Do you know what a “Baronesse Bambalina” is? According to the yarn label it might be some sort of a purple and blue bird but Google can only find me pictures of woolly socks, and Google translate (a) thinks it’s Catalan and (b) translates it as “Baroness Bambalina”. Well that’s helpful then.
And so, in lieu of any evidence that there may actually be a colour way named after a small purple and blue rainforest bird and not the colourful Friday afternoon daydream of an Opal designer, let me show you some socks.
Before we moved, my train to work had lots of tables and free wifi and so I spent a lot of the journeys writing or playing around on Instagram. The new train, I still get a seat, and it’s more reliable (please don’t let that jinx me come Monday), and travelling a shorter distance, but it’s not really set up for getting the laptop out, and with patchy reception I’ve gone back to train knitting and listening to podcasts.
That’s how these socks finished anyway. The start was in more auspiciously knitterly surroundings in the car on the way to Yarndale, on the bus between the car park and Yarndale itself, not in the bus between Yarndale and the car park because my lap was far too full with the most gorgeous bag of squishable yarn you’ve ever seen, but definitely in the car on the way back home. I only stopped because it got dark and I was pretty sure that I was ready to turn the heel.
The yarn itself, Opal Rainforest in the somewhat bafflingly named Baronesse Bambalina, also known as 4005 was a birthday present from some very dear friends a few years ago and it’s been lurking in the top of the stash boxes just waiting for me to want a ball of yarn for nice plain straight knitting socks.
They are pink and purple and blue and very definitely not stripy self-striping sock yarn. The pattern seems to knit in bands, but even they’re fairly variable. I can quite happily take second sock matching to an obsessive degree, and even when I still end up with one toe that has half a stripe of green when the other is all blue, I’ll keep trying on every pair.
I’d claim these socks let me relax and just see what would be, but truth be told I tried to make them match, even though matching is clearly impossible. I matched the cast on yarn so perfectly, and yet by the time we got to the heel they were just wildly different, without rhyme or reason or even knot. If ever there were a lesson in letting go of imperfection this should be it, because even with heels that could never claim to be matching, these are still very much a pair of socks that belong together.
(Picture by Pip, aged 3, who may have some work to do as family knitwear photographer)
And somehow, when it’s getting chilly, and the heat from the Aga can’t quite reach the tiles on the far side of the kitchen floor, that matching but not identical starts to matter an awful lot less.
They are warm, and snuggly, and, and this is a rarity for me; they are mine, all mine!
Knitting is a gamble. An educated gamble a lot of the time, but a gamble none the less. You choose a pattern, and hope that it’s written in a way that your brain can translate and doesn’t having you wanting to heave the entire yarn basket at the wall. You choose a yarn, which in my case is never ever the same as the yarn the sample was knitted in, and hope that the weight and the drape behave how you imagine. You knit a gauge swatch (or not) and hope that your tension over the swatch turns out to be roughly similar to a whole jumper’s worth of stitches, and after all of that, when you’ve checked everything that there is to check, measured everything there is to measure, and spent hours and hours of your time flicking through stitch after stitch, you hope that when you wash it it won’t grow big enough to fit a heffalump.
I haven’t even got to that last stage yet; my gamble was with the yarn, and as we all know, eventually the house always wins.
It started a year ago, in one of my most favourite yarn shops in the entire world (Lil Weasel) which unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) happens to be in Paris, and I was having a yarn attack of a most serious kind. Not only had I picked out yarn to make sweaters for Pip and Elma, there in my hand was a skein of soft wool cotton, in my absolute favourite burnt orange, and on the counter next to me, were another seven. I have no defence, I can only offer as plea in mitigation that I became temporarily incapacitated by the smell of wool and the amazing array of buttons and forgot that sheep are not an endangered species. Mea culpa.
I’d not knit myself a sweater since (quick check of Ravelry) 2012, when I knit myself a maternity jumper while I was expecting Elma, and there was still yarn in the stash for at least two cardigans, and yet, the orange, it called to me. I could see it then, some big snuggly jumper, the sort you pull on over pyjamas on a chilly winter morning, or curl up into on those weekend afternoons when the rain comes lashing down and your house becomes an island, isolated in the storm, while you watch the drops slither away down the glass. I didn’t have a pattern in mind, or even a rough idea of the yardage for a me sized jumper, so I went with “all of this colour that they have on the shelf” and the die was cast.
And I don’t know what led me to throw the skeins into the “take to tent” bag when we were packing up our old house, but suddenly it was their time, and I knit and swatched, and chose a pattern, and felt indecisive about the pattern, and eventually cast on. It was not the most auspicious start. Despite knitting a swatch and washing it and blocking it, and doing some very careful maths, and casting on exactly that number, I started to knit something that whatever it was was not a jumper for a me-sized person. I could claim that it was largely due to knitting mostly in very low light that I was at the underarms before I acknowledged that we had a serious problem, but I think it was probably just denial. In my quest to make something with a bit of positive ease, I might just have gone overboard. Sort of, will fit John in it as well levels of overboard.
There was nothing for it to rip back. And on the plus side, I told myself, at least now I’m much less likely to run out of yarn. Running out had been a near certainty on the original stitches, but now, surely the knitting fates would reward the hours of ripping back with a woollen widow’s curse?
Oh how they laughed.
As I write this I’m a decrease row, two rounds, four short rows, another decrease row and the collar away from finishing. In yarn terms that’s nearly nothing. Also in yarn terms, what it is not, is seven inches of yarn, which is exactly all I have left of the original skeins.
Welcome to ‘not quite finished Friday’
Except that while the house may have won this round, at least this time I’m learning (see debacle with Pip’s Christmas jumper), because earlier this week I had a very nice post day:
And now I’ll have a matching hat; just as long as it takes a little less than a skein, because if this runs out, it’s stripes.
Cross stitch was my Gateway craft, the very first thing my Mum taught me, before she and Grannie tackled knitting and embroidery, and I later added spinning and crochet and quilting. Mum stitched beautifully; and our home was full of her creations; a long panel of butterflies that she took on as a challenge, and in doing so taught me that you can love a hobby and still want to throw it at the wall in frustration, eternal flowers, and a birthday card of flowers overflowing a wheelbarrow that Grannie loved so much she brought it out every year. I can remember Christmas holidays, when the gales rolled in horizontally, curled up together, Mum and us girls stitching away, me working my way through an array of tree decorations, then every cover kit on every magazine in the newsagent, and finally onto finishing off the Christmas Cake band.
The mere act of stitching brings back so many happy memories, and it’s the ultimate slow living craft. Even if you’re really fast and really organised, cross stitching covers ground at a rate that makes knitting look like a sprint and crochet and quilting supersonic. It’s not something to rush, it’s something to enjoy gently, every stitch bringing you nearer to the finished picture, and it’s where I often turn for something to make my mind pause and concentrate, and slow down.
When Kitty and I discovered the Itching to Stitch stand at the Festival of Quilts, we shared the same happy gasp. She was drawn instantly to the starter kits; rows of pastel crayons just waiting to be discovered, and I promptly fell in love with just about every one of the Wise Words kits. From the moment our eyes lit up it was only ever going to be a question of “which?”.
Maya Angelou’s “Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud” sums up in simple perfect imagery, what I strive towards for myself, and what I want for the children. Be a rainbow, be more than just yourself, pottering through life, try to be of service to the people around you, to make the world a brighter place every day, even if it’s just to give someone a hug and make them smile. Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if we were all trying to be rainbows.
I genuinely loved every stitch of this project; it holds sunny days and bleak autumnal afternoons, and that same feeling of a cosy family sewing circle as we all sat and worked on our projects together. This is 28 count linen, dyed to what one of my children described as “blotchy” (thanks kids), but really it’s a semi-solid, and it gives the impression of clouds behind the rainbow. Most of the yarn is DMC in various colours, but the border and “cloud” are in a variegated soft grey so the colour changes with each stitch. The gold thread (outlining the “i” in rainbow) and the buttons were the final touch and then it’s had a nice steamy press face down on one of our fluffiest bath towels to get out some of the creases. It’s never going to be entirely crease free because it’s linen, but it’s like blocking a piece of knitting, it just brings everything back to square again.
Which just leaves me with the question of framing. The picture on the front of the kit shows a deep dark wood frame, and on the stand it was made up into a cushion with a log cabin border, but I think I want to keep it simple. I’m nearly certain that it’s going to go on the wall in Pip’s room because the colours work really well with his wall colour, and I’m very tempted simply to stretch it over a box canvas and hang it up. It might need the occasional bit of dusting, but it would let the buttons shine out and the gold thread glimmer, and it might just be the answer. What would you do?
Amazing and overwhelming and wonderful, and completely chock a block full of yarn – and that was just my shopping bag – it must be time to tell you all about Yarndale.
Back before we had children, and even in the early days when parents still outnumbered small people, yarn festivals were a regular part of my year. I learnt sock design and the history of Bohus knitting and bought yarn and fibre and knit and spun my way through the rest of the year in a happy haze induced by cosy toes and the hypnotic slip of wool over needle. And then the children came, and for many years my days were filled with cuddles and nursing, with walks to the playpark, cleaning mysteriously sticky spots from the kitchen floor and trying to balance the unbalanceable while juggling being a wife, a mother, an employee and at the same time not let my creativity burn out through neglect.
There has been knitting and sewing and quilting and writing and pictures because those are the things that restore my soul, but if you’ve been around here a long time, or you’re married to me and you wonder why all the socks in your drawer have holes in them, you’ll know that I’m nowhere near as prolific a creator as I used to be, and that’s OK. This is my season of mothering tiny people (and the not so tiny anymore) and this time will not come again, but I realised over the summer that in accepting that, and in moving my focus over to parenthood, I’d lost a bit of my connection to the knitting community; I was less sure what everyone was making, or who was emerging as a new dyer, and I missed it, just a little bit.
And into that nostalgia came Yarndale; a chance to take a day just entirely and completely for me, to dive back right into the heart of all things woolly and wonderful and spend a day surrounded by yarn, fluff, sheep, the biggest mandala you’ve ever seen, crochet decorated buses, and above all, friends who wanted to talk about knitting.
I owe it all to John’s aunt; she mentioned it in passing when we were up in Yorkshire in July and I jumped at the suggestion with both hands. By the time September came she’d persuaded another friend recently returned to sticks and string and the three of us set off across an uncharacteristically sunny Yorkshire lured on by the wool fumes and happily discussing circular needles, different yarn weight wpi, everything Ravelry, and a dozen or so things I’ve forgotten already; it was wonderful.
The Auction Mart is set up on the hill outside Skipton and arriving by bus (Rotary Club Park and Ride from the Skipton Building Society for the win!) you get a top deck view of the yarn bombing, the dales away in the distance, and the massive queue snaking away beyond the door. No one was going to arrive late to Yarndale that’s for certain. Fortified by coffee and amazing flapjack from the food van outside we entered the fray. I’d had half a thought of bringing Kitty after she’d enjoyed the quilt show so much but if you’ve ever thought an NEC quilt show busy it’s going nothing on Yarndale first thing on Saturday. There were just so many beautiful things to look at, and so many people to look at them. I’ve always been glad to be tall, and I can’t help but think it a serious advantage to be able to see things and to keep your head out of the crowds for a bit (top tip for next year: if you’re not 6’0″, wear stilts!). I’d think it was because everyone starts at the edges and works up and down the rows but they were all just as busy as each other!
Eventually people started to peter off for lunch and workshops and there was enough room to breathe but I still found even on the third or fourth pass of a row I was seeing new things. I could have spent my pocket money by the end of the first row if I’d tried and, released into the wild after so many years of encountering yarn only in my stash and through a computer screen, I found myself repeating the mantra “sheep are not an endangered species; you do not have to buy all the yarn.”
Really, truly, I didn’t; though a bulging bag of purchases would seem to give lie to that. I hold Kitty responsible; thanks to seven years of concerted growing it now takes an extraordinary amount of yarn to clothe my eldest daughter; we’re so far past the days when three skeins and a weekend would render her a new jumper she’s not that far off the quantities I’d buy for me. And then there was the yarn for a jumper for Elma, and a blanket in the perfect colours for Pip’s room, and some sock yarn form John, and yes, well, I have the next few months well planned and my only challenge is restraining myself from casting on all of the things right now. It’s not going well.
I want to share some of my favourite stands with you, the places I went back to time and time again, but just to give you a little taste of what it’s really like to be at Yarndale, including the fact that I was so overwhelmed by yarn fumes I had complete camnesia for a large part of the afternoon, I made a little film:
What’s funny is that I’ve been happily watching everyone else’s YouTube videos and I can see so many things that I don’t remember at all – next year I think I need to go for both days, I wonder how many pairs of socks I need to knit to convince John to go on a weekend break to Skipton in which he goes off sketching and I go wool shopping?
So, the favourites list (and forgive me if you had a favourite and you can’t believe I’ve left it off – it probably meant that I just couldn’t get to their stand!)
Devon Sun Yarns – gorgeous bright colours in sock yarn and a little DK; I have a skein of what looks like a pure unicorn rainbow that I’m hiding from the children to make Christmas socks.
Blacker Yarns – their Black Swan falkland (4ply and DK) passes the small child softness test with ease and based on the sample on the stand it softens even more knit up than in the ball. I have a beautiful bag of turquoise with Kitty’s name on it.
John Arbon Textiles – why yes, I did go all the way to Yorkshire and make my first three purchases from Westcountry companies, what can I say, blood will out! John Arbon make Knit by Numbers, a soft and fluffy merino that comes in DK and 4ply. The rose pink (in the video) is going to be a jumper for Elma but this would be perfect for fair isle because the yarn is just the right amount of grabby and comes in every colour of the rainbow. They also had fibre on the stand which was worth ordering just to watch it be wound out of the barrels – 200g of Siren will be mine; some assembly required.
Fig Tree Yarns – branching out as far as the Channel Isles, this company imports yarn from North America and you can spot that colour saturation a mile away; UK dyeing is just a little bit more muted. Gorgeous yarn, gorgeous patterns.
Janie Crow – a crocheter who needs no introduction; her CAL patterns are legendary and just as stunning in real life; had I not got a hydrangea blanket under construction I would have been seriously tempted.
Purlescence – they had Kate Davies’ books, Sweet Georgia ombre mini skeins, Fyberspates and Coop Sock – need I say more?
Gamer Crafting – if you want bright colours and sparkle and Halloween themed yarn, or yarn to make your husband socks that look like a firework explosion, this is where you go.
Jem Weston – a fellow lover of all things blue, green and yellow I could have moved into her stand it was just that pretty; her books make me want to knit everything and the moody blues blanket called my name. In a year from now Pip will have something amazing to cuddle up with on the end of his bed.
The Little Grey Sheep – seriously beautiful colours and the Fine Wool passes the softness test; it is a miracle I came away with only a mini skein.
Mrs Moon – beautiful colours of singles yarn for hats and a scarf pattern that I didn’t buy but must now hunt down over the internet. The baby yarn and patterns makes me wish mine were tiny dots again.
Ann Kingstone Design – if you were there and saw the program; Ann Kingstone designed the sheep socks on the penultimate page. For everyone else; watch my needles (eventually!)
Most of my projects are planned, usually to the nth degree because my mind can sew just so much faster than my fingers. I have fabric and patterns picked out for at least four dresses for the girls, the shorts I was planning for the summer are still waiting and I’m planning more quilts in my head than I can keep track of. I tend to tackle them one at a time though (or maybe two at a time) just because until recently I’ve not had the space to have much work in progress hanging around.
But then every now and then there is a project that just screams “MAKE ME!”. This is one of those. And I’m going to blame Amanda Jean at Crazy Mom Quilts entirely responsible for it (thank you!) because it was while working my way through her Finish it up Friday linky that a unicorn quilt popped up onto my screen from Sew Fresh Quilts, and I knew in a heartbeat that I had found my mama-made present for Kitty’s birthday.
I’d originally been planning on shorts because she’s grown out of the batik print ones I made at the start of the summer and there is a metre of the most amazing Riley Blake unicorns and rainbow fabric hiding at the bottom of a pile of fabric on my shelves, but shorts are not exactly practical at the end of September, particularly in a September that has been so very definitely autumn, as if the seasons hanged this year with the flip of a switch. A rainbow unicorn cushion on the other hand – seasonally appropriate, cuddleable, would go nicely in her new room as and when it ever gets replastered, has rainbow and, most importantly, is a unicorn.
The fabric came almost exclusively from my stash, and you’ll see snippets you recognise from other projects in there. The only colour I needed to add was the orange – I didn’t have any purple of quite the right shade, but I thought Kitty would rather have pink so I wasn’t going to push it. The background is Kona Baby Blue, and the borders and the back are by Free Spirit. I thought it was a Tanya Whelan print but the cushion is currently under Kitty so I can’t go and check and I can’t find it on Google – sing out in the comments if you recognise it.
The pattern is traditionally pieced, which involves cutting out the tiniest of tiny pieces and then sewing them together; for the 12” x 12” block the smallest piece is 0.75” square, and I ended up keeping many of the pieces impaled to the ironing board because they would keep trying to run off. Given the size, matching the points was a one chance only affair and to my huge relief, most of them came out ok.
And as for the quilting; well it’s fairly, what do they call it on Bake Off? Rustic? Bascially this is not the beautiful perfect quilting of a long arm or someone with lots of practice at free motion under their belts. I could have done squiggles or even a good leaf, but I wanted to try something a little bit different and the only way to get better is to just get on and do it, so after a bit of sketching practice I settled down to try scribbly daisies. After the first couple I was convinced I’d made a huge mistake, but now they’re finished I think it works; it keeps the cushion light and bouncy.
As for the most important test – Kitty had just one word for it: “Wow!”