Summer Cardigan

My latest knitting project is a cardigan called Summer's End (Ravelry Link). I can only give you a Ravelry link as the designers website doesn't seem to be working anymore. It's a cardigan worked bottom up all in one piece then the sleeves are knit and joined on. It's a simple enough design but it does have a lovely lace section that will add a nice bit of interest. I'm hoping it will be a nice wearable cardigan for the chilly summer evenings we get here.

I'm knitting it with blue aran wool I got ages ago in the Woolen mills in Clare. I had originally thought I'd make a crochet blanket with the wool but now I think it will be nicer as a cardigan. I made enough crochet blocks from this wool to make a large cushion cover and I must get around to finishing that off some time soon.

I'm hoping the name of the design won't be too prophetic and that I will manage to finish this before the summer ends. I'm quite a slow knitter and this isn't great when you write a knitting blog. It's hard to write lots of posts about the progress of the same garment and I'm sure reading about the endless slog to finish a cardigan wouldn't be too entertaining for anyone reading either.

The lace is going well and I'm finding that with practise I don't need as many counters and I can remember what I'm supposed to be doing more easily. I find the lace keeps me knitting a little faster as there is a bit interest from row to row, I get bored if I have miles of stocking stitch to do with no breaks. 

I have to show you a close up picture of the cutest stitch marker ever. It's a lemon cupcake! It's from K at Chocolate Bunni Crafts and is part of a set of four terribly cute lemon cupcakes. She makes loads of really cute stitch makers so check her shop out. You'll be supporting an Irish crafter too which is full of win. These stitch markers really do cheer me up each time I move them from one needle to the next.

I made a pair of baby booties recently as a present. I crocheted these from some purple cotton and they turned out to be very cute. There is only one problem, I think they may be too small to fit the baby! I may still give them as a present anyway and see if they fit. If not I can always make them again, it shouldn't be hard to make them in a bigger size. The pattern is available here.

Copper Coast Ale from Dungarvan

There are two geoparks on the island of Ireland and both of them feature on my very favourite places to go list but for very different reasons. Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh is a place I've been to so many times I've lost count. The caves extend far beyond the show cave and exploring them is a lot of fun. I particularly love Cascades cave with it's entrance maze leading to large river passages filled with decorations. It's a whole other world. You can read about Artur's cave diving exploits in the area over at his blog Hell and High Water, he's a bona fide explorer.

The Copper Coast, Irelands other geopark is down south near Dungarvan, County Waterford. I love the Copper Coast though I don't have a photo of anywhere in the area. Maybe its because I don't want to show anyone the place as it will ruin the most wonderful feature of the place which is the splendid isolation. When I worked shifts in Kilkenny I'd have days off midweek and I'd go to Annestown beach and fly my kite with the whole beach to myself. To me the Copper Coast conjures up images of beautiful deserted beaches with wonderful rock formations. When I heard Dungarvan Brewing Company had named their red ale Copper Coast I smiled at the perfect name.    

So to the beer at last, it pours a coppery brown colour with a nice cream head. It has a slightly yeasty caramel nose. It tastes of chocolate caramel with what tastes like a small amount of roast barley rounding it off. There's a nice bit of a hop bite which is great to find in a red ale. All too often red ales are far too much on the malty side of the equation so this is great to find. Though this is mostly a malt driven beer and it's nice and robust and not thin at all, another fault I find in many red ales. I loved the nice blurry carbonation which didn't ruin the beer by being too fizzy. 

This is a beer for drinking with a nice hearty dinner, like a stew, pie or duck. This beer will go with any kind of roasted meat as the caramel flavours in both will complement each other. Of course you could always drink it sitting on your favourite deserted beach watching the sun set.

The music I'd set this beer to is something that I always used to listen to while driving around the Copper Coast on a sunny day, Four Tet's album Rounds. I'd liken it to the track 'As Serious as your Life' as it's laid back, complex and a bit sweet like this beer. And no I'm not going to even try to explain how I match beer and music... 

Salad Days and a beer to drink with them, Dungarvan Helvick Gold

Recently I briefly mentioned a new Irish craft brewery, the Dungarvan brewing company run by brothers in law Cormac and Tom along with their wives Jen and Claire. A week or two ago we met Cormac and his lovely wife Jen in The Bull and Castle where we sampled some very tasty Copper Coast ale on cask. They also gave me a sample of each of their beers to try plus a bottle opener and a Dungarvan bag. The bag is what the stylish beer geek will be using to tote their beer around for the summer.  Thanks for that guys!

The weather has been beautiful and sunny the last few days so I've been making the best of it. On the evidence of last summer any sun at all is to be celebrated so I barely went indoors at all for the whole weekend. I was down visiting my parents and my Dad had the barbecue out for every meal, he even made the fry on Sunday morning on the barbecue. I love this time of year sitting outside in the sun eating grilled food and salads. I particularly love salads, they're so easy to make, just throw lots of stuff in a bowl and it looks like you've done loads of work. This evening back in my own house I cooked up some burgers with baby potatoes baked in the coals of the barbecue. I served it with a mixed salad and some coleslaw. The coleslaw is an important nod to the cuisine of Waterford. Blaas and coleslaw are two things that always come to mind when I think of Waterford. I went to school in Waterford so I'm allowed slag it off. I love blaas and have had many arguments explaining that they are not just baps. Recently an American in a forum made a snide comment that they look like the rolls you get in any American restaurant. I did shout 'They Are NOT Bread Rolls' at the screen. Blaas get their unique taste from a long rising time and they go stale quickly, I must try bake them some day. Having a fresh blaa with ham and coleslaw for lunch at school was always really tasty. 

I decided to taste the Dungarvan Helvick Gold which is a blonde ale along with the barbecue. Now there is a big downside to this beer which I should tell you about first. One bottle is not nearly enough of this beer. We split it between us and were very unhappy about only having one bottle. So if you're buying it (Drink Store stock it and deliver around the country) don't just buy one to try or you will regret it. This beer is gorgeous and perfect for that laid back sitting in your garden eating a burger and salad in the sun type of vibe. I could happily drink it all evening but having only one bottle I'm now writing a blog post about it instead and pining for it's aroma.

It pours a nice blonde colour with a slight haze as it's bottle conditioned. The aroma is great, to me it's very fruity, almost like a weiss beer. It doesn't taste like a weiss beer though as it's a lovely well balanced hoppy blonde ale. Blonde ales can be bland as breweries treat them as something that shouldn't be challenging so that lager drinkers will drink it. This beer isn't like that but I think it will convert a lot of people to craft beer with it's full on flavour and easy going nature. It's packed full of flavour without being too bitter. I really loved it and as I said a half bottle just wasn't enough at all.   

I can't wait to taste the other beers and I'll be reporting on them here. If you can't wait to read my wittering you can read Mr Billings talking about the rest of the beers here and The Beer Nut about Black Rock stout here.

Oh Louie Louet!

Have I mentioned before how wonderful my lovely husband is? Of course I have but it should be mentioned again. He is pretty awesome. He has surpassed himself this time by getting me a drum carder for finishing my exams. I spotted a Louet drum carder on ebay going for a bargain price and ended up getting it. I feel a bit guilty about the whole affair really.

It arrived packaged very securely in a big box this morning. The postman arrived at the ungodly hour of 7.45 and woke me up so he only had himself to blame for the sight of my bed head that greeted him at the door. Since I was up I decided to unpack it and it looked great, I decided to grab some alpaca fleece and try to card it. This didn't go well. I couldn't get the fiber to latch on to the carder at all and managed to scratch the table as I hadn't secured the carder to the table properly with the clamps.

Let's back up from this disaster and have a quick cup of coffee and look at why I wanted this carder in the first place. Carders are cool machines that align fiber for spinning, they also blend different fibers and colours making a fiber preparation called a batt. They are expensive but they tend to last forever so they're an investment that can be used for a long time. See how I convinced myself? They are quicker than hand cards and batts are lots of fun to spin from. The drum carder I got is a Louet Classic carder, it's got a coarse cloth with 46tpi, the tpi refers to the number of pins or tines per inch. Intertwined, the bible of art yarn spinning, recommends this carder for crazy carded batts as it will deal with whatever you put into it. I want to make mad batts so I was stalking ebay and keeping an eye out for a Louet classic as a new one was definitely out of the price range. I've been looking over a year and haven't seen one. The cheapest new carder I've seen is an Ashford but they don't suit art batts so when the Louet popped up on ebay I jumped at it.

After coffee and figuring out if I could blame the table scratches on the dog I set up the carder outside on the crap plastic outside table. I realised I'd been turning the handle the wrong way and magically the fiber started feeding onto the drum.  After some messing around I carded a batt of white alpaca fiber and then did a batt of brown alpaca mixed with some various bits of greenish merino and a tiny touch of sparkle.  It's a little more brown than the photos. It turned out pretty well for a first go, it looks spinnable from anyway. It's called Forest Nymph which is a bit whimsical for me but that's what came to mind when I finished it.

The carder will help a lot with processing the alpaca fleeces.  I'm hoping to wash and dye the fleece in batches then blend the colours and card them using the carder. I'm also keeping fabric scraps and cast offs from Penneys and stuff to use in funky art batts. Can't wait.

It's got to the stage that with all this fiber stuff and know how I've collected over the last year or so I'm thinking that this hobby should start paying for itself. I'm hoping to set up an Etsy shop at some stage this summer, watch this space for that.

Longer Lengths

Ages ago I showed you some spinning. Then I disappeared into the ether while I finished projects and studied for my exam. I'm finished my course now and the exam went well which is good. I was studying green technology. It's an interesting area if not a little depressing as you see how far we have to go to reduce our impact on the environment.

While I was studying I found spinning was great to do in my breaks. Spinning is easy to pick up and put down and doesn't involve remembering a pattern. It's nice to let your brain drift and have a break while you draft and treadle the wheel.

I finished quite a few yarns. First off I finished the Betsy Doodles batt mentioned above. The batt was from Laura Hogan and it was quite fabulous. The blues and greys were fabulous mixed together. It's a two ply yarn and it's about sport/fingering weight. There's 330m of it too. I'm not quite sure what to make with this so all suggestions are welcome. 

Next I spun up the roving I made using my home made hackle. It spun up really quickly and I navajo plied it. It's worsted weight and there's 80m of it.  I called it Sea Change. I'm still constantly fascinated by how different fiber can look from the spun yarn. I might mix this with some alpaca to make a funky floppy hat like the ones cool surfer types wear.

I finally got around to finishing up the yarn I spun from the silk hankies I dyed using with kool aid. The yarn is about lace weight and there's 140m of it.  I'm hoping to crochet a necklace with this using some pearl beads.

Did you notice how I confidently quote how long each skein is? As if I knew what I was talking about? It now appears that I have been talking nonsense as today I discovered I was measuring my skeins wrong. I'd take the yarn off the niddy-noddy, count the number of strands then multiply by 46cm (the length of the niddy-noddy) and then multiply by two. When I measured the Betsy Doodles yarn I was disappointed I didn't get more yardage as it seemed like I had quite a lot and now I know why. I was in This Is Knit teaching a crochet class and R of She Knit Up That was helping someone measure their yarn with a niddy-noddy. She mentioned how to calculate the length of yarn and said you count the strands, multiply by the length of niddy and multiply by four. Four? Four? Facepalm! Of course it's four.  The yarn goes up and around it four times. How did I not notice that before?

How dumb am I? Obviously doing all that physics in college didn't help with my atrocious adding up skills. I now have twice as much handspun yarn as I thought I had. It's great actually as I was wondering what I'd do with all the small skeins of yarn I'd made. It now seems I have enough to actually make some decent projects from them. So thanks a million R!

A storm gathers

I mentioned I was knitting the storm cloud shawlette in a recent post. Here's the last row being cast off using my own handpsun art yarn. I had 10cm of the mohair left over and about 30cm of the artyarn. I love when a project uses up all the yarn. I tend to hoard the small scraps left over after a project and then end up not using them.

I've seen a lot of strong opinions about art yarn on the internet and Ravelry. Some people really dislike it. They argue that it is really hard to knit or crochet with art yarn. I've even seen people press the disagree button and tell people that their project using their art yarn isn't nice.

I think these people need to lighten up, stop being mean and learn to think outside the box.

Of course art yarn isn't traditional spinning, of course it looks a bit mad but then that's the whole point. People spin for fun these days just like they knit for fun. You don't have to spin or knit, you can just pop to the shops and buy a pair of socks. I'm very thankful for that. I spin quickly but I knit very slowly so I'd never manage to make myself enough socks. When people don't have to do something out of necessity I think they have more freedom to be imaginative and creative. Spinning is an old art form and while it's very nice to spin a traditional woolen laceweight long draw it's also nice to go mad and spin some crazy ass yarn with poms poms and glitter sticking out of it. Art yarn keeps spinning modern and vibrant and I think it will help ensure that people remain interested in the craft.

If you want to see more art yarn check out the websites of these fabulous fiber artists Jazz Turtle, Studioloo, Pluckyfluff, and Insubordiknit.

Art yarn makes a perfect accent in a project. I think the purple shawl would have been much less interesting without the odd row of colourful handspun breaking it up. The shawl is fantastically fun and I think I will wear it over a plain t-shirt during the summer. It's also really warm, that must be the mohair. When I visited Cushendale I was told that it's hard to find really top quality mohair and they had to search for a while before finding the mohair yarn they dye in such lovely colours.  

I've been somewhat in hiding the last few weeks as I was finishing my project for college. I have a quick break today but I'll be back studying for my exam next week. After that I'm free and looking forward to a summer filled with knitting, spinning and dyeing.