Thursday, 17 December 2009

Knitwits Yarns

Very quick entry today as I'm going out to dinner - hark at me!

We had a King Cole delivery today so we have:

Lots of stock of Zig Zag 4ply sock yarn for all you sock addicts;

Lots of stock of Mirage - fantastic yardage makes this a really economical yarn - a great seller in the shop;

More stock of Aero;

and more of Inspire in the really popular lilac colour.

Also more patterns in Inspire, Mirage and Zig Zag.

There's also a lovely new yarn called Misty but I need to photograph it and scan in the patterns so you'll have to wait a while for that - sorry but, hey, all good things come to those who wait.

I'll drink a glass of wine for you all tonight!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Knitwits Yarns

In answer to tinebeest's question as to what you do with that ball of gorgeousness by Mango Moon - you knit this:

and this pattern (designed by yours truly) is free with every ball.

Or - indeed - you could just display it on a glass plate from Venice or a wooden bowl from Kenya and stroke it every time you walk past it and be happy that you bought a fair trade item at Christmas time!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Knitwits Yarns

Really busy day yesterday with the on-line orders so everyone's obviously getting geared up for their Christmas knitting - don't forget we're closed for 4 days with Christmas falling as it does so get your orders in now! The shop will be open on Christmas Eve (until about 3pm or until I've had enough, whichever comes first) and then we're shut until the 29th. Christmas Eve is usually a lovely day as we get hubbies coming in buying glorious things for their wives. Often the wives come in too and choose and then hubby will treat them to some really expensive, luxurious yarn - it's always fun.

Just to tempt you - the sari silk arrived yesterday. The skeins are slightly bigger than before - well, actually they're a heck of a lot bigger - 185 and 190g so nearly twice the size. All gorgeous and stunning colours as usual. If you need 2 skeins of similar colours then give us a ring and we'll do our best for you.

I also uploaded a couple of little bits of gorgeousness - an amazing skein of Chakra - only one, so if you fancy it, grab it now! The little stones are orange and really beautiful:

How lush is that?!!

We've also had a new colour in the sparkly knitting-in yarn - Paillettes (made by Katia so look under that brand). It's white a silver so great for all of you who want to add a silver sparkle to some white knitting - perfect for Christmas!

Remember, I did the Kid Mohair (Adriafil) and Paillettes scarf in lime green and black? Well, you could do it in the white mohair and this and it would be fantastic! 1 ball of Mohair, 2 of Paillettes, 4.5mm needles, 30 stitches - done!

I'm adding some new sock yarn on today so watch this space.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Knitwits Yarns

The shop front is nearly finished, school term has ended for G&T and I've finally found time to do some updating on the site - 3 bits of good news in just one sentence. Not sure how FB feels about G&T being at home but they got the tree today and more lights, got the turkey and got more food for the flock we now have in the bottom of the garden so we're beginning to think about Christmas.

The big news on the site is that our own brand, Wool Britannia, is now supplying wool on the cone for machine knitters! FB has been working on this for a while with a dye house in Yorkshire, which we visited a few weeks ago. Machine knitters seem to have a hard time finding wool and this is 100% British wool - which is really great news. We've started with a range of natural colours plus navy and black but the range will increase - drop us a line or an email if there's a particular colour you'd like. I can't promise anything but it's our own brand so we have more control than usual. Colours at the moment look something like this:

I've also managed to upload a whack of patterns so - new patterns in Tivoli Blizzard. Here's an example: (patterns down the left hand side of these pages, as ever)

I really like this pattern and the lime green yarn is running out fast - funny how colours come and go - lime green is so popular at the moment.

Also new pattern is Life Chunky and Aran and some nice ones for men too:

One day I might find to knit this for FB!

In the meantime, I'm knitting a simple garter stitch scarf in Mirage (1 ball, 6mm needles, 30 stitches) which is about all my brain can cope with at the moment. Garter stitch is really good therapy at times, don't you agree? Except I keep forgetting I'm doing garter stitch and I sneak in a purl row which (obviously) throws it all completely and then I have to pick it back and then I swear a bit and, suddenly, it's not such good therapy after all. Such is the life of we knitters.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Woman's Hour

Knitwits Yarns

I was on Woman's Hour on Radio 4 this morning!!

Actually it was a re-run of a piece we did about Cornish Organic Wool nearly two years ago and then they did a quick update at the end about progress we've made since then. At the time of the original piece we only had cream wool as we hadn't found organically certified dyes which reached Soil Association standards. Shortly after recording the piece, we found the dyes we needed so have been selling dyed wool for some time now.

I well remember the first experimental batches we did when the sample pots of dye came in - on the Aga in my precious preserving pan which, funnily enough, has now disappeared into the dye house (a converted goat house on the end of our kitchen). FB still uses it for test batches. If we get the dye levels absolutely right, the water at the end of the process is completely clear and it was so exciting to pull back the skeins and see what colour the water was!

Following the original broadcast there was a discussion in the studio with Lee Holdstock from the Soil Assocation and Lucy Siegle, well known eco journalist at which there were some digs at some well known department stores! This was missed out today but you can find the link to listen again, if you're interested - here and you can hear what I sound like (always awful listening to yourself).

It's funny how time moves on though as we have had more hits on our Cornish Organic Wool site today than we did after the first broadcast. I like to think it's because people are more environmentally aware now (FB and I have always been ahead of the times!) and also people are beginning to think more about where products come from. It can only be a good sign.

In the meantime I'm still awaiting the arrival of Sari Silk and Chakra (both Fair Trade yarns) so watch this space and make sure we make our organic and fairtrade contribution this Christmas.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Wool Shop Question of the Week

Knitwits Yarns

At some time or other my guess is that most of us have bought a pattern (or pattern book), gaily started knitting and then realised there's a mistake in the pattern. Do you:

1) curse a little, fiddle around and try and work out the pattern yourself;

2) curse rather a lot and come back to your LYS and try and work out the pattern with the shop staff;

3) curse rather a lot, attempt to fix with shop staff, all admit defeat and then refer to the pattern supplier;

or 4) phone your LYS (in this case Knit Wits) very angry, accuse the shop of selling "faulty goods" and demand compensation. Then come into the shop, work out the pattern, complete the garment but still demand compensation. LYS owner (in this case, me) phones the designer (who confirms correction to pattern). Designer then phones publisher of book which printed the pattern and publisher sends a different knitting book (worth £20) as compensation and promises free copy of second edition of original book (worth £13), due for re-printing soon. Then write to LYS accusing shop of selling "faulty goods" under various Consumer Acts and threaten Trading Standards.

Answers on a postcard please.

PS: Customer didn't even buy wool from LYS but from local "cheap" shop selling "cheap" wool.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Knitwits Yarns

Dear Blog

It's been 18 days since my last confession - (sorry) - entry so where on earth have I been and what have I been up to? Lazing on a sunny beach? - ha! On my bed of pain? - fortunately, no.

Actually, I've been working on "something else" which cannot be discussed as yet but has been taking up hours and hours and days of my time - so, apologies one and all. It's to be hoped that normal service will now resume but I've discovered that I've lost the ability to type fast so some letter sar egettin gmudldled up. Which is irritating and is wasting my time - which is more irritating.

Marie and Tracey have been womanfully manning things and I think I've got the "heads up" on what's been coming and going.

I note that my last blog entry mentioned new colours in Marble Chunky and - hey - we had another delivery yesterday so I guess that just shows how quickly it shoots off our shelves. It's a really fantastic yarn and, maybe, who knows - one day I may find the time to knit something out of it for myself.

We had a new delivery in from Katia today - more Paillettes - which has been very popular for those pre-Christmas scarves and one more colour to add so watch this space.

I'm awaiting deliveries of Chakra and Sari Silk for thos essentila (see - my fingers are doing it again) - Christmas gifts or stocking fillers.

My shop front is nearly finisehd! (look - again - brain thinks, fingers don't compute and I used to be a champion speed typist I'll have you know) - We had a minor panic (possibly major for the builder) when the electricity mains had to be moved and he wasn't sure if the mains ran under the new shop front or the new door. Luckily for him, it ran right under our new door! The new Victorian-look tiles didn't "go off" when they should have done which caused a bit of a problem and the blind hasn't arrived, nor have the new window lights or the new door mat - but, you know, we're nearly there! And it's so much lighter and everyone says how smart it is so I'm really pleased - pics to follow soon.

I now have an hour to scan in a load of patterns while FB is helping to coach T's rugby team - they won on Sunday and he played fantastically - very proud Mum! G has GCSE mocks at the moment - grim.

I'll try and get new patterns on soon, pics of shop and I won't be so long between posts, honest. And I wasn't on a sunny beach - I really wasn't!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

One Week After The Flu

Knitwits Yarns

I have now almost entirely lost my voice. For some in our household (FB, G & T) this is a reason for much celebration. For me, who is known to chat a lot and whose job - to a certain degree - relies on talking to people on the telephone, it's a source of irritation but, sometimes, relief. I can't possibly talk to cold calling double glazing sales people and I certainly can't argue with FB or the children about where their rugby socks are (half an hour before kick off) or whose turn it is to clean out the cat litter tray (definitely not mine) and why they have to do GCSE revision (because that's the way life is).

Talking to customers is entertaining as I don't know what the tiny little bit of voice I have is going to sound like - if you phone up you may - if you're lucky - get Marie or Tracey - they're the ones who sound normal. If you get a deep, husky croak or - alternately - a high pitched squeak - that'll be me.

I have, therefore, spent most of the afternoon quietly inputting on the website various items for your delight and delectation:

new colours in both Life Aran and Chunky -

Fuschia is proving to be particularly popular in DK, Aran and Chunky.

Also in are new colours in the ever-popular Marble Chunky from James Brett.

From Baby Pinks to

popular blues and

greens - Marble Chunky is one of our best sellers.

We also have 3 new colours in Debbie Bliss's Aran weight "Fez" - an incredibly soft mix of merino wool and camel (yes, you did read that right):

Once again, I suspect the bright pinks are going to be a big hit.

We also have a new colour in our cotton range from Katia - "Samba":

We sell a lot of this on-line so I guess you guys find it hard to find elsewhere - we love Katia yarns so they'll keep on coming. In fact, we also have a new colour in their "Surprise" as well:

This, of course, is the colour used in their fab jacket:

Found - here.

Finally, we have a wonderful new yarn in from Tivoli. We haven't stocked this company before but I simply couldn't resist this new Aran weight 48% wool concoction "Blizzard"- the colours are simply gorgeous and the patterns are really cool - they should be on the site next week, flu etc allowing. How about this for gorgeousness:

or, indeed, this:

So, I hope this has given you inspiration for the weekend - I am desperate to knit something with Blizzard but am being very good and finishing the Beaded Gorgeousness first - nearly there, honest.

Home now to soluble asprin gargling (as recommended by a friend) - I'll let you know if it works.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Flu Update

Knitwits Yarns

We had a quiet night in watching X Factor - truly naff, I know, but sometimes needs must.

2.30am - T in shower to ease breathing and try and reduce cough. Partial success - he fell asleep at about 3.00.

4.00am - G hunting linen cupboard for a new duvet cover as previous 2 drenched in sweat.

2.30 am - 5.00am - FB alternately coughing and snoring. At about 4.30am was tempted to turn light on and knit a few rows of Beaded Gorgeousness but couldn't quite summon the required energy.

Now 5pm - am about to start work. Washing machine on second load of the day.

Somehow don't think G or T going to school tomorrow.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Half Term

Knitwits Yarns

What does half term mean to you? Happy children joyfully playing outside in the late summer sunshine? Teenage children enjoying late lie-ins and eating you out of house and home? A quick break away (if you're lucky) to the country? Endless washing (obviously).

Half term chez Hopson this week has involved one ambulance trip to Treliske hospital in Truro and 3 men with swine 'flu. If you imagine one case of "man 'flu", turn it into real 'flu and then times it by three you'll get some idea of the week we've had.

Sore throat, hacking cough, aching limbs, pounding headaches, listlesness and temperatures of, up to, 103 (sorry don't do metric but, trust me, that's damn high) have been the highlight of our week.

So how, I hear you cry, have you got away with it, Julia? Well, see, I had it back in May! Back in the dim dark days when swine 'flu cases were listed on the BBC news and Tamiflu was prescribed as standard. Not that my case either reached the BBC or was treated with Tamiflu but you know what I mean. Somehow my men didn't catch it then - possibly because I locked myself in the bedroom and didn't emerge until it was all over.

My role this week has been to buy paracetemol containing soothing agents, continue working when I could and wash the endless pile of sheets and pillow cases - lucky me.

They are all on the mend now - just in time to go back to school on Monday. I tell you something - after this half term we all need a holiday.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Knitwits Yarns

One of the really nice things about this job is when people come in wearing what they've made or, even, send us photos through cyberspace. Over the last couple of weeks we've had a bit of run on new garments so I thought I'd bring them all together in one place but - as with all the best plans - some of the photos haven't been formatted yet. However, I do have 3 for you - which might keep you going (or even inspire you) for today.

We have a regular customer in the USA called Borie who ordered some Filorosa Summer from Gedifra back in the summer. Filorosa Summer is now discontinued - which I discovered when I placed the order for Borie. Small panic and several emails later and we got together enough of the yarn for Borie to knit the jacket she'd planned. Last week she sent the photos - you can drool all you like but you'll have to hunt the 'net for enough yarn to knit it!

Borie did tell me which pattern it was and, if anyone wants the pattern, I can ask her.

The next photos we received were from FB's step-mother. When we went to Fibrefest back in September Jackie came along to see us and drool over lovely yarn. She does some designing and knitting for a designer in Devon and bought some Cornish Organic to go and play with for her designer, Matthew. In the end she couldn't resist it and knitted this for us:

She then very kindly gave us the pattern and it's available on the site - here. Thanks Jackie! You'll be pleased to hear that she's currently finishing garment number 2 (in red) which should be with us shortly.

Finally, Tracey knitted up my Cornish Organic Ladies' Gansey pattern. This had been "in development" for a mighty long time when Gerard from I Knit contacted me to ask if I had a suitable pattern for their "Knits to Care & Share" book. I rattled off the gansey, typed up the pattern and sent it off. Owing to some confusion the original sweater seems to have disappeared so I got Tracey to knit it up in our bright blue, St Ives. To be honest, I think it looks far better in St Ives anyway so I'm really rather pleased. Anyway, we went to Lanhydrock this weekend to meet up with my brother and his family and I wore the Gansey and we grabbed the opportunity to do a very quick photo shoot in front of a rather lovely door. I'm not very good at photo shoots as, to be honest, I feel like a complete twit. Hats off to proper models, seriously. However, I'm quite pleased with Sunday's photos as I had G&T plus nephew (Rowan) and neice (Grace) to keep me entertained. Here are a couple of the photos - remember - you're supposed to be looking at the Gansey, not the, very self-conscious, model:

We're going to use the first pic on the pattern - I hope you approve. You can find the pattern here.

Tonight I'm off to a girly film night and, as FB & G&T wanted to go to the gym tonight (and we only have one car) I'm being driven there and collected later so I can have more than one glass of wine - yippee!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Knitwits Yarns

Finally, finally, finally I've found time today to get some new patterns onto the site. We've had two new yarns from King Cole recently - Homespun:

and Dreams:

Homespun is being discontinued by King Cole so is available at the ridiculously low price of just £1.49 (for a 100g ball) - yes, you did read that right - buy now before it's all gone! Today I managed to insert all the patterns for the Homespun - patterns down the left hand side of the page.

Dreams is the new chunky for this autumn/winter and is really gorgeous and soft and knobbly - as you can see from the picture. Also managed to upload its patterns today - really useful shapes:

A lovely yarn for warm winter woollies!

Still haven't seen a builder but have been assured that the frame is under construction and they're aiming to fit it on Thursday - I'll take lots of photos.

I've had an alarmingly high number of late nights recently so am feeling a tad weary and am out to dinner (again) tonight -good friend [and neighbour's] birthday - I know I shouldn't complain but, between you and me, I fancy a night in front of X Factor with my knitting and a G&T - hey, ho musn't grumble. The Beaded Gorgeousness is understanding but getting fractious - must try and appease it tomorrow night. Actually ....... have a bit of a car journey tomorrow so perhaps could fit in some knitting then - note to self: persuade FB to drive tomorrow and sneak knitting into the car - a cunning plan - I like it!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Knitwits Yarns

Yesterday the builders came and welded a bit of metal to a rather dodgy looking bit of rusted RSJ - which may well be holding the whole of the front of the building up.

Today I haven't seen hide nor hair of them.

Should I be worried?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Knitwits Yarns

I've had a pretty full-on week with one thing or another. Dear Naomi's funeral on Monday and then I was asked to represent my boys' school at a service at Exeter Cathedral on Wednesday. We left at the crack of dawn, you'll be pleased to hear that I knitted the Beaded Gorgeousness in the minibus on both the way up and down - much to the amusement of our Headmaster, who was driving and we were invited to lunch in the Deanery which was a real treat. I hadn't been to Exeter Cathedral before - usually, of course, we're driving up or down and fly past Exeter or, indeed, stop to fly out of Exeter airport. It is a fantastic building and, if you get the chance, I recommend a stop off there - and they do have a very nice looking cafe if you're not lucky enough to be invited to lunch at the Deanery.

I've spent the last two days in the shop catching up and, of course, the building work has been carrying on all the time. All things considered, it's been remarkably calm. This is how the shop looked:

OK - this includes the builders' van but you get the idea. So, in order to remove the old front and allow us to continue trading they had to build a false wall inside the shop:

Just to add complication we're moving the door from the left to the right - you can see the position of the new door on the right here with half a wooden wall. (That's Tracey, by the way, sorting patterns - she wouldn't be photographed face on but I'll catch her soon). Then they finished the wall and our cave was complete:

It's actually not as dark as you'd imagine and, unless they're cutting stone or drilling or other noisy stuff we keep the door open. So, from the outside it looks like this:

As you can see, it left all my electricity boxes exposed! These are now all boxed in with a padlocked door but will have to be moved once the new front is in. The granite on the left of this picture was covered in really attractive 1960's rough render and, in the plans, was going to be tiled over. However, some of the granite is pretty good so the planners have decided to leave it as exposed granite and the worst bits have been replaced - I'm pleased as granite is how it would have originally looked.

To my amazement the glass came out in one piece - we were all delighted - and underneath in the top of the concrete block they found the date 9/1967 so we know the shop front was changed in September 1967. When they took the shop sign down they discovered that it had previously been a tobacconist as the old sign was on the back of the Knit Wits sign!

At night we have a metal grate across the shop to stop people sleeping on my carpet!

And that's how clean and tidy the guys leave it every night - I'm really impressed. You can see (on the right hand side) the doormat for the old door so you can see where the entry was.

In a spare few minutes I have managed to input some new yarns on to the site - patterns are ready for inputting when I have a few more spare minutes. So, there's a new chunky from King Cole called Dreams which knits into gentle stripes and has nobbles of colours too - very soft and lovely. King Cole are also discontinuing their Homespun range. This is a 20% wool Super chunky yarn (the same tension as Aero) and is now selling for the knockdown price of £1.49 for 100g. It's selling really fast so get some now before it's all gone! There are a few more patterns for this to come but, in the meantime, you can also knit it to all Aero patterns.

I had one new colour in Katia Azteca - the lovely blue shown in a couple of patterns. I'm expecting a delivery from Katia in the next couple of weeks when they've had some more yarn delivered to them.

We've also had a few new colours in Sirdar's Snowflake Chunky - including the popular multi-colour which has been re-launched:

On a quick chicken note, we've realised that the first 3 babes are all girls - which is good for them and us (more eggs!). Some of the last babies are definitely boys as they are starting to crow - we all know what's going to happen to them - the question is when is the optimum time - big enough for a good meal but not so big that they're tough as old boots and, furthermore, we're currently feeding them all so when's the cut off point (if you pardon the phrase). They're all in one house together at night now so the fights that might ensue in there may be the deciding factor - I'm leaving that decision up to the men.

Today is misty, dank and wet so a truly perfect knitting day.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Naomi Gray-Wallis

Knitwits Yarns

Yesterday, we went to the funeral of an old and dear friend of ours and this shop. Naomi was the most exquisite (to use one of her favourite expressions - emphasis on the "ex") knitter, spinner, crocheter, sewer, hand smocker and painter you could ever wish to meet. I love this photograph of her - taken at one of our knitting events when one of the children had obviously said something which amused her.

When I say that Naomi's knitting looked like it was machine knit, I mean it as a compliment! Her fairisle jackets were legendary, her tension perfect and cutting a steek was second nature to her.

Naomi supported us from the first day we bought the shop and supported the very fledgling Cornish Organic Wool company. She spun at both our knitting events and at our launch event for Cornish Organic Wool when she was quite happy to sit in the middle of a large room, with a cafe across the way and chat to anyone who wondered what on earth she was doing there.

Her support of Cornish Organic Wool went one step further, however, as she is the designer of the - now - famous loopy sheep.

This is the very first "test" pair - christened Charles and Camilla - which Naomi knitted up one weekend. It was very sunny and we had a stall outside the shop for our street festival, Golowan, and Naomi kept popping up and down (she lived just a couple of hundred yards from the shop) with the sheep under construction. By the end of the weekend, the pattern was complete - including horns and scarf for him and a hat for her. I typed up the pattern and the rest, as they say, is history. The sheep were Naomi's gift to our company and she always specified that the pattern mustn't be sold on its own. They were always to be knitted in Cornish Organic Wool!

Over the years we started dyeing the wool so the flock grew:

I have no idea how many of these sheep kits we've sold over the years but it must be into the hundreds now. All of the knitting magazines have, in one form or another featured them (in fact, they are in Simply Knitting at the moment) and the publicity it gave our very small company (and the debt we owe Naomi) is incalculable.

Naomi was diagnosed with cancer about 2 years ago. Throughout all her treatment she remained upbeat, cheerful and positive. One friend went to visit her when her daughter Jane was also there and, on leaving, Naomi cheerfully called out "come on Jane, we've got a funeral to organise". The funeral was beautiful and we all wore our hand-knits - many of which she had knitted.

We at Knit Wits have lost a dear friend. Rest in peace dear Naomi.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Knitwits Yarns

A day late for part 2 of the Hebridean odyssey but I've got very behind with inputting new yarns and patterns on the site so I've been trying to catch up and beavering late into the evenings to get everything updated. It never is fully up-to-date, of course, because new things keep arriving (possibly because I keep ordering new things ....... hmm).

So before I finish the Hebridean story I'll just precis the new "stuff" on the site. Glorious, glorious stuff it is too. I finally finished all the Katia patterns on Wednesday so we have patterns in:

Astrakan. Lovely ladies garments but also cute babies :


and even a stuffed toy!

Then we have "Surprise" which has a few fab patterns. For ladies:

and, again, for children:

And then a few baby patterns in Sugar:

We also had a delivery in from Sirdar so there's plenty of Snuggly DK and Supersoft Toddler Aran as well as new stocks of Snowflake Chunky (new colours on the site this week) and a bit of Baby Bamboo but most colours didn't come so I can only assume that Sirdar themselves are out of stock of this lovely yarn.

I also had a delivery from King Cole so Mirage and Inspire have been updated and there are 2 new yarns on the site for this week once FB's photographed them.

I've also finally inserted Debbie Bliss's new yarn - Fez. This is an aran weight 85% merino/15% camel yarn which is lovely and soft and, I presume, really warm as well. You can find it here. There's also a new pattern book called, strangely, Fez. Here's a sample:

I've also uploaded some patterns from Debbie's new Book "The Big Easy" which are done in her new Luxury Tweed Chunky. We don't actually stock the Luxury Tweed Chunky but it's exactly the same tension as her Donegal Chunky Tweed (which I actually prefer as it's pure wool) and it's exactly the same metres per ball so the 2 yarns are totally interchangeable. I've inserted these patterns under Donegal Chunky Tweed - see here - for The Big Easy book.

Phew - well that's brought you up to date with the site. The shop front is progressing slowly - builders had to finish another job first thing yesterday (sound familiar?) but they're building the new wall on Monday so that involves digging out footings which sounds noisy and dirty to me.

So - back to the Hebrides - and perhaps we should start with the all important potato dish competition. FB was particularly taken with this element of the weekend and the entries were (in no particular order):
- Corned Beef Hash
- Smoked Scallop and Potato Pie (my favourite - absolutely delicious)
- Stovies (traditional Scottish dish - remember, we had lamb stovie for supper)
- Spicy Blue Potatoes with Fennel (which were, quite literally, blue)
- Corned Beef & Potato Pie (which FB ate for Sunday breakfast)
- Crab and Potato Pie (also delicious, in my opinion)
- Fish Pie with Cheese Topping.

The Stovies won first prize but, if it had been me, the Smoked Scallop dish would have been the winner - if anyone in the Hebrides has the recipe for that, I'd love it!

The prize was a traditional Scottish "Quaich" (friendship cup) - which can be seen in the corner here:

The burning cockleshells was a really interesting site. Mark Thacker is a local historical builder and he had found a transcript taken from an interview with an old builder who had described the burning of cockleshells to make lime mortar for building. Burning lime is an age old problem and, apparently, is responsible for much of the deforestation in the UK going back to Viking days. In the Hebrides they burnt cockleshells as the source of their lime. It takes 24 hours to burn the shells and they need to get up to 900 degrees! Mark was using wood and peat but poor Pete got a bit fed up (sorry - bad joke - just show the photographs, Julia):

Here you can actually see the cockleshells in the middle under all the wood.

That's me, keeping warm and you can see the huge pile of wood (and the bags of peat behind me) needed to keep burning for 24 hours - a heck of a lot for a relatively small amount of lime mortar. Mark kept the fire going all night (despite the rain) and left the next morning with his shells which he would then need to pound into a paste and turn into mortar. So long as the shells were kept dry they could be kept for a long time until required. The moment they touch water they need to be turned into paste but the paste can then be kept for years - the longer the better, in fact.

I tell you - you don't just learn about knitting on this site!

So, finally, after dinner on Sunday night - Mary went off to the harbour (about 45 minutes away) to pick up her friends and we went back to the croft. Margaret bumped into some electricity workers who told her there'd be a power cut shortly (how civilised to be given due warning!) - we searched the house high and low for candles or a torch - but none was to be found so we sat and waited for the lights to go out - which they duly did. In the middle of this, Mary appeared with her friends who had just come in from a 5 1/2 hour boat ride and, frankly, weren't that thrilled to discover there was a "power outtage" (they were American too!). We managed to get them seated in the kitchen by the light from FB's cigarette lighter and then had a rather bizarre conversation in the pitch black. Mary had gone off to find gas lights and, obviously, the moment she returned with them the lights came back on! So who were they? Well, have you heard of the Green Mountain Spinnery in Vermont? They have been spinning wool in the USA for nearly 30 years and our visitors in the pitch black were Libby co-owner of the Spinnery and her fiance. I could have spent all night picking her brains but she was a tad exhausted and is 80 years old (I sincerely hope I'll be going on walking tours of the Lake District when I'm 80 - which is what they'd been doing the previous week) so after an hour we had to release her to her bed. The really interesting thing we found that was their main problem with spinning organic is trying to find organically certified wool in the USA. Here in the UK we have loads of farmers desperate to sell their organically certified wool and we simply can't take it all. Clearly, we're ahead on the organic sheep farming on this side of the pond.

Sadly we had to leave at the crack of dawn on Monday so didn't see Libby again but I now have her email address so am hoping I can pick her brains from here. Who knows, perhaps a trip to Vermont can be put in the future plan. If you go to their site you can see the huge range of yarns they produce and the constant call from their visitors is "and you spin all the yarn here?" - clearly the concept of low eco footprint still hasn't caught on over there where, presumably, most yarns are spun in China. If we can emulate their work in 30 years time, I'll be absolutely delighted.

I meant to scan in a load of new patterns today but, as ever, time has run away with me and I've just had a lovely American customer in for over an hour so I'm going to shut up my cave and go home for a G&T. I think I've earned it ...........

I'm going to leave you with a couple of random photos from Grimsay, Outer Hebrides:

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Knitwits Yarns

My builders have been brilliant and I now have a secure false shop front and tomorrow the old front comes down - I am willing to bet large sums of money that the 1960's glass isn't going to come out in one piece, which they are confident it will - we shall see. Bizarrely, we didn't shut at all today as customers were happy to make their way past fit builders in singlets, step ladders and drills to get their wool fix (it appears that nothing comes between a woman and her knitting but, on the other hand, perhaps fit builders in singlets should become a permanent feature or I could teach them to knit and we could have fit builders sitting on step ladders knitting - oooh, that's something to dream about tonight, girls).

But I digress - you can linger on the previous bit if you want - the bit about the Outer Hebrides will wait for you ..........

We flew to Benbecula via Glasgow and the weather deteriorated the further north we got. The Outer Hebrides are, basically, that long line of islands which run down the very far north-west of Scotland. Benbecula is squished between North Uist and South Uist in the southern bunch of islands and, regrettably, it isn't architecturally beautiful. It was an RAF station (hence tarmac runway) but the buildings reflect that and, as our host - Mary - said, it's not a great welcome to the Uists. Mary is an extraordinary lady from New York (who has lost none of her accent) who somehow ended up in the Outer Hebrides and has done an amazing amount of work there restoring (and recording) some of the old traditions.

We were staying on Grimsay which is a little island sort of squished between North Uist and Benbecula on the east side. For this we were grateful - apparently the weather on the west is always far worst than the east.

This is where we were staying:

and this is the view from the house:

We stayed here with Louise Butler who has the seriously unenviable task of putting together the feasibility study for the mill on Grimsay. It's a fantastic project but there are so many angles that it's turning into a major task. Louise was a superb housemate and, dare I mention, late night drinking companion - we all had a bit of a hoot.

Mary actually lives about a mile down the road and we stayed in the croft she bought for visitors and where she has restored the old boat shed. One of the reasons for the weekend was the ceremonial opening of the old Stewart boatshed where generations of the family built the steady little Hebridean craft. The tradition was in real danger of dying out until Mary got funding for a new boatshed and the last remaining boatman taught his craft to a new generation. Thankfully, the work goes on and boats are continuing to be repaired and built on Grimsay. The old (restored) boatshed now looks like this:

The islanders were incredibly hospitable and amazed how far we'd travelled - until a couple from Seattle arrived and we were well and truly put in our place. We went out on Friday night and ate the excellent local Salar Smoked Salmon (which you can buy on-line and is highly recommended - one of Rick Stein's Food Heroes), the local sea trout followed by the slightly bizarre carrigeen pudding, which is made from local seaweed (left in the rain to wash the salt out) and then boiled up with milk. The seaweed turns the milk into a jelly. On its own it's a little yucky (in my opinion) but with a side serving of local ice cream and fruit compote it was really pretty OK. As you'll gather, hospitality in the Hebrides came with plenty of food and I can only pray that my Weight Watchers leader isn't reading this.

Saturday morning saw the best of the weather so FB and I set off for a little walk. We were here:

How that first line of letters is pronounced "Kallin" is beyond me but then Gaelic (Gallic) is all foreign to me. All the locals speak Gaelic and switch from that to English with gay abandon. We found a local ram (and being a knitting trip, we photographed him):

Not sure what he makes of it all but I guess a new spinning mill up here might increase his chances of survival. He didn't offer an opinion. We walked to Kallin harbour:

This was en route

and this is the harbour itself. We had an interesting chat with a scallop fisherman here - practically all their catch goes to Spain - he reckons it's easier to find Hebridean scallops in Spain than in the Hebrides and - true enough, on Saturday night the huge lorries trundled in to collect their loads bound for the Spanish markets on Monday morning.

But, of course, we were there to talk about knitting. There is a great tradition of spinning, knitting and weaving in the Hebrides but it's all but died out. Mary (and others) would like to build a mill and revive the industry so she'd put on a display in the croft of Hebridean knitwear and tweed. Interestingly, there was a jumper knitted for Marks & Spencer at the Bayhead Factory (in the good old days when M&S proudly boasted that all its products were made in the UK). The wool was pretty rough by today's standards - M&S customers were obviously tougher then!

There were also some amazing examples of children's first knitting projects - this was a Primary 6 school project (a 10-11 year old):

I wonder how many 10 year olds could knit those now! Or, indeed, this top from 2nd year (13-14 year old?):

There was also this glorious fairisle and I hope to God the knitter of this was older than 14 because, if not, I'm putting away my needles right now and giving up for ever:

At the bottom you can also see a peek of a rather beautiful cushion.

FB gave out talk, which was graciously received and I hope enthused the islanders of the fantastic opportunity they have. It would be wonderful to see a mill back in the Outer Hebrides and we would love to be a part of its birth. Of course, they also have the wonderful heritage of tweed and this bolt was left casually draped over the (cold) Rayburn - absolutely beautiful:

I had an amazing conversation with an old lobster fisherman in his 80's who was telling me that his Mother had a loom when he was a boy. She wove blankets by commission and wove Harris tweed. The weavers weren't paid until the clothes their cloth was turned into were sold. An early example of exploitation in the clothing business, perhaps - and a reason why some older people aren't interested in having a mill on the islands as it brings back unhappy memories.

At the end of Saturday we had a feast of local food (more food, yes, I know ..) - traditional scotch broth, lamb stovie (a delicious "stew" where the potatoes literally disintegrate and thicken the broth) and a choice of Seaweed Carrigeen (again) or Cloutie dumpling - yes, I chose the dumpling - which was absolutely delicious and put an uncomfortable strain on my trouser top button. Then we had a wonderful Scottish folklore expert and story teller called Margaret Bennett telling us about the Celtic Calendar and this amazing special cake called Struan and, guess what, someone had cooked one and, obviously, we all had to taste it - I was seriously concerned by trousers wouldn't take the strain:

That's Danna (which, being Gaelic is probably spelt Fhgoerna for all I know) with the Struan which, as you can see, comes out like a sandwich. It was served warm and spread with butter - oh, bliss! I forgot to mention by the way that Danna (Fhgoerna) and her amazing team cooked the whole of our dinner (for 32 of us) on 2 gas rings by the light of 4 gas lamps - we ate in the new shed/community building - they are an impressively resourceful bunch - if it was up to me, you'd have had baked beans on toast. (We also have special reason to thank Danna [Fhgoerna] who lent us [virtual strangers] her car for an emergency dash to the nearest shop [12 miles] for alcoholic necessities - this lady is a true star.)

We were all very fortunate to have supper on Sunday night with Margaret Bennett and her assistant and Margaret was telling us about the traditions of Michaelmass (pronounced as 2 words - Michael Mass), which is celebrated on September 29th (yesterday). Girls would traditionally knit garters for their sweethearts and give them carrots - apparently carrots grow very long and straight in the Uists due to the sandy soil so you can image the connotations!

There is far more to tell (including the potato dish competition I previously mentioned [FB's particular highlight], the burning cockleshells [yes you did read that right] and an extraordinary arrival late on Sunday night) but it's getting late and this blog is getting way, way too long and you're all probably losing the will to live now so I'll continue with the rest tomorrow - some of it is worth waiting for - honest - you'll never guess who arrived on Sunday night in the middle of a power cut - you really won't - you couldn't make it up. I'm going to keep you guessing ..............