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: