a bit with others, I managed to explore the Old City, the New City, the Canal of Leith, and the bluffs nearby, and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. I ducked into beautiful old cemeteries large and small, found hidden alleys and stairways, found the path up the side of the castle, went out of the tourist area with Kirsten to check out the local neighborhood charity shops and read every single historical plaque I walked past. I bought a history book to fill in the gaps, and made my buddies detour into a free exhibit on the Plague at the National Library,  But there's tons more to see and do, and I think another trip will be in order.

When Ellen and I arrived from the airport on Wednesday, we plopped our bags at our flat (in the row above) and walked back out the door to meet up with local designer and good friend Gudrun Johnston, who took us straight to the cafe where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter.  See that shot at bottom left? That's a view right near the cafe, where almost any of the streets could easily be Diagon Alley.  

Festivities began Thursday night, with a gathering at a local restaurant - conveniently about a block from our flat.  And for the rest of the weekend, there was the meeting in person of all the wonderful industry people I'd "known" online.  Just to name a few -- Lydia and Sophie from Pom Pom, Linda of Kettle Yarns, Justyna Lorkowska, Melanie Berg, Susan Crawford, Victoria from Eden Cottage Yarns, Felicity Ford, Tom of Holland, Kate Davies (!!), Emily from TinCanKnits, Ruth of Wooly Wormhead, Nancy Marchant, Diana Walla, Jeni Reid, Anna Malz, Hanna Maciejewska, and all the way from Washington State, USA - Veronika and Daniel from YOTH, who I actually had not met at home in the US.  Plus I got to see a whole bunch of knitters who came up to me to say hello at different points over the days.  It's such a whirlwind and the thrill to meet some of these folks whose work I've followed or books I own or knits I've made - or who've made mine - is such an honor.

And the thought that runs through my head regarding this piece of the trip is just a giant thank you to Jess and Casey.  It's the community that they built that created a world where I could get on a plane and go across the globe and immediately connect or hug or chat or have a beer with these people.  As part of that community, we come pre-introduced somehow, and we never seem to have a shortage of things to talk about.

And then there was the festival itself.   Held in the old Corn Exchange, just outside the city center.

I think I'll stop there for now - in a day or two I'll pop back in to continue - with proper photos and links and thoughts about the things I got to pet and squish and buy.  Jo and Mica put on a wonderful show and I want to chat about it properly. For now, there is much catching up to do around here and I can feel myself getting a little distracted by the list to my left...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

My needles are empty, my deadline projects are shipped out, and my suitcase is slowly filling up with important things, such as drink umbrellas, a UK charger, and a trunk show's worth of knits!

I'm off to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival on Tuesday night, and I could not be more excited!!

If you're coming to the show, do say hi if you see me wandering around, or come visit me and my knits on Saturday between 1:15 and 2pm, when I'll be set up in Ysolda's meet and greet space.  I'll have my sweaters and some fun little drink-y free takeaway items for you to use in your cocktails later in the evening.  

I'm really excited to announce that Ysolda has taken me on as a designer in her new wholesale venture, along with Andrea Rangel, Gudrun Johnston, Laura Chau, and Bristol Ivy -- so she'll have print copies of a bunch of my designs, complete with download codes so you can also pop one in your Ravelry library.

When not meeting or greeting, I'll be perusing all the gorgeous British yarns, hoping to pet some of the things I have been hearing about but not yet seen over here in the states. So far on my list of yarns to find are Blacker Yarns, Baa Ram Ewe, Ysolda's new Blend 1 and Kate Davies' Buchanille,  I'm sure I'll be coming home with a few new favorites, some souvenirs, and a little something for the Cat's Away KAL going on in my BabyCocktails Rav group.

That big new suitcase was bought with extra room  just because, right? Plus haggis and some scotch and a tartan something.....

If you have a favorite thing that I NEED to be seeing, or a spot in Edinburgh I need to be visiting do tell me in the comments below!