An Orcadian Christmas

We spent time over the Christmas and New Year period in Orkney with friends. We loved it but we didn’t love the getting there and back quite so much – a long train journey with several changes and a rail replacement bus tour of Edinburgh, then a 6-7 hour ferry crossing in each direction. Ferry trips on the North Sea can be “interesting” in winter, but we were quite lucky, just a 90 minute delay on the return crossing and not too much pitching and rolling.

On the plus side, all the time spent sitting around on trains and ferries meant I got quite a bit of knitting done. The grey and orange socks were completed.

Orange and grey socks finishedI had the fun of finding matching stretches of yarn to knit the two ribbed welts while sitting on a very cramped train surrounded by rugby supporters on their way to Murrayfield.

Before the Ba'

Before it all started

Talking of rugby, one of the highlights of our trip was watching the Ba’, a rugger-like game with few rules played on the streets of Kirkwall on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Dozens of men from each end of town – the “Uppies” and the “Doonies” – try to get the ball to their respective goals by means of a scrum which often lasts for hours. All the shops, houses and other buildings have to be protected with stout wooden beams. On Christmas Day the Doonies finally triumphed by getting the ball into the harbour some seven hours after the whole thing started with a throw-in in front of the cathedral at noon.

This is clearly a highly tactical game as well as one of brute force and teamwork. Some men from each faction – often the older ones whose scrum days are perhaps over – could be seen giving hand signals and shouted instructions to indicate where the Ba’ (ball) was at any moment, because it spent 99% of its time under a heap of Orkney’s finest manhood.

Kirkwall Ba'Every now and again one team would prevail and the scrum would lurch in one or other direction for a few metres, with the watching crowd scattering out of the way. Believe me, you would not want to be caught in the path of the Ba’. An ambulance crew, complete with doctor, was in attendance throughout, and it’s apparently a rare event that doesn’t result in a fair few injuries.

The weather was kind during our visit to the islands, with only one day’s typical Orkney weather of strong winds and horizontal rain. We walked on deserted beaches…

Waulkmill Bay… crossed a causeway at low tide to an islet, participated in a pagan solstice rite (like you do) in a stone circle, and visited the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness with its fine collection that includes several Barbara Hepworths and Ben Nicholsons. Last but not least, we visited one of my favourite Orcadian suppliers of sheepy products, the Woolshed, which opened specially for us. They had very little yarn – the 2019 shearing isn’t back from the spinners yet – but we came away with a hat, a hand-felted cafetiere cosy and some hand-dyed wool fibre. The latter was bought by our photography-mad friend because he fell in love with the colours and wants to photograph it.

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Christmas round-up

My dear husband’s socks were not finished in time for Christmas. They have advanced quite nicely, but work is still required. They will be New Year socks instead.

Almost-finished socksI am waiting to knit the welts when I’m sure I won’t run out of grey yarn on the second sock.

My mystery plywood project has also taken several steps forward. I think you can now see that it will be a lampshade.

Plywood lampshadeThe original plan was for it to be a sphere made up of 60 identical elements, but I hadn’t thought properly a) how it would be attached to the lampholder, and b) having done that, how the bulb could then be changed in the future without laboriously dismantling a large part of it. Instead of the arrangement shown above I now have a central “spider” through which the flex passes – and is held in place with a cable gland that grips the flex – and 5 modified elements each with one stumpy leg.

Spider for lampshadeI still need to laser-cut another dozen or so elements, then dismantle the shade and paint the inside of all the elements white. By the time I’ve done that there is every possibility that the nylon nuts and bolts I’ve ordered will have arrived and the (mostly) steel ones I’ve used for the temporary assembly can be replaced.

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The latest pair of socks

I’m well into these socks, but I do have some concerns about the grey yarn. Having handled it for hours at a time, I’m not at all sure that it is a sock yarn. It feels more like a pure wool.  With my luck it will turn out to be 100% wool that isn’t superwash treated, and the socks will shrink the first time they go in the washing machine. (I’m sorry, but life is too short for hand washing socks.) But it did seem to leave a small amount of melted material as well as ash when I held an end in a flame, so maybe there is some nylon in it after all.

Grey and orange socksThe original plan was to knit both toes and heels in the orange yarn, but I wanted the socks to match. That meant I had to spend some time before casting on the first sock, unravelling the three small balls of orange I had remaining from a previous pair, to find two identical stretches of the printed yarn each long enough for a toe, and I couldn’t face doing it again when I reached the heel. Instead, I’ve knitted the heel in grey and then abandoned that sock where the ribbing will start, with very nearly half the grey yarn gone. The remains of the orange yarn will be used for the welts, and I’ll worry about whether or not it’s possible for them to match when sock no.2 reaches that stage as well. At least non-matching welts are less obvious then non-matching heels.


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So what is it?

Deltoid umbrellasThe mystery project continues. I now have almost as many plywood shapes as I need, and some of them have been painted white on one side. Eventually I’ll paint them all, but for now I just wanted to check that the paint I’m using (a flexible ceiling paint) won’t flake off when the plywood is bent.

I’ve started to assemble them into groups of 5, using steel nuts and bolts. I have some nylon ones on order, which should look better as well as being lighter. Yes, weight will be an issue for this project.

Apart from testing the paint, the other reason I’m doing a pre-assembly is to help me decide whether I should make all 60 shapes exactly the same, or whether the final few need to be a little different. You see, it will be necessary to take the structure apart – partially – every now and again, and having some that are adapted for easier disassembly, or to minimise the number of joints that will need to be undone, might be sensible.

Any idea what I’m making yet?

Dorset buttons

I’ve also been making Dorset buttons this week. Someone gave me a beginner’s kit some time ago, I made one button at the time and then put it away. More recently, I saw some beautiful examples at a craft fair in Dorset, and then this artwork at the recent Harrogate Knitting & Stitching Show.

It appealed to me because, as well as being beautifully executed, it’s maths-y. It depicts a single path through all the discs in the grid, without any being visited more than once. If I’m reading it properly (there wasn’t much explanation), the black interconnectors denote the travelled route and the white ones those paths that have not been travelled. You can see how the black route snakes around, taking in each of the buttons.

3 white Dorset buttonsThe colourful, shiny creation, achieved using very fine silk thread, inspired me to have another go at Dorset button making. Here are the plain white ones made from the kit. They got better – no.1 is at top left, no.3 at the bottom.

I think they’d be lovely down the front of a plain white shirt.

And then I made a ‘bunch of flowers’ version, as a brooch.

Dorset button bunchI’d like to try making some with fine silk thread – perhaps not as fine as the single path piece above though. They definitely have possibilities as jewellery and for embellishing greeting cards.

A festive wreath

Festive cork wreathThe cork wreath I made in October is in its winter finery, thanks to friends who kindly gave me some variegated holly covered in berries from their garden. I’ve suspended it next to the front door, under an outside light I put up soon after I started this blog.

We’ve had compliments already. I think it looks very festive with its abundance of red berries.

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This year’s Harrogate show

I went to the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show last week, as I do most years. I love looking at the exhibitions of craft work and this Legend of the Willow Pattern quilt was the star of the show in my view.

Willow Pattern quiltWhat a stupendous piece of work.

Fine grey linen yarnI bumped into three people I know and had a good catch-up while sharing information on which stalls were worth visiting. I arrived home exhausted after a full day of ambling around, admiring things, feeling fabric, stroking yarn, chatting to stallholders, being inspired and generally having a good time. I bought a beautiful slate grey ball of fine linen yarn from the wonderful Sheep on Mars stall. I plan to make this Frosty Apples shawl with it, that was displayed on the same stand but in a merino yarn.

Frosty Apples shawlHowever, I won’t be knitting fine linen until the Spring, and by then I may have found another pattern that I like even better. If I do use Frosty Apples, it will be my first attempt at nupps, the little bobble-like lumps that are a feature of Estonian lace.

Another pair of socks

The temperature has been hovering around zero for a few days now and I have succumbed to my dear husband’s request for yet more warm socks. Fortuitously, a widower called in to my knitting group’s session with 5 large bags of yarn, wondering whether we could use it. Could we use it! It’s always rather sad to think of a keen knitter dying before she could use her stash – not that I knew this lady – but at least it will be put to productive use.

Orange socksI took a jumper quantity of bottle green acrylic DK that may be enough for a plain sweater for myself, but if not I will knit a child-sized one to give to Oxfam.

I also acquired about 70g of a grey 4-ply that looks like sock yarn. I’ll put it together with the patterned yarn I have left over from these socks, and it should make a pair for my dear husband. I’ve cast on already.

Grey and orange socksI’m knitting my favourite sock pattern, devised and honed over about a dozen pairs. I start with a provisional cast-on of half the required number of stitches for the foot (and leg), work the toe using shadow wrap short rows, then undo the provisional cast-on and put those stitches onto needles with the already-live ones to work the foot on the full complement. I use the shadow wrap technique for the heel as well. I like a rib or a broken rib, or perhaps something fancier if the yarn is a plain colour. Seeing as these grey socks will have jazzy, multi-coloured toes and heels, I’m going to work the instep and the leg in a staid 5×1 broken rib. They will look very sober and respectable with shoes on.

I’m not sure whether I’ll have enough of the patterned orange yarn – it’s Drops Fabel in Tex Mex colourway – for the heels to match each other, but the toes definitely will.

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Socks and bells

The latest pair of socks is done.

Latest striped socks

Finished socksThey make a nice ‘mix and match’ pair with the pair I knitted a few months ago.

I was in Skipton the other day and popped in to the shop in where I bought the yarn in 2016 for the bargain price of £2 per 100g ball, but alas, it is now full of basic acrylic DK in plain colours, as well as books. This curious, nameless shop, opposite the Fent Shop on Keighley Road, has always stocked both yarn and books. Two other Skipton shops that sold yarn, both on Sheep Street, have closed recently leaving just this one, Boyes and the more upmarket Purl & Jane. That still means that Skipton is better served for yarn than most other towns of its size, so I can’t complain. I shall keep popping in to the books-and-yarn place when passing by, because you never know what you will find there and it is very cheap indeed. The acrylic DK yarn was £1.50 a ball, less if you buy 10 balls.

What else has been going on? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, we’ve replaced the kitchen plinths with white ones, a mere two years after painting all the cupboards white. I’ve taken a photo at last.

New kitchen plinthsThey fit a lot better than the old ones which were falling apart after almost a quarter of a century of use. Still need to replace the worktops but that will have to wait until next year.

Several plywood deltoidsAnd my mystery woodwork project is continuing. I’ve cut out nearly 50 shapes now, not many more to go.

As a bonus, the curvy pieces removed to create the holes in the middle look a bit like bells. I’ve painted one side of them red and strung them to make Christmassy swags. It’s a little early yet for decorations so they are temporarily adorning mirrors and picture frames in the kitchen.

Christmas bells swags

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