I’ve been having a bit of a clear-out. Actually, that’s not quite true; I’ve been looking at things that perhaps ought to be taken to the charity shop or put on Freegle and then leaving them where they are to gather dust for another decade or two. But my intentions are good. Along with the old text books, unused gadgets, dated garments and a small mountain of fabric I found several cones of yarn. What memories they hold!
There are the three cones holding small amounts of beautiful, undyed, Aran-weight yarn. These I bought in Ambleside as an impoverished student on a camping holiday, circa 1980. My then boyfriend and I took the train to the Lake District, carrying on our backs everything we needed for a fortnight including a tent, sleeping bags and cooking equipment. How I managed to bring an extra 3kg or so of yarn home with me, I have no idea, but the answer must be (as it so often is these days) that I was younger and fitter then. Two of the cones became Aran sweaters for the boyfriend and my mother, his in Swaledale and hers in Herdwick. It has to be said that the yarns were more like carpet yarns than knitting yarns, as hairy and itchy as a hessian sack, but both recipients politely claimed to be delighted and wore their jumpers, in my mother’s case for years afterwards. (The boyfriend got the elbow a short while later. He may still be wearing that sweater for all I know, it was certainly hard-wearing enough, but I doubt it.)
The third cone, of beautiful chocolate brown Jacob, I kept for myself to use for a colourwork sweater with some of the leftover Swaledale and Herdwick. Icelandic sweaters were fashionable at the time and I’d already knitted myself a jumper and a cardigan in heavy Lopi yarn, so I thought I’d make something similar with a patterned yoke. I couldn’t find a suitable pattern for an Aran-weight yarn in those pre-Ravelry days, so I adapted a pattern intended for the much thicker Lopi. My maths must have been a bit off, or else my stranding tension was to pot, because the yoke came out rather tight across my shoulders. I wore the sweater a fair bit but it always felt like I was in a straightjacket. What I should have done was pull out the yoke and re-knit it, but my student-era knitting was mainly confined to the vacations and free time was precious.
If I were knitting that Icelandic sweater again today, I’d use a wonderful website that a fellow knitter told me about the other day. It allows you to design your own Icelandic sweater, to fit your precise measurements, in any one of 5 yarns and incorporating whatever Fair-Isle patterning you like around the yoke, sleeves and bottom. The end result can be printed out as a PDF with all the instructions and even a computer-generated image of the finished result. The website is, thank goodness, largely in English and there are helpful videos explaining how to use the design package. Having explored its possibilities, I’m toying with the idea of knitting something to use up three more cones I found in the back of a cupboard.
These are all 4-ply Shetland yarn, spun in the oil. There seems to be a little mould on the outer layer of the pale blue – this yarn has been sitting around for 30 years – but all being well the rest of the cone will be OK. I bought them in the mid 1980s from a Mrs Bonnet who kept a marvellous wool shop in Rugby. It was an Aladdin’s cave of remaindered yarn, much of it on cones, which she bought from spinners that had production over-runs, dye lot mis-matches, unsuccessful samples or other issues that meant the yarn could not be sold through their ordinary routes. Mrs Bonnet had a simple pricing strategy – she charged whatever she had paid for the yarn, plus a small margin to cover her overheads. As much of her stock was many years old, that made it very cheap. I was once in her shop when her accountant was trying to persuade her that she could make more money by charging what the yarn was actually worth, but bless her, she wasn’t interested. Plain yarn on a cone, such as this Shetland, cost 10p per ounce, so probably 10% of the absolute minimum price I would expect to pay today for yarn of a similar quality.
I remember knitting a shawl collared, fisherman’s rib jumper for dear husband in the beige yarn on the right, using two ends together to make it Aran-weight. There is rather more of the pale blue left and I think that all I used it for was a machine-knitted tank top for myself – this was the 80s, remember. Like the beige, it looked very stringy when first knitted, but it fluffed up and filled out nicely once the oil was washed out. I’m hoping there might be enough for a lightweight jumper, but it’s hard to know because: a) I don’t know what the length is per 100g, and b) even if I did, I don’t know how much the cone weighs so I don’t know what weight of yarn I’ve got. It will have to be a leap of faith. Maybe I could knit a 1940s-style top from a vintage knits book I was given last Christmas.
My Leftie shawlette is almost finished, except for the fifty-something ends I have to darn in and blocking. I ended up having to dye a metre or two of extra yarn for both the final purple stripe/leaf and the final green one. (The green is still damp which explains why the piece isn’t yet complete.) Fortunately, I’d saved the leftover Kool-Aid solution in jam jars. I was a little worried when I saw that the green solution (Lemon-Lime flavour) had several small patches of mould floating on the surface, but it didn’t affect the dyeing. Kool-Aid powder doesn’t contain sugar and the acid in it ought to inhibit bacterial growth, so I’m guessing that the jam jar wasn’t completely clean. If I do it again I will sterilise the jars with boiling water in the microwave, or use sodium metabisulphite solution, like you do when making jam or home-brewing.
I’m pleased with Leftie. I have lots of plain coloured tops that it will jazz up next spring, and it cost nothing apart from £3-worth of Kool-Aid because I already had the silk yarn. I’ll post some pics of it next time when it has been blocked.
An easy hat for Christmas
My niece has decided she’d like a woolly hat for Christmas in a colour to match some camel and French navy fingerless gloves I made her last year. After first saying she wanted a beanie and a lot of exchanges of Ravelry photos by email, we have settled instead on a slouchy ribbed style called the Hipster Hat. It should be an absolute doddle to knit. My niece has inherited the gene I have from my mother which means that wool next to the skin is a no-no, so I will have to find some exotic, itch-free animal fibre yarn or else settle for man-made. I know I have some 50% cashmere, 50% lambswool camel-coloured yarn somewhere that might just do, but it hasn’t shown up yet during my rooting around in long-undisturbed cupboards.