And the winners are…!

You may recall last month’s post about the Stylecraft Colour Competition and my exciting role in helping to pick the shortlist. If not then here’s a quick summary: Stylecraft Yarns invited the many fans of their colouful Special DK yarn to suggest a new shade to add to the already burgeoning range. Entries arrived in their droves, and last month myself and my fellow judges – three lovely, creative ladies – assembled in Yorkshire to choose our ten favourites.

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I live in Essex so a visit to the Dales is a mini excursion. But as usual I’d been given some tokens to remind me of home.

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And here I am with the other judges.

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That’s me second from left, and next to me is Annabelle Hill, Sales Director and font of all knowledge concerning the Stylecraft brand. And on the right is Lucy, whose legendary Attic 24 blog has inspired a multitude of crochet ripple blankets in said Special DK.

On the far left is Phil, the blogger behind The Twisted Yarn and worthy winner of last year’s Deramores blog award. Her blog is a witty account of her creative life, in between raising twin boys (the ‘Toddler Twinnage’) and working as a clinical psychologist. She’s a prolific and highly individual knitter, and shortly before judging day had challenged herself to design and knit a skirt for the occasion. Of course, knitting invariably takes far longer than expected, (basically it just takes a bleedin’ long time) and poor Phil was still working the final rounds over breakfast that morning! But with final finishing touches made in the car park before we went in, the skirt was done and ready for its debut. I think you’ll agree it’s a splendid piece of work!

I wrote about the amazing entries and how we made our choices in this post here, but now the moment has come when I can finally unveil the shortlist!

Cypress (17-6319)
Cypress
Duck Egg (14-4807)
Duck Egg
Empire (17-4540)
Empire
Fushia Purple (18-2336)
Fuchsia Purple
Grass green (15-0545)
Grass green
Kelly Green (16-6138)
Kelly Green
Lobelia (18-3833)
Lobelia
Mustard (15-0850)
Mustard
Pistachio (13-0532
Pistachio

You can vote for your favourite on the Stylecraft Facebook page, and the winning shade will be launched at the London Knitting & Stitching Show. I can’t wait to see which one it is!

Victory Sweater

Sarah's jumper close-upKeen-eyed observers who saw my last post may have spotted a finished object which I haven’t yet mentioned. Yes, I finished my Victory Sweater in time to wear it proudly on Yarn Shop Day. (Actually I was very glad to wear it as the day was chilly!) I must admit I’m delighted with how it’s turned out. It fits like a glove (a well-knitted glove of course) and the yarn (Blacker Swan Falkland’s Merino) is an absolute delight to wear against the skin. I had hoped to take some better photos in time for this post but having failed I’m making do with some selfies I took in the loo at work. You get the idea! Sarah's jumper cropped

Not being blessed with the 1940s siren style assets needed to rock an ultra-fitted vintage sweater I heavily modded the original pattern from 1945. I began with a wider welt and a shallower rib, thereby losing the need for the dramatic bust increases of the original. In fact my version has no waist shaping whatsoever. Instead I took advantage of the stretchy stitch pattern and opted for a minimal amount of ease which gives a figure-hugging shape without being clingy.

The most challenging part of rewriting this pattern was calculating the sleeve tops. To get your head around the science of sleeve tops – or armscye as I discovered they’re correctly called – takes a lot of brain power. It involves trigonometry! Looking at the sleeve heads above, nestled neatly into position in the armhole of my sweater, you might wonder what could be difficult, but believe me, visualising the correct shape for those decreases on a piece of flat knitting before you’ve sewn up the sides (which you can’t do until after you’ve inserted the sleeve head) is tricky. You need maths, and sometimes, as in this case, it doesn’t work out smoothly! Strictly speaking I’d made a mistake on the body, as I hadn’t created enough of a slope between the start and end of my armhole decreases, which meant that when I came to do my armscye I didn’t have enough rows for the number of decreases I needed. No way was I going to unravel the body, so I made the prudent decision to knit a couple of prototype sleeve caps to test out how to make them fit (effectively how to fudge them!) The first one was too baggy – still too many rows – so I reduced the row requirement with a thinner sleeve and a wider final cast-off, but still had to take the unconventional step of decreasing on every row. It’s not how it should be done but I think I got away with it!

Just a word about the yarn. Blacker Swan Falklands Merino is absolutely wonderful. Soft and bouncy, it’s a joy to knit with and amazingly comfortable to wear. I will definitely be knitting more sweaters in this, no question about it.

My Victory Sweater is ravelled here.

A Great Day!

So, how was Yarn Shop Day for you? Did you visit your local LYS to take advantage of fantastic bargains? Did you pick up an amazing goody bag, or learn a new skill? Did you, perchance, grab a slice of free cake? I hear the odd one may have been on offer…

I was at the very lovely Yarn On The Square in Ely, chatting with local knitters and passing on skills to the next generation.

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IMG_1707Wherever you are I hope you were able to take part and enjoy the festivities. If not then there’s always next year!

 

Don’t forget…

Yarn Shop Day 2015

It’s Yarn Shop Day on Saturday 2nd May! I’ll be at Yarn On The Square in Ely, along with toy designer Sandra Polley and a pop-up shop from Rooster Yarns. I’ll be teaching kids how to knit and giving general knitting advice, so if you happen to be in the area why not pop by and say hello? If you’re looking for a local participating store click on the link above and check out the interactive map – there are well over 200 stores taking part across the UK.

 

An amazing array

I spent yesterday immersed in colour!

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The day had arrived to pick the shortlist for the Stylecraft colour competition. Readers of Let’s Knit and followers of Stylecraft on facebook had been asked to suggest a new colour to add to the already phenomenal range of Special DK. (There it is above, in all its glory). Yesterday, myself and my two fellow judges, award-winning blogger Phil from The Twisted Yarn and crochet legend Lucy from Attic 24, along with Annabelle Hill from Stylecraft, gathered in the picturesque surroundings of Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire to sift through the hundreds of entries.

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The variety was amazing! A patch cut from a favourite tunic, a picture frame, a child’s plastic toy, a piece of silk, a stone – all manner of objects had been sent in. Emailed entries included photos of people’s cars, hair, kitchen walls, plus lots and lots of flowers and close ups of fruit. Beads, nail varnish, stained glass windows, wellies, brickwork, tapestries, muslin bags, Royal Mail ‘signed for’ labels – people had taken their colour inspiration from a mind-boggling array of places and presented them in quirky and imaginative ways.

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Somehow myself and my fellow judges, with the restorative help of tea and cake, whittled this amazing array of hues down to ten likely candidates. It wasn’t easy; some we could quickly reject for being too similar to existing shades, but others had us mulling for ages. Would you pick that up off a shelf in a yarn shop? Would it lift other colours? Did it remind you of [insert unpleasant thing]? Is there actually a pantone to match this? (‘Pantone’ is a standardised colour system that allows you to accurately reproduce almost any shade in print or dye using a reference number). Eventually we had our diplomatically-chosen favourites, ready for the public vote, but I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until 15th May for the shortlist to be revealed. Watch this space!

We Did It!

After a week of storms and a dismal journey through torrential rain on Good Friday the weather prospects for our climb were pretty dire. The forecast had changed daily but never to anything promising. So it was with some trepidation that I opened the curtains of our room in Rydal, near Lake Windermere, on Saturday morning, and couldn’t have been more surprised to see blue sky and sunshine!

Our plan was to climb Pike O’ Blisco, a nearby Lakeland Fell, to raise money for the animal refuge Wildlives (more details about our campaign here). A short drive to Old Dungeon Ghyll and we were at the start of our climb, with our goal in sight.

At 705m tall, Pike O’ Blisco is a pretty energetic hike. We began by following the road, a steep but pleasant stroll.

Before long, however, we left the road and started to ascend the lower slopes. As these got steeper the path became like a staircase – a seemingly endless one!

  

    

The Lakeland Fells are generally quite gentle in climbing terms, and there’s not a huge amount of technicality involved. The main things to remember are to take a few provisions, especially water, as even on a cooler day you sweat a lot and could easily become dehydrated, and – crucially – be sure to wear the right footwear. If you only buy one piece of technical outdoor clothing make it a pair of walking boots, or at least boots with a good grip. We witnessed the perils of inappropriate footwear the next day when we climbed another fell called Red Screes and passed someone who was completely stuck and unable to get down – a distressing situation to be in! You should also, if you’re being really sensible, take an OS map and a compass (we had them although the day was so clear we didn’t actually use them).

By now, to our great amazement, the weather was warm, and we were shedding layers at every stop. But all the exertion was certainly rewarded by some incredible views across the Langdale valley.

As we neared the top the terrain became more rocky and some scrambling was called for – not easy with quivering legs from the effort of an hour of walking upstairs! However, for an 11 year old this part of the day was simply an adventure playground writ large. Look at her go!

  

    

It took me a little while longer to scramble my way to the top but I made it! We were all triumphant, although if this photo’s anything to go by, too weary to actually look it.

  

We chose Pike O’ Blisco for our climb because it’s perfect for novice climbers – not too difficult, but varied and demanding enough to make it a challenge. I think it’s wonderful how almost every part of this rugged landscape – not just the fells, but also the valleys, waterfalls, tarns, crags and becks – have acquired names, presumably over the centuries and passed down by people who needed them to navigate the terrain. If you look at the OS map this area is a mass of intriguing, romantic, poetic names – Crinkle Crags, Thunacar Knott, Adam-a-Cove, Hell Gill Pike, Great Horse Crag. Just like the dry stone walls that weave everywhere, they’re like an echo of past inhabitants that help give the landscape its unique character.

Of course, getting to the top of a mountain is only half the story. The descent can be the most difficult part; you’re already tired, and it’s an effort to stop your weight from propelling you wildly down the slope. It also doesn’t help if, like me, you’re cursed with poor balance! With a sense that almost every step could end in calamity I found the mental effort of just trying to stay upright exhausting. Whereas my two climbing buddies, each of whom has a hobby where a key feature is balance, (windsurfing and roller skating respectively), practically ran down the mountain. I’d never thought before about balance as a skill that can be cultivated – there’s not much call for it in knitting!

  

So, It took longer and was harder (and hotter!) than expected but by mid-afternoon we’d completed our Climb for Chequers challenge. Here we are enjoying another essential part of any climb – refreshments in the pub at the end. This is the Hiker’s Bar at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, the start and end of many a good adventure. Thanks so much to everyone who sponsored us!

Climb for Chequers

If you’ve visited my blog previously then you may remember the injured owl we rescued last year.

P1000794Chequers, as we named him, was nursed back to health by Wildlives, a fantastic wildlife refuge based in Thorrington in Essex. Run from owner Rosie’s home and staffed by volunteers, this centre cares for wild animals that are injured as a direct result of their encounters with our world. Every year hundreds of animals are brought in by members of the public, the RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations, to be looked after until they’re well enough to be released, but despite the demand for its services Wildlives receives no external funding and its only income is from donations, topped up when needed from owner Rosie’s savings.

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It’s long been our plan to raise some money for Wildlives to support their incredible efforts, and this weekend we’re finally doing so! Tomorrow we head to the Lake District and on Saturday (hopefully – weather permitting!) we’ll be doing a sponsored mountain-climb. Being complete amateurs in this field (there’s not much scope for mountaineering when you live in Essex!) we’ve chosen to climb Pike O’Blisco, a peak that’s reputably not too difficult, but still has an element of challenge. And unlike many English fells it has the distinction of looking like a proper mountain.

pikeoblisco_bigWe’ve really enjoyed preparing for this event, becoming regulars in the outdoor store as we stocked up on technical layers and sensible footwear. But although we’re (hopefully) prepared for anything we’re nevertheless hoping for some good Spring weather – not the snow and gales of the previous week! Whatever nature throws at us it’s all in a good cause, and over £250 has already been donated to our fundraising page on Just Giving – something to sustain us if the going gets tough!