Ireland, land of sheep and wonderful woollens

Sheep stand off in Co. Kerry
A sheep stand off in the Caha Mountains, along the N71 to Kenmare, Co. Kerry.
Sheep on the road
Sheep on the road at Moll’s Gap.
Moll's Gap
Moll’s Gap in Co. Kerry.
Woolly goodness at Avoca, 11-13 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2.
Knits at the Irish Design Shop
Knits at the Irish Design Shop – 41 Drury St, Dublin 2.
Kevin & Howlin
Kevin & Howlin, specialists in hand-woven Donegal tweed. The shop is at 31 Nassau Street, Dublin 2.
Barleycove, a beach near Crookhaven and Goleen in Co. Cork.
Burren Fine Wine and Food
Burren Fine Wine and Food, on Corkscrewhill Road in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare.
Streedagh Strand
Seaweed specialist Prannie Rhatigan running across Streedagh Strand in Co. Sligo. That’s Benbulben – Ireland’s “Table Mountain” – in the distance.
Streedagh Strand
Sea pinks growing out of the rocks on Streedagh Strand, Co. Sligo.
Black mussels on Streedagh strand
Black mussels on Streedagh strand.

I spent an incredible seven nights in Ireland on a work trip in May. Although my focus was culinary (read my story on Irish farmhouse cheeses on the National Post), I did squeeze in a couple of woollen blankets for myself, and a failed trip to This Is Knit in Dublin (Note: don’t necessarily trust the opening hours listed on their website).

Hopefully a future trip to this wonderful land allows for visits to woollen mills – Avoca, Cushendale, Donegal, Foxford, and Kerry – and of course the Aran Islands. Fellow knitters will admire the work of Inis Meáin Knitting Company; building on a rich tradition of knitted fishermen’s garments born of necessity and practicality, now with a luxurious touch.

I covered 1,530 kilometres in Ireland; my tips for an Irish road trip, as well as a video and more photos are included in my story on Driving.


Silver BeelineSilver Beeline

Beeline is a straight-forward, seamless knit from Heidi Kirrmaier. I’ve made it twice so far, so that says something about its knit- and wear-ability. The first was for me(!) in jade Merino wool, and the second for my sister in silver Galway Highland Heathers.

The eyelet details and shaping add interest while knitting the many inches of stockinette for the body. The pullover is worked top-down, with the neckband picked up to finish. Easy peasy!

[Ravelled here and here.]

Immie Tee

Immie Tee

The absolute cuteness of baby knits has not worn off for me. After countless little hats and a few tiny sweaters, I still find myself inordinately delighted by how adorable they are.

This yellow tee is for my niece Sibella – she’ll be one in August! The yarn is Tern from Quince & Co., and it’s a blend of wool and silk.

Immie Tee

Immie Tee

The bit of silk makes for a nice, lightweight knit. The colourway, Buoy, is really quite muted, and there’s a slight variation in hue due to the differences in the way wool and silk being absorb dye.

The pattern is by Carrie Bostick Hoge, who has plenty of very sweet baby knits to choose from. In fact, one is named Sibella; a natural fit … maybe for birthday number two!

Wishing you a very happy Canada Day long weekend, and a happy Pride to all those in Toronto!


Holiday knits

A whole whack of holiday knits ready to be wrapped! I was taking my sweet time documenting them and since December is now here I felt the window closing… Canada Post does need an ample amount of lead time.

The top photo is Veera Välimäki’s Stripe Study Shawl in Tanis Blue Label, which made great travel knitting in France and Spain this fall!

The second is Jane Ellison’s Griffin in Classic Elite MountainTop Vista. Thanks to Jane for helping me pick out the colourway, which is natural and undyed 50/50 wool and alpaca.

Then we have another Veera design – this one Shimmer in Blue in Malabrigo Yarn Rios. I love the fact that the cables are reversible, and the wider opening at the bottom so that you can pull it down over your shoulders.

Finally, another of Michele Wang’s Eternity Scarves – this time in Tanis Green Label. I love this pattern and plan to make one or two more!

Happy December and happy knitting!

[Photos courtesy of Christopher]

[Ravelled: Stripe Study Shawl, Griffin, Shimmer in Blue, and Eternity Scarf]

Moonrise Mitts: pattern sampling

Photograph courtesy of Focus Features
Photograph by Niko Tavernise, Focus Features

I loved Wes Anderson’s latest movie, Moonrise Kingdom. It’s witty and innocent with so many incredible details: the soundtrack, the miniature sets and one eye-catching knit. I was hooked by the pair of mitts worn by Bob Balaban’s Narrator and used some screen grabs to draft a chart.

I’ll be experimenting with different yarn weights and sizes before sharing the pattern with you – Chris commissioned this first “pattern sampled” pair, which I knit in worsted weight Dream in Color Classy and Green Mountain Spinnery Mountain Mohair.

I took the photos at Lake on the Mountain – a beautiful provincial park if you’re ever in Prince Edward County. I have it on good authority that The Inn restaurant right beside the park is a tasty spot. We had packed a picnic so we’ll just have to make another trip sometime!


Red, naturally

Left to right: linen fabric, silk fabric, wool yarn and cotton yarn. Top to bottom: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed

Some more samples to share from my Fibre Arts with Natural Dyes class – this time, red. To achieve these shades of red, we used cochineal from Maiwa Supply in Vancouver. Cochineal is unique among the natural dyes we’ve been using in class in that it isn’t a plant but an insect. The bodies of female insects of the species Dactylopius, which live on the prickly pear cactus native to Mexico, Central and South America and the Canary Islands, are ground using a mortar and pestle or dedicated spice/coffee grinder. Cochineal is also widely used in food, cosmetics and drugs – you may remember some of the press Starbucks got lately, which resulted in the company promising to phase out use of the insect. This article from Scientific American is a good read if you’re interested in learning more.

It’s a tough one for me to personally take a stance on. There’s the argument of synthetic red colourings vs. natural, insect-based colour, and the environmental and health impacts of both. I’m interested in exploring other sources of red as well, such as Brazilwood, but I suppose what I’m learning is that these natural dyes all have their impact and industry. Is harvesting Brazilwood better? is using a synthetic dye better? It’s a complex issue.

Wool yarn, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Silk fabric, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Cotton yarn, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Linen fabric, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed

It’s pretty wild to see the difference in uptake in the cellulose fibre samples (cotton and linen) and protein fibre samples (wool and silk). This was with 6% wog (weight of goods) cochineal that had been steeping for seven hours before we dyed. I’m curious to see what a longer dip would result in.

[Photos courtesy of Christopher]

Yellow, naturally

Left to right: cotton yarn, linen fabric, silk fabric and wool yarn

Can you believe that onion skins with four different mordants produced this amazing variety of colour? Week two of my Fibre Arts with Natural Dyes course was all about yellow, using onion skins to achieve these particular shades.

Our instructor, Chung-Im Kim, collected over 200 g of onion skins, which is a whole lot more than you might think! We set up four different dye baths, each with a different mordant – a chemical that enables a bond between the dyestuff and fibre – alum and tin (brightening), and copper and iron (dulling).

Undyed sample of cotton and wool yarn, and linen and silk fabric
Alum mordant and onion skins dyestuff
Tin mordant and onion skins dyestuff
Copper mordant and onion skins dyestuff
Iron mordant and onion skins dyestuff

The fibres I used were Naturelle 10 Ply Aran wool, the Malian cotton that I blogged about last week, some silk fabric that Chung-Im supplied and linen fabric that I picked up at G&S Dye. I washed the fibre at home with Soak, and then again at the studio with non-ionic TNA soap. We left our samples in the dye baths for about an hour at medium heat (stirring regularly), then rinsed well with warm water, and washed again with TNA.

Wool yarn, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Silk fabric, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Linen fabric, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed
Cotton yarn, left to right: iron, copper, tin and alum mordants, undyed

Next week, red!

Reversible Cable Scarf & Gloves

This set was a combination Christmas and birthday gift for my dad. I searched for a suitable fingerless glove pattern for a while and finally settled on this one — Kurt Fausset’s Beer Gloves from Son of Stitch ‘n Bitch. Natalie Selles’ Lomo Mittens were a close second. Either would be a good fit for sport/ dk-weight yarn. I used Berroco Ultra Alpaca Light in Salt & Pepper leftover from the matching scarf.

The only modification I made was to work the gloves entirely in reverse stockinette stitch, rather than incorporating the cable chart and seed stitch palms. I wanted something simple and textured that would be a good match for the reversible cables in the scarf.

Chris took this awesome photo of my dad in my parents’ backyard in Powell River while we were there over the holidays. You can really tell that we’re in a rainforest! Everything was so damp and lichen-covered. I think it’s safe to say that my dad was very happy with his new scarf – I’ve seen plenty of photographic evidence since! The pattern is from Bruce Weinstein’s controversial Knits Men Want. I didn’t pay any attention to the “rules every woman should know before knitting for a man,” but I did enjoy the pattern… Library special!

[Photo #3 courtesy of Christopher]

[Ravelled: Beer Gloves and Reversible Cable Scarf]


I had to laugh when I read Kate Davies’ description of this fantastic project: A “skater’s muff.” I’ve skated once since childhood – over Christmas holidays last year – and I can’t imagine having my hands anywhere else but straight in front of me like some kind of zombie ice skater. But I am willing to accept that not everyone shares these challenges so here’s one for them!

Chris’ mom loved the last muff I made her so much that she put in a request for another. As soon as Kate blogged her Mucklemuff pattern I knew this one would be it. It uses a motif from Mary-Jane Mucklestone’s 200 Fair Isle Motifs, and a neat I-cord finish and wrist-loop. Handy if you need to make a quick stop while skating!

I used Lima by Diamond Yarn for the first time – a single-ply 100% wool aran-weight yarn – and would definitely use it again. I think it worked beautifully for colourwork.

[Photos courtesy of Christopher]


Monster Party

Monster Party is the working title for these guys. Jensen, the recipient, has yet to name them herself. I witnessed firsthand the squeal of delight when she opened the box, which made me very happy. That just doesn’t happen every day! I’d never heard of the Japanese character Domo before yesterday but Jensen added these two to her other two Domos. A little extended family of Domo-like stuffies. These are  my second batch from Rebecca Danger’s Daphne and Delilah pattern – these ones made with Diamond Yarn Galway.

Jensen built this awesome monster replica out of Lego while we were eating dinner. Super cute and definitely made my day!

Update: Jensen has named the big one Waldo and the little one Blue

[Photo courtesy of Christopher]