Sea Green and Sapphire

A blog about a love of colour, addiction to fabrics and joy of crafting…


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Please excuse me while I hibernate…

Blanket knitting

Because of my illness (ME/CFS), my life is quiet and slow at the best of times, but this winter is has pretty much ground to a halt. During these last few months most of my energy has gone into the boring stuff of everyday living – making sure there’s dinner at the table and clean clothes in the cupboard – leaving very little leftover energy for anything else. It’s been like trying to crawl through a desert, hoping that I manage to drag  myself into an oasis soon…

But I’m not saying this to complain, I’m just saying it because I feel a bit guilty about the very sluggish pace of this blog.  It’s definitely not that I’ve gone off blogging, or have nothing to write about. I just haven’t had the stamina to spend much time on the computer, either writing or even reading other people’s blogs.

But in the last few weeks I’ve felt a tiny tiny bit better, an improvement that may not be radical but feels very precious nevertheless, just enough to feel that I can start catching up with things again. And on this blog there’s certainly lots I need to catch up with: all those dyeing experiments in the autumn that I never got a chance to write about, stuff going on in the knitting and spinning fronts, all those hundreds of thoughts in my head that I keep thinking I must write about.

I know I should learn to write quick updates: a few thoughts, a few pictures – quick and easy – done. I’m afraid I’m not very good at it, once I start writing the flood gates open and before I know it, 1000 words later, I’ve managed to flatten myself completely and then need days to recover again.

But enough of that, I’m sure you’re here really to read about what’s been happening on the crafting front…

Well one thing I have managed to keep doing even during the last few months is knitting. It’s the one fun thing I manage to do on most days even if I have had to drop everything else that is not absolutely crucial. Complex projects have gone out of the window, but easy simple knitting I can do. Hence it’s been a good time to knit jumpers, ones that involve lots of stockinette stitch, you know going round and round, not having the think what needs to be done next.

One of my simple knitting projects is a patchwork style blanket. It was started in the autumn, when I got the usual autumnal urge for comfort knitting.

knitted patchwork blanket

I’m using some multi-coloured skeins from Araucania which I have had in my stash for a few years. They are a result of a moment of madness in a yarn sale (yes I’m sure you know how easily it happens…).  When I saw the colours I instantly thought they would make a great blanket, as many of the colours individually were not necessarily that great (I suspect that’s why there were on sale) but together form quite a nice autumnal and homely colour palette.

I’m using the sock yarn blanket method that I’ve used before. And like my sock yarn blanket (which currently is stuck in my UFO box, waiting for inspiration to strike) I suspect this too will be a multi-year project…

Knitted patchwork blanket in Araucania yarns

Then, as I already said, a lot of jumper knitting has been going on. I knitted myself a jumper from Knit By Numbers merino yarn in DK weight (from John Arbon Textiles) in a muted greeny grey colour.

Modified Mandel jumper

I had high hopes for the yarn – it’s beautifully soft, a real pleasure to knit with, and it comes in lots and lots of colours. I particularly like the fact that the colours are organised in hue families, in colour groups that contain several different values of the same colour, ranging from light to dark. For this reason the yarns makes an excellent candidate for all sorts of colour work.

However, as I have been wearing it, unfortunately it started pilling very badly almost instantly. Merino always seems to do that, but the best merino yarns (like Madelinetosh Vintage) actually stop pilling after a month or so, so it’s not necessarily a long term problem. As yet I don’t know if this one does so too, at the moment I’m not very optimistic.

For the pattern I  used a top-down saddle shoulder one called Mandel. Or more accurately, I started using this pattern but I ended up abandoning it after the yoke – the rest of the jumper I just made up as I went along.

Modified Mandel jumper

The problem I had with the pattern was that I really struggled with the fit: the shoulders ended up being too wide for me (although I used a size in the pattern that corresponded to my measurements exactly). I also found it very difficult to get the arm hole size right, the pattern instructions somehow just did not work for me. I knitted the arm hole/chest area a few times, but what I should have done is to unravel it completely and start from scratch. I didn’t do because I thought it would work out ok if I just modified the fit a little bit (yes I have learned my lesson now).  I also suspected that the side pleats that are part of the design would not suit me, so I abandoned them too.

Well, once I started wearing the jumper and it stretched a little bit, I soon discovered that a saddle shoulder pattern is very unflattering if the shoulder fit is not exactly spot on. That’s why no amount of modifications after the shoulder fit had been finalised was enough to rescue the project – the shoulders just look huge and boxy on me. I suspect I will end up frogging this one and re-knitting it using some other pattern.

Husband also wanted a jumper, a really warm and chunky one, and as it is not easy to find good really chunky jumpers in shops, I decided to be a good wife and knit one for him. But as this is still work in progress, I’ll write more about it in some future post…

Red Tweed jumper

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More Zen Knitting

knitted t-shirt, neck and sleeve detail (1024x683)Just as the summer drew to a close, my summer knitting project was finally finished. It’s a heavily modified version of the Clearwing pattern that I have used before, this time with linen yarn, short-sleeved and without the pattern at the neckline. It was a bit of an epic knit; knitted on small needles (2.25mm) it took two summers (although I was knitting it on and off in between other projects, and it was hibernating for many months at a time).

I am fully aware it is exactly the kind of knitting a lot of knitters find incredibly tedious. A large-ish project of endless rounds of stockinette stitch, no challenging patterning to provide mental challenge, no colour changes to look forward to, and, perhaps worst of all, in a yarn colour that could be described, in the absence of a better word, as beige. It is the natural linen colour, undyed and unbleached, and being as I always am fond of the natural muted colours that nature provides, I quite like it. It is fascinating to me how the colour changes with different light, mostly it looks more pale grey than beige, although in some lights the beige-ness of it definitely comes out.

So the beigeness of the yarn did not bore me to tears, and neither did the monotony of knitting endless rounds of stockinette stitch. In fact I find this kind of knitting very meditative and soothing, it’s Zen knitting that suits me just perfectly. I always need at least one knitting project on the go that is just simple knitting, no thinking required, just going round and round, giving my mind a chance to either rest, wander off to wherever it wants to go or else give you a chance to chat to someone or watch some telly.

Knitted Linen T-shirt

The yarn is organic linen, beautifully and somehow very appropriately named Sparrow by Quince & Co.  When I bought it, it didn’t come in any others colours, although these days there are several beautiful colours to choose from. It’s a beautiful yarn, not harsh like some linen yarns can be initially (although they do all soften with use). Being a plant-based cellulose yarn, it is of course not stretchy at all, and in the beginning I found it quite hard work to knit – compared to soft wool with its natural stretch knitting linen feels like it takes more effort, especially to keep the tension even and not too loose. After a while, I did get used to it though, but you can see the gauge changing – in the beginning, at the top, it was much looser and more uneven, and towards the end it was much neater and smaller.

I like the finish the i-cord bind-off gives to the sleeves

I like the finish the i-cord bind-off gives to the sleeves

Cotton, although hard to avoid in clothing these days, is not always a very sustainable choice as it requires a lot of water and pesticides to grow. For this reason I quite like the idea of using linen for my summer knitting. And from a quality point of view, I would be very happy to use this yarn again, it just feels smooth and crisp, already you can feel the softness that is going to come out with wear and washing.

But from a sustainability point of view, there’s one big but: Quince & Co Co, based in the US, use Belgian linen so  by the time they have spun the yarn and shipped it to me here in the UK, the yarn has crossed the Atlantic twice, which makes quite a few yarn miles. I think for future linen projects I’d like to try to find a European supplier, if I can just find a yarn that matches the quality of this one. I sometimes think I’d love to grow my own linen, and then spin it, but having done a bit of research on it, it just sounds like a lot of very hard work (as well as some extra equipment to break the plant stems) so it is definitely a project that needs to wait for a year when my energy stores are fully stocked up.

Meanwhile, it is now time for big woolly jumpers so I am on the lookout for new chunky jumper patterns and yarns and this little T-shirt will sadly have to be tucked away in the cupboard to wait for next summer.


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WIP Hunt

The pace of crafting has slowed down somewhat over here. My ME/CFS has gone downhill in recent months so my energy levels are pretty low now and I can only manage a limited amount of things on any given day.  Also, as it is such a busy time of the year in the garden, whatever energy I do have has been spent there. But I am nevertheless managing to do a bit of knitting in the evenings and some slow progress is being made on various other fronts.

But rather than wait for some finished and complete work to show you, today I thought I’d go on a hunt with my camera looking for some evidence of whatever Works-In-Progress there are. Here’s what I found during my hunt.

Knitting WIP Linen T-shirt (1024x683)

On the living room sofa I found a knitting WIP, a V-necked raglan sleeved T-shirt from undyed linen yarn. I started this last summer, but it has recently come our of its winter hibernation.

Knitting WIP Peasy (1024x683)

On the kitchen counter I found my Peasy cardigan that is nearly there, only one sleeve and the button panels to go. Why it’s in the kitchen I have no idea…

My sewing room (1024x683)

And this is my little sewing room in the attic. As I have never had my own craft room before, this is a great luxury even if the room is so small you can only stand up right in the middle and there’s no room for tall shelves for storage so it is constantly completely stuffed with things. Lets have a closer look at what we can find here…

This is where I am currently making lots and lots of small skeins for the summer dyeing season.

This is where I am currently making lots and lots of small skeins for the summer dyeing season.

Some of the skeins I have already can be found on the arm chair. The poster by David Hockney also counts as a WIP as it is waiting to be laminated  so that I can hang it on the wall of my dyeing area in the outbuilding

Some of the skeins I have already made can be found on the arm chair. Most of these are fine silk yarn for my embroidery thread collection (yes I do need another stash, in addition to all the other ones I already have). The poster by David Hockney also counts as a WIP as it is waiting to be laminated so that I can hang it on the wall of my dyeing area in the outbuilding

This is my current carding/spinning WIP. I have been blending Shetland wool in various shades of grey, the next step is to blend it with some angora wool. Eventually, hopefully by next winter, it will be turned into a beanie and gloves for hubby.

This is my current carding/spinning WIP. I have been blending Shetland wool in various shades of grey, the next step is to blend it with some angora wool. Eventually, hopefully by next winter, it will be turned into a beanie and gloves for hubby.

A few other random things can be found here, for example the results of my silk "paper" making experiment (although I don't know if it counts as paper given the number of wholes in it, but I still like the texture).

A few other random things can be found here, for example the results of my silk “paper” making experiment (although I don’t know if it counts as paper given the number of holes in it, but I still like the texture).

stitch experiments (1024x683)

And here I have been practising different kinds of embroidery stitches in different kinds of yarns. I started making them very even and neat, but soon I felt I had to abandon such neatness and start playing around, varying the width and length and the overall shape.

Moving on to the garden, here's my new pride and joy, a brand new border for my dyeing plants. As I need to be able to walk around there to gather the plants, I've put some pavings slabs in the middle as stepping stones.

Moving on to the garden, here’s my new pride and joy, a brand new border for my dyeing plants. As I need to be able to walk around there to gather the plants, I’ve put some pavings slabs in the middle as stepping stones.

My black hollyhock that I grew last year is already growing there, being a biennial it should flower this year. I am so looking forward to seeing what kinds of colours I will be able to get from it.

My black hollyhock plants that I grew last year are already growing in the new border, being biennial they should flower this year. I am so looking forward to seeing what kinds of colours I will be able to get from it.

Some of my dye plant seedlings, such as these Black-eyed Susan and Purple Loosestrife seedlings here, are still only germinating now, so they may not be ready to be harvested this year.

Some of my dye plant seedlings, such as these Black-eyed Susan and Purple Loosestrife seedlings here, are still only germinating now, so they may not be ready to be harvested this year. Judging by the amount of moss on the tray, I may need to fine tune the watering regime…

But my Japanese indigo is doing well, even if only less than half of the seeds germinated and the seedlings didn't get quite enough light on the windowsill back in March when we had very little sunshine. But they are in the greenhouse propagator now, so they have been growing sturdier.

But my Japanese indigo is doing well, even if only less than half of the seeds germinated and initially the seedlings were very thin and leggy as they didn’t get quite enough light on the windowsill back in March when we had very little sunshine. But they are in the greenhouse propagator now, so they have been growing sturdier.

The tagetes however are growing strongly, so they should definitely produce enough dyeing material later on in the summer.

The tagetes however are growing strongly, so they should definitely produce enough dyeing material later on in the summer.

And tickseed (coreopsis) is doing well too, they are ready to be transplanted very soon. These came from the seeds I gathered from last year's coreopsis, I am really chuffed they worked out.

And tickseed (coreopsis) is doing well too, they are ready to be transplanted very soon. These came from the seeds I gathered from last year’s coreopsis, so I am really chuffed they worked out. There are lots of other trays of seedlings too, but I am sure you’d be bored to tears if I showed all of them (especially as a worrying number of them do not show any sign of life), so we’ll leave them for now…


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Gloves for Dad


Homespun Gloves for Dad

For last Father’s Day, which in Finland was in the late autumn, I decided I’d knit my dad a pair of gloves from some home spun yarn. Given that I only got this idea about one week before Father’s Day, I knew I was already hopelessly late to get it done on time, but little did I realise the gloves would finally be ready in February, months after the event. But here they are, finally.

I wish I could post a little sample of the yarn I spun, because it was the softest loveliest yarn I’ve ever made –  an angora & Shetland blend which was a bit tricky to card but absolutely beautiful to spin and knit. And the resulting fabric is just gorgeous, warm and soft, easily compares with cashmere, I promise I am not exaggerating (at least not much).

Before I started carding and spinning, I consulted the good ladies of the Online Guild of Spinners, Dyers and Weavers about what is the best approach to spinning angora. Here’s what they advised:

  • angora felts if you as much as look at it the wrong way, so it’s better not to wash it before spinning. Good angora should not be too dirty even in its raw state because the rabbit, if well cared for, looks after its own fur (if the fibre is not clean you need to change your supplier). Mine was very clean, so I was happy to leave the washing until after it had been spun.
  • only buy angora from a reputable supplier, as apparently there can be animal welfare issues with commercial angora (a bit like battery hens, they are sometimes kept in very small cages).
  • a good companion for angora is Shetland wool, as it is about the same length and has enough crimp to make a bouncy yarn even after it has been blended with angora (which is more like silk in that it’s fine and non-stretchy as it has no crimp).
  • the best way to blend wool and angora is to make a layered sandwich, with a thin layer of wool at the bottom, angora in the middle and a thin layer of wool at the top and then feed this sandwich into a carder

Carding this blend was the tricky bit. Initially I had fed in wool and angora into my carder individually, and the angora would just get stuck in the smaller drum. After a bit of trial and error, I realised the fibre sandwich needs to be made before feeding it into the carder, and not try to feed the fibres separately. Even so, if the sandwich contained too much angora, it would just get stuck in the smaller drum, so the angora fibre definitely needed to be well covered with wool before feeding it in. I took each batt several times through the carder, each time adding a bit more angora and that seemed to be the easiest way increase the angora content of the batt. This way I managed to blend perhaps 25-30% angora to 70-75% Shetland wool.

A tweedy home-spun yarn from Shetland wool and angora

Given that I was going to knit men’s gloves with this yarn, I decided a medium grey would be an ideal understated colour, made from a mix of black and very light grey Shetland. As you can see in the picture the angora fibre was a most beautiful shade of pale grey (if I was good enough spinner I’d definitely try to spin it on its own).

The yarn looks tweedy with some black and light grey bits in it – I didn’t actually intend this to happen, it is just the way the fibres behaved, but I quite like the effect as it created some subtle interest in the otherwise very plain yarn. I’ve noticed that whenever I spin Shetland there will be little nepps in the yarn, so perhaps that’s just its character?

And the knitting pattern – it was the free “Modified Army Gloves” pattern you can find in Ravelry. It turned out to be a good basic glove pattern, plain and classic, just what I was after. The gauze of my yarn was slightly different from the one used in the pattern, so I had to do some maths to adjust. I also knitted the fingers a bit longer than it was recommended in the pattern, as they seemed a bit on the short side. But otherwise, it was pretty straight-forward and I am sure to use this pattern again (particularly as I too would now like a luxury pair of angora-Shetland gloves).


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Vaila Jumper

My Vaila jumperMy Vaila jumper is finally ready. I bought the yarn (Madelinetosh Vintage) for a Christmas present for myself last year (yes I can always think of a good excuse to buy some expensive luxury yarn…).

My previous big jumpers that I had knitted had suffered from sagging, so this time I wanted to make sure I chose a good yarn from a crimpy wool like Merino to make sure the jumper will hold its shape.

I started knitting it January, but didn’t get round to finishing it by the time summer arrived. Any pattern that contains lace always takes me at least ten times longer, because inevitable I would make a mistake, and then the project would hibernate for weeks before I can face trying to fix the problem.

But as soon as the autumn arrived out came the jumper again and, having had a head start, it is ready just in time for the chilly weather.

I made a few modifications to the pattern. I left out the lace panel at the back and instead of the reverse stockinette stitch, I chose to do it standard stockinette stitch. I wasn’t in a mood for all that purling, plus I didn’t like the way the reverse stockinette stitch looked like in this yarn. It somehow looked a bit dull, the very subtle semi-solid variegation on this yarn wasn’t quite enough to lift it.

I love this jumper, it’s exactly what I needed and I practically live in it at the moment. And so far at least it definitely hasn’t sagged, which I am pleased about.

As I live in a hundred year old poorly insulated house, I always need lots of really thick jumpers so I have already started another one.  But given all those secret can’t-be-blogged-about projects that are going on at this time of the year, I don’t have very much time for knitting it right at the moment, but I am definitely hoping to finish it before the winter ends.


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My Knitting Baskets (bursting at the seams)

My Knitting Baskets

One knitting basket was never going to be enough

I am definitely a process knitter. When I knit, I hardly think of the goal – the finished end product – I just knit. Yes it is handy to have a nice garment at the end of it, but that’s very much of secondary importance to me compared to the soothing, relaxing process of knitting.

That probably explains why I always have so many knitting projects on the go at the same time, requiring different levels of thought and concentration, from which I can always pick the most suitable one for the moment.

I always need at least one or two very easy projects for those moments (the majority of them I must admit) when I just want something simple for my hands to do on an auto-pilot, no thought required. Then, for the sake of having a challenge, there are some colour work or lace projects (with these I have a bad tendency to get stuck and they spend a lot of time hibernating, waiting for a suitable moment to make some progress again).

Because there are always so many works in progress, my knitting basket was getting very full. I always had to empty to whole basket on the floor to find anything in there, very frustrating as I am sure you can appreciate. A part of the problem was that at the moment I have several big bulky winter projects currently on a summer break –  my never-ending Vera jumper that I have now been knitting for two years and a Vaila jumper which I started last winter and  didn’t quite manage to finish before the cold season ended. And there’s the sock yarn blanket, another big bulky multi-year project.

My Vaila Jumper, with the never-ending Vera jumper at the back

Although I hadn’t finished my winter projects by the time the sun came out, like all knitters I was compelled to start lighter summer projects in all sorts of summery colours. So I started a second version of the Crocus Bud crochet shawl and a second Clearwing jumper, knitting it this time from undyed linen (Sparrow yarn from Quince & Co in colourway Sans).  These were my main projects just before my summer holiday and, I do admit, a rational knitter would have taken these projects with her when going away, just to finish them off and have a chance to actually use them before the end of the summer.

My second Clearwing jumper in undyed linen from Quince & Co

But somehow a holiday doesn’t feel like a holiday unless you get to do something new and exciting, so I decided not to take the rational approach but start two new projects instead to take away with me.

The first one was an Abigail cardi which my sister and I decided to do together as a sort of mini-Knit-Along. When my sister visited me a couple of months ago I was teaching her how to follow knitting patterns. After the visit she wanted to knit herself a cardigan but she thought she might need some extra help to interpret the instructions. So we thought it would make sense if I knitted the same pattern  so that I could help with any questions she might have. We started knitting the cardigans together when I was in Finland, but she has definitely overtaken me by now and no doubt will finish hers soon.

Abigail cardi from Tern yarn by Quince & CO (in colourway Seagrass)

On a holiday you of course need a small easy handbag sized project that you can whip out when sitting in a cafe or a park bench. A pattern that you can just knit while watching the world go by, not having to worry about following a pattern. For this purpose I started a second version of the 3S shawl (this summer definitely has lots of second versions of great patterns being knitted). The first one I knitted for my sister from a lace yarn. This time I am using Soliloquy sock lace yarn which I am really enjoying knitting. Being a merino-silk mix it feels almost as smooth as cotton and the thickness is great for a scarf, a bit heavier than lace yarn but not too heavy, so all in all it’s an ideal yarn for a summer scarf. And mine is a lovely shade of coral, sort of orangey pink, a wonderful summer colour.

At the front, the 3S shawl knitted from Soliloquy sock lace, and the Crocus Bud crochet shawl at the back.

So there you are, the contents of my knitting baskets. But now I definitely have to finish at least some of them, before I am allowed to start any new projects.