puppies, trains and slip, slip knit …

It ain’t over yet …. !

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Poppy unpacking her toys as fast as I try to pack them.  I have rather tortured memories of packing to go on holiday with three toddlers and this was a momentary throwback upon which I would have been happy to pass.

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Eventually I managed to pack everything (well not quite, I forgot our coffee cups and my water bottle …) and once again there appeared to be some fishing in the offing.

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And we were finally ready for the off.

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A casual observer would think that we were preparing for a fishing trip.  A more experienced knitter would understand that this was the luggage required for a knitting festival.  One dog and plenty of fishing paraphernalia is all that is required to occupy and distract the non-knitter.

Shetland Wool Week was a wonderful experience, not just the yarn, not just the classes, not just camaraderie, but the island, the people, the scenery, the air, the light, the craic.  I didn’t expect to be able to follow that up with a long weekend in Inverness at Loch Ness KnitFest.  But never underestimate a Scottish fisherman with the opportunity to head home for a weekend and bother a few fish at the same time!

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Poppy is a seasoned rail traveller, a quick hop to Newcastle on the Transpennine Express, and then a more leisurely ride up to Inverness.

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Initially Poppy was happy to help with the yarn holding for the Susan Crawford Twageos Tam.

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But after a while all that adoration from the LNER crew was a bit overwhelming and she was happy to nod off.

Up bright eyed and bushy tailed and who should I meet at the door but Anne Stevens Frost.  Known to many as the podcaster  I thought I knew how, although known to Stuart as the knitting wife of his new Shetland fishing buddy.

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Note the knitwear!

First up class wise was Brioche with John Glen aka The Beardy Cheil.

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This was the last chance saloon for me as far as Brioche was concerned.  If John couldn’t make me and brioche see eye to eye then I was prepared to walk on by.  And forego the chance of ever creating a thing of beauty such as this.

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Or even this.

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Reader, forget the croissants, it’s brioche all the way now.  Very similar to Fisherman’s Rib (the method is slightly different although the result is pretty much the same) brioche is a wonderful soft squishy rib.  Increasing and decreasing is not subtle but, particularly when using two different coloured yarns, produces beautiful zig zags, waves and tree like designs.

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The afternoon was all about the tippy toes.

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I suffer from second sock syndrome.  I have yet to resort to chopping off the legs of family and friends, but I do struggle with starting the second sock. The joy of finishing sock one is immediately dampened by the need to start sock two.  So signing up for Deborah Gray’s Two Socks at a Time workshop was a no brainer.  Well the signing  up was…

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The set up was a tad fiddly…

But once we got going it was all smiles.  The advantage of toe up socks is that you can try them on as you go along, both socks will be the same size (assuming you want them to be), there is no risk of playing yarn chicken (will I have enough to make it to the toe?) and you can really play around with the toe design, creating an asymetric toe that is in line with the shape of the foot, or perhaps a separate big toe for socks to wear with flip flops if that rocks your boat.

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This method is also good for any pair of circular knitted items.  Sleeves, mittens, gloves.  I imagine somewhere there is a hardy soul with giant circular needles who has tried to knit two jumpers at the same time, but that won’t be me!

It may be a while before I am knocking out a pair like this.

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But practice makes perfect, and now I am going to leave you and get on with a spot of practice!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

shetland sunday tea

I live in a small village in the north east of England where baking is competitive sport played at Olympic level.  I am on the coffee morning rota and when I’m on duty I have some serious baking anxiety.  It has to be easy to bake in bulk, easy to cut up, not require any obscure ingredients or complex baking techniques, not messy to eat, and finally pretty foolproof – I cannot start again at 9am on Wednesday morning!  For those who find themselves in a similar fix I usually go for Lemon Drizzle Cake, Brownies, Date flapjacks or chocolate fridge cake (a million variations).img_6571.jpg

There are some one-off events where the ante is upped, soup recipe induced paranoia anyone?  But I digress.  Back to baking.

For anyone who has not visited Shetland let me introduce you to Sunday Tea.  This is not merely tea that happens to be held on a Sunday it is an Event with a capital E.  Usually fundraising events, they are held in community halls and comprise bountiful cakes and savouries, tea (of course!), often music and crafts for sale.  For the small price of a ticket you can spend an afternoon of pure bliss eating, shopping and tapping your toes to the music.

First obtain a copy of The Shetland Times,  consult the small adverts for the listings of this week’s Sunday Teas and plan your day.

I went to my first Sunday tea last week at Brae in the northern mainland.  Stuart’s eyes practically popped out of his head as he surveyed the bakes on offer, this man was in business and he disappeared at high speed towards the rolls and sandwiches, planning his savouries whilst eyeing up the cakes at the other end of the enormous table.

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Meanwhile I headed into the knitting display.

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Tam

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When I finish my tam I have a vintage cardigan pattern waiting (and the wool already from Jamieson and Smith)  it is this to which I aspire.

These lacework pieces are things of true beauty and if you could only touch the whisper that is the wool you too would weep with joy.

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A simple short row becomes a shawl that is almost alive.

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Weaving the landscape into pieces of art.

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Back in the hall the teas are going down well.

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Even the World’s Fastest Knitter, the wonderful Hazel Tindall  puts down her needles and mucks in.

The band is getting toes tapping across the hall.

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Eventually we had to tear ourselves away and head down to the harbour to take the ferry home.  But my first Sunday Tea will stay with me …. until my next one in June!

Love Gillie x

views of shetland

Contrary to the evidence shown in this blog over the past few days there is actually a lot more to Shetland than wool and knitting.  I saw only a fraction of it (which is why we are planning to return in June … as well as Wool Week 2020) but here is a taste of the non-woolly beautiful world that is Shetland.

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The view from Da Peerie Hoose as I stood outside in my pjs with my cup of tea and appreciated the magical morning light.

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Channerwick south of Sandwick.

 

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Birthday dinner at The String.  Cannot recommend it highly enough though you will have to book (even if you aren’t there during Wool Week!)  Live music upstairs to round off the evening.  I started with scallops and belly pork.

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Followed by Shetland halibut

And rounded off with one of the best cheese plates I have seen in a long while.  Proper homemade oatcakes and a chutney good enough to eat on its own.

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Memorial in Scalloway to the men who died on the Shetland Bus bringing agents and supplies in and out of occupied Norway during WWII.

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Boat carving in the Delting Galley Shed.  The Delting Up Helly Aa began  in 1970 as a Senior School Festival and is now a huge festival including the communities of Voe, Mossbank, Muckle Roe and Vidlin.

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The bill heads are attached to the ceiling but the sunlight streaming through the skylights  made it impossible to photograph them.  Here are some of the stunning shields.

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Blue on blue.  Small boat in Hay’s Dock outside the Shetland Museum and archives.

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Waiting for a plane to land at Sumburgh airport in the south of the Mainland.

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And here it comes

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This is the view just to my left …  note the beginning of the runway!

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Looking down at the rocks below The Sumburgh Head Lighthouse.

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While pretty northerly, the title of the most northern lighthouse in the UK belongs to Muckle Flugga lighthouse.  The fishing up there is quite good too.  This is Stuart’s 40lb cod.

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View of TM Adie & Sons in Voe,  for over a century one of the largest employers in the north east mainland of Shetland.  Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay wore jumpers woven by Addie when they scaled Everest in 1953.

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And finally, thank you to NorthLink Ferries for making the journey there and back so pleasant (even if everyone else did look a little green the following morning!)

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See you in June Shetland.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

flock book and puffin hats

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There is so much more to Wool Week than knitting.  It may seem that everybody spends dawn to dusk with various needles (straights, circulars, sock dpns, long dpns with a makkin belt … ) tucked about their person, but you only have to scratch the surface a little to find a wealth of other activities and tours.  Granted, they may have a knitting bent, and there may be plenty of knitters clicking their needles, but that isn’t the main event.

The Flock Book Prizegiving evening at Tingwall Hall was just such an event.  A flock book is pretty  much what is says on the tin, a record of a flock over a period of time; pedigrees, numbers, registration details, movement etc.  This evening was the prize giving following the Flock Book Show and Fine Wool competition.  Tingwall Hall was full to bursting and that was just the food!  The ladies of Shetland excelled themselves with plate upon plate of sandwiches, cold meats, dips, rolls, cakes, sweets as well as hearty soups and of course endless tea, coffee …. and the bar!

Then just as we thought we could eat no more, the band stuck up and the dancing began. There is nothing like a couple of rounds of The Gay Gordons to aid the digestive process! and yes I know this is not the Gay Gordons, I was too busy dancing to record at that stage.  I think this is a two step but am ready to be corrected as I am not an expert at all!

Finally it was time to award the prizes.  We had already been to have a feel and a sniff of the fleeces in the back room.  I love raw fleece, I love the smell, I love the feel of the lanolin, I love the crimps scattered through the fleeces.

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I would like to point out that I was not the only fleece sniffer, and not one person seemed to think that is was a strange thing to do 🙂

 

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Winning fleece

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And owner of said fleece receiving his award from Oliver Henry of Jamieson & Smith (the Brokers) and this year’s patron of Shetland Wool Week and designer of this year’s beanie (or toorie as it’s know in Shetland).

This one:

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And whilst we are on the subject of winners and hats.  Stuart won a puffin hat in the raffle!  Apparently it is going to be his new fishing hat, assuming it doesn’t scare them off!

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Love Gillie x

the craic was 90

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It’s not all about the classes.  As any knitter will know, whether you are just learning to cast on your first row and filled with disbelief that this row of irregular knots on your needle can become a beautiful scarf or you can knock out an Italian twisted cast on and twenty rows of dual coloured brioche whilst holding an in depth conversation about the state of the economy, knitting is about the craic.

I will knit anywhere, I always have a small knitting bag with me.  I have knitted in long queues, polling stations, every conceivable form of transport, school parents’ evenings, cinemas. I’ve knitted socks dressed as an Edwardian for a WWI re-enactment (and put a stainless steel knitting needle through my hand, be careful, your granny’s needles really are dangerous weapons!).  I’ve knitted and even spun on stage (did you know Joan of Arc’s mother was a spinner, when I played her she was!). I can’t imagine hanging around somewhere without my knitting to keep me busy, and when you whip out your needles people start to talk to you.  A lovely lady and I caused a state of panic on the tube from Kilburn to Baker Street.  I noticed her fine yellow cable socks, clearly hand knitted and she noticed the needles sticking out of my back pack.  Reader we started a conversation.  Two strangers on the tube,  the rest of the carriage was aghast!

The best yarn festivals have a knitting area.  Key elements for a good knitting area are:

  • lots of space, not everyone knits on circulars and needles can be a weapon (see above!)
  • A mixture of seating.  Some people want comfy chairs, some people like to curl up on a sofa, some people, particularly if they are doing a complicated lace pattern or colourwork, want a table on which to lay out pattern and yarns and of course the essential tea (or coffee)
  • Seating arranged in areas conducive to chatting and making new friends.  No lines of tables and chairs please.
  • Occasional tables.  We will be drinking tea (or coffee) and we have big bags full of our classwork, exciting new purchases and the jumper we promised ourselves we would finish this week.  We don’t want to put our drinks on the floor.
  • Good lighting.  We don’t care for mood lighting and we are not remotely interested in the interior design.  We want to be able to see what we are doing, especially when we were having such a good time that we have to undo the previous two rows.  Lights and lots of them please.

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We came from all over the world.  Even Antarctica!

  • Easy access to tea and coffee.  Getting up and leaving our knitting and our new friends is something we only want to have to do in extremis.  Please don’t make us walk upstairs to get a cuppa.  On the same basis, loos nearby are good too.  That tea doesn’t half run through you.
  • Food.  And as above, we don’t want to have to go a long way to find it.  Maybe not in the knitting area (though I have been to festivals where the two are combined and haven’t seen a chocolate cake/fine lacework disaster yet).
  • Information.  We don’t always remember our festival guides and when somebody mentions a really interesting workshop it would be good if we could borrow a guide  or see a timetable on the wall.  Information about other local events (heaven forbid even non-yarn ones!),  a list of local restaurants, taxi phone numbers, bus timetables etc. are all really helpful to the stressed knitter who has been knitting right up to the wire and now has precisely 15 minutes to get something to eat and cross town for their next workshop.

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Samples of the patterns available in this year’s Wool Week Annual

  • Entertainment.  Talks, music, demonstrations.  I discovered Mawatas when Katie Seal of Sealy McWheely gave a talk at Loch Ness KnitFest.  I also had my first spinning lesson with her a few months later.  You never know what you will learn or which new musicians you will discover.

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These were just what was on offer in the Hub

I can confirm that SWW achieves all the above with bells on.  The hub is a knitters dream.  Even Stuart quite happily came and sat with me and chatted to people, admired knitting and tapped his toes to the bands.

That was of course, when he was not bothering the fish at Muckle Flugga.  The record catch, a 40 lb cod.  Fish and chips will be on the menu in several friends houses this weekend!

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I have made new friends from all around the world.  I have laughed until I could hardly speak.  I have watched in awe as knitters create the most beautiful work. I have discovered new yarns and new patterns.  I have learned to knit with a makkin belt.  I have watched spinners turn wool into gold (Rumpelstiltskin eat your heart out).  I have listened to the most talented young musicians and I have enjoyed just being somewhere where I felt so utterly at home.

Enjoy your weekend

Love Gillie x

hap boards and squared paper

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Morning has broken in Sandwick and a jolly fine one it is too.  Today I will be mostly knitting in the Hub and doing some natural dyeing.  But yesterday was all about the technical stuff.  Sometimes it is when you are forced down a route you had not planned upon that the journey becomes most fun.  Yesterday was a case in point.

I had not been able to get one of the classes I had hoped for, it had sold out in minutes.  So as my second choice I opted for Dressing Shetland Knitwear, in other words how to block your knitwear once you finally get it off the needles.  When I first began to knit I was desperate to wear my creations, I didn’t want to have to wait for them to be blocked. But now I understand the magic that takes place when the knitting, upon which you have  bestowed some of the best hours of your life, is transformed from mere knitting to a thing of beauty – and a thing that actually fits – blocking can be a dark art too!

I, like most knitters, usually block with pins.  This involves finding a very large unoccupied double bed or a room with a huge clear floor upon which no animal (two, four, six or eight legged) will roam unhindered and then painstakingly shaping and pinning and reshaping and repining, stopping for tea, resuming the pinning stopping for gin to lift the sagging soul and finally accepting that this is the best that can be achieved (and that sleeve hanging over the side of the bed will be fine really).

Rachel and Freya Hunter put a stop to that pain.  It will involve Stuart (a) doing some magic with 4 x 4 and creating a hap board and possibly “investing” in a jumper board (if I can find one for sale) but it will be worth it.

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This hap is about 5ft square.  That is a lot of hap!  Once washed and spun dry a single piece of mercerised cotton is threaded through the edges (being careful to thread through a couple of rows of knit to ensure the yarn doesn’t snap as it dries!)

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Once all the loops are wrapped around the pins it is time to start pulling and stretching to ensure that the hap is evenly laid across the board.  It is slightly scary pulling something so beautiful so tight but the yarn (in this case 2ply jumper weight) is strong – AS LONG AS IT IS DAMP!  If you let it dry and pull tightly it can snap so keep a spray bottle to hand if it feels as if it is drying before you have finished the adjustments.

The hap board is a VAST improvement over pinning on the floor.  Not only is it far easier to adjust and obtain a neat square (or circle) but it stands upright so takes up almost no space and as it is open to the air on both sides it dries faster and more evenly.  Stuart has been given his instructions!

The jumper board was a thing of wonder and beauty, but also rather hard to obtain (believe me I have been trying).

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This too is fully adjustable and ensures an even blocking on both sides.  I think creation of this may be beyond even Stuart, but if there are any joiners out there who would like to give it a go, please let me know.

Lacework has to be blocked, even the most beautiful work (which mine is not) has a tendency to look like a dishcloth until it is given the blocking treatment.  But did I ever think about using a board for lace scarves?  Reader I did not!

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First we folded this cockleshell scarf in half and tacked the sides using running stitch.  Then it was pulled over the end of the board and adjusted until the sides were flush.  Three lengths of yarn, each four times the length of the end of the scarf to the end of the board were threaded through each peak (again make sure you thread at least two rows in).  Then the thread was carefully pulled and tied with a slip knot and the peaks adjusted until they were exactly (ish – we weren’t entering our scarf in a competition where symmetry is measured in mm!) the same length and matched on the back on the front.   How simple, yet how clever is that?

Finally hats, gloves, socks and mittens.  Meet Fred.

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This is my 2019 Wool Week Roadside Beanie.  Traditionally hats would have been blocked on balls but a balloon (ecological caveats notwithstanding) enables you to match the hat size to your own head.  Measure your head where the brim will lie.  Blow up the balloon to the same size, thread waste yarn through the edge of the ribbing and fit the damp hat over the balloon (and in my case insert ear plugs as the noise is horrible!).  Tighten the waste yarn.  Face optional.

There was time for a very quick cheese and pickle sandwich and then I hotfooted it (with Fred in tow) up to Market Street for a workshop designing a stranded colour work motif for a shawl based on flowers from the Shetlands.

I had no idea what to expect and Felicity of Knitsonik  did not disappoint any of my rather wobbly expectations of what I might be able to achieve.  First we had to choose our colour.  No problem there, orange please.  And then our flower.  Fox and Cubs (Pilosella aurantiaca).

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But then the hard work began, how to turn the idea of the flower above into a motif that can be repeated throughout the shawl using the colours not to paint a picture of the flower but to represent the flower throughout the shawl.  Much chewing of pencils over squared paper and much creation of strange pacman like flowers but I got there in the end.

I’m not explaining this very well I know.  Maybe it’s best to have a look at Felicity’s website!

However these are my colours

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I would love to show you my finished motif.  But sadly I didn’t finish it!  However, I now think I know what I am doing and have the resources to start the multicoloured swatch.  Watch this space.

Now time to get my tam out and get those needles clicking.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

ferries and fair isle

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There are several signs that you are grown up:

  • Snow has the ability to be a pain in the arse as well as quite pretty;
  • You no longer get excited by an envelope with your name on,  in fact frequently quite the reverse’
  • Christmas comes around jolly quickly these days.

Fortunately, whilst Christmas may rock up with greater speed each year, so does Shetland Wool Week.   It is almost a year ago that I returned from Loch Ness Knit Fest with the knowledge that there were three other knit festivals that definitely  warranted attendance.  Today I am tucked up in Da Peerie Hoose in Sandwick on Shetland after my first day at Shetland Wool Week and I am still pinching myself (I’m getting quite sore actually!)

Accommodation was booked first (I can highly recommend Da Peerie Hoose, it wasn’t finished when we booked it back in October last year, but it’s already a popular cottage and rightly so).  I registered for the summer sailing alert on NorthLink Ferries and then waited anxiously for the morning in March when I could book tickets for the vast array of workshops, tours and events that comprise Shetland Wool Week.   For those old enough to remember, it was like a hybrid of the first day of the Harrods Sale and opening your A-level results; mad chaos and intense anticipation.

One of the advantages of a couple where one is a yarn and fibre lover and the other loves to bother fish is that both activities can usually be accommodated in similar geographical locations.  Note – Shetland Wool Week, Loch Ness Knit Fest, Fanø Strikkefestival (Denmark), Iceland Wool Week.  Stuart has ample opportunities to dangle a line in fresh and sea water whilst I indulge in some fibre love.  Consequently this is Stuart on Sunday morning at the start of our travels to Shetland.

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This is the equipment I took with me.

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Hmmm….

The ferry crossing was pleasantly uneventful (I gather crossings earlier in the week were a tad bumpier, I am glad I missed them)  I was faintly amused by this sign.

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I wondered if it referred to bad weather when perhaps walking up and down stairs was replaced by a more rapid “transit”.

Monday morning was bright and clear and we managed to pack all of Stuart’s fishing tackle/bait/goodness knows what into our little hire car and went to explore.  Our priorities were:

  • Check location of Fishing Tackle shop (no prizes who that was for)
  • Obtain 1 x 2.00 mm 40 cm circular needle (even I was surprised I didn’t have one!)
  • Obtain hearing aid batteries.  Whilst I am quite happy to potter around in semi-sludgy silence when it’s just Stuart and me (!) I did want to be able to hear the workshop leaders and chat to all the other knitters from around the world (New Zealand is the furthest travelled I have met thus far) and I had forgotten my spare set.
  • Breakfast.

It was in forgetting the hearing aid batteries we met Tommy who is the Lerwick equivalent of Six Dinner Sid and was planning his adventures for the day whilst chilling out in Boots.

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Breakfast at The Dowry and this was our view.

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The food was pretty darn good too and after a potter down to the Hub we returned for lunch and met Stuart’s partner in fish bothering crime, the lovely Adam from Connecticut.  His wife Anne, who I met through the SWW facebook page also has a fabulous knitting podcast,  I thought I knew how.

We also spotted these

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Are they not quite beautiful?  Currently on my needles is the Twageos Tam O’Shanter from The Vintage Shetland Project by Susan Crawford.

 

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When I have mastered that, I may try some of the other glorious vintage patterns, but whether I achieve the delicacy and intricate colour work of these is debatable!

Then time for our first workshops.  Stuart was playing with fused glass and I learned to knit my first ever afterthought heel.  I am so impressed with myself, I kept having to stop and admire this thing of beauty.

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Front

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And back.

This is where I have to confess that I didn’t knit the sock itself, that was prepared for us by the wonderful Lesley Smith who made Fair Isle Afterthought Heels a complete breeze!

Finally we arrived at our home for the week.  Oh my, it is like living in the little house you dreamed of when you were a little girl.

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The welcome.

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Our cosy and very comfortable bed.

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The amazingly well stocked kitchen.

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The instant meals are ours – we weren’t in the mood for cooking!

This  morning we are up bright and early after a night knitting (me) reading and planning fishing (him) by the fire.

Have a great day wherever you are.

Love Gillie x