Thursday, October 25, 2007

Knitaly '07

It has taken me a week at home to write about Knitaly '07, Jane Thornley's knitting adventure in Tuscany. How to describe perfection? Spending 10 days with a congenial group of woman (plus one lone husband), staying in a castle on a Tuscan hilltop, eating fabulous food, and learning new ways of thinking about knitting... Even the weather cooperated, with unseasonable warmth and sunshine every day and not a single drop of rain.

After a few days in Florence (which I won't describe since I have written about it before) we stayed at the Castello di Gargonza, a 14th century castle between Siena and Arezzo. The castle and much of the village have been renovated with modern plumbing and heating. The accommodations are simple but comfortable, with fireplaces and even kitchens. My cousin Barbara and I stayed in the guard house just outside the castle walls, a short (uphill) walk to the main building.

Everywhere we looked the scenery was like a picture postcard. This is the view from the garden, but everywhere the views were like picture postcards. One hardly knew where to look first! What was particularly striking was the colors... the palette of Tuscany was uniform, no matter where we went, with its greens, browns, and terracotta. This time of year the colors are a bit more subdued than in the summer, when the landscape is ablaze with right yellow fields of sunflowers. But the more subtle October palette was beautiful in its own way and provided an inspiration for our knitting projects.

Jane's knitting workshops involved "free range knitting," wherein one ignores almost all rules, and combines different fibers, colors, and textures in an imaginative way. As Jane says, "Remember that knitting free-range style requires a different approach than regular, pattern-driven knitting... Free range knitting is about following your own knitting spirit and letting go." For somebody as left-brained as I am, that is a tall order!

Our projects consisted of a scarf/shawl inspired by the colors of Tuscany. Jane provided us each with a pack of gorgeous yarn before the trip, and each one was a little different. The basic yarns were assorted colors of La Lana Bombyx Silk, with a variety of ribbon and novelty yarns thrown in. We were encouraged to supplement the yarn with bits and pieces from our own stash, but several of us had nothing that was suitable and stuck to the yarns in the pack. We were told to cast on 30 stitches, increase for a while and then decrease for a while to make the center section, and then to knit straight on one end, then pick up stitches and knit straight on the other end. Of course, since Jane doesn't believe in rules, she fully expected (and probably hoped) that some of us would totally ignore even those simple guidelines.

The results definitely provide an interesting fabric, though I'm not entirely convinced that I would wear something with that much color. I still have about 1,000 ends to weave in – a definite drawback to the multi-yarn approach – and some embellishing to do with beads, so it is still very much a work-in-progress. Isn't it amazing how we all started with similar yarn and came up with such different results?

Of course we spent a lot of time sight-seeing, visiting San Gimignano, Siena, Volterra, Chianti, Cortona... There was a twist, though – on the bus there was always a lot of knitting going on, either on our Knitaly project or other projects we brought from home, and our shopping expeditions included yarn and bead shops whenever possible. And nobody said "Are you knitting again???" There is a lot to be said for travelling with other knitters!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finished Green Objects

September was a month for finishing green objects.

The lovely Bee Fields Shawl is actually a springlike green-and-yellow mix that makes me smile whenever I look at it. The hand-dyed laceweight merino from Wooly Wonka Fibers is a perfect fiber for this stole. It has a beautiful drape and the subtle color changes do not at all detract from the complex lace pattern.

Pattern: Bee Fields Shawl by Anne Hanson
Yarn: Hand-dyed merino laceweight by Wooly Wonka Fibers, approx. 1200 yds.
Colorway: Tupelo Gold (actually greener than gold, but lighter than it looks in the photo)
Size: 74" x 36"
Needles: Addi Lace Needles #US 5

This may have been the most difficult lace project I have ever knit. The instructions were comprehensive and detailed, even when they seemed to make no sense at all, they were right. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to doing more of Anne's patterns in the future.

Another green project completed in September was the Filey Sweater by Alice Starmore. I was inspired to knit a Gansey by Liz Lovick's Gansey workshop in the EZasPi group. After poring over patterns and books my eye always came back to the Filey style. I found this pattern in Alice Starmore's Fishermens' Sweaters, which had been on my bookshelf for quite some time. The only problem was that the pattern was written for a Rowan yarn that has 20% shrinkage in length, and the yarn I had chosen for it had very little shrinkage. (Even less, it turned out, than the swatch, which I must have washed more aggressively than the finished sweater.)

Pattern: Filey by Alice Starmore in Fishermen's Sweaters
Yarn: Frangipani Guernsey 5 Ply Wool from Frangipani approx. 1.5 cones for XL size
Needles: Denise US #5
Modifications: Much recalculation was necessary because of the difference in gauge and shrinkage rate of the substitute fiber. Additional seed stitch panel added on sides after I initially failed to take into account the effect of gauge of cables.

My calculations weren't quite right so the sweater is a little bigger than it should have been, but it's hard for sweaters to be TOO big... I imagine wearing it with two layers underneath once the weather turns cold.

As if that weren't enough green, I decided to use some of the leftover yarn to make this hat:

Pattern: Gretel Beret by Ysolda S. Teague
Yarn: Frangipani Guernsey 5 Ply Wool from Frangipani
Needles: Denise #5 & 7
Size: Slouch (largest of three sizes in pattern)
Modifications: Because of an error and various efforts to compensate, the top of the hat isn't quite right, but I still like the way it looks.

There is still one green UFO awaiting completion, the Fiddlesticks Garden Shawl, whose edging goes on and on and on... Maybe October will be the month to finish that one.