A Trip to Papa Westray

I'm back from a fantastic weekend on, Papa Westray, where I spent a few days knitting, spinning and learning about some of Orkney's obscure knitting traditions through a talk and series of workshops lead by Liz Lovick of Northern Lace. As an enthusiast of folklore and owner of an Orkney spinning wheel, the talk was wonderfully informative and ticked all of my boxes (especially as it included some archaeology!). It was my first trip to Papay, as it's known locally, so I took a little time out to visit the Knap of Howar, which is the oldest standing building in northern Europe.

Like a lot of archaeology in Scotland, and on the islands in particular,  much of the Knap has been lost to coastal erosion. The two structures visible today are extremely close to the recently constructed sea wall, and while the site may seem small when you're approaching it, standing within its confines certainly gives you a real sense of scale. You'd be forgiven for thinking that it's not the best idea to build your house facing the sea, but the doorways have jams built within them, inferring that a door of some sort could be secured. You can see from this photo of my hand next to the upright stones that form the doorway just how skilled the builders of the Neolithic were in creating neat and beautiful structures:

The buildings that you see today are actually the remains of structures from a later stage of occupation, built on top of earlier midden material. The Neolithic houses were also built into midden, rather than standing upright on top of the land, as we are used to seeing with our own buildings.

Within the structures, a few interesting features can be found. There are two saddle querns, which are large grinding tools used to turn grain into coarse flour for making bread. There is also a square hearth in the middle of the floor in one of the buildings, which is typical for the Neolithic period, and was even present in Orcadian homes right up until the early 20th century.

The Knap of Howar is well worth a visit while on Papay. It has a small interpretation board, but even if you're not into archaeology, the scenery is gorgeous and very atmospheric.

Now onto the knitting workshop... Liz was actually running three workshops (lace, Fair Isle and gansey), but I chose to do the Fair Isle one, as it's rapidly becoming my favourite form of knitting and I wanted to learn more about it, while also taking the opportunity to see if I have been "doing it right". I say that in a rather tongue-in-cheek way, as I'm not a believer in strict "rules" when it comes to both knitting and crochet. Of course they are important when writing a pattern, but the biggest obstacle to learning either craft as a kid was the way that people trying to teach me were adamant that I had to do it their way. There are certain ways that a yarn should be held, or a direction that a hook should be moved, but it's very personal and everyone both knits and crochet's differently. When knitting Fair Isle, I knit one yarn continental and the other in English, but that's just the way I find most comfortable. The most important part of knitting Fair Isle is keeping your yarns untangled, and to do this it's best to keep one yarn on your left and the other on your right. It just so happens that a continental/English technique is comfortable for me, but I wouldn't expect all knitters to follow the same method.

This is where Liz's talk and workshop comes in. Her central thesis is that there are many traditions in Orcadian knitting that are unique to this set of islands, but may be the result of family or community traditions. You'll find certain motifs on one of the Orcadian islands that are absent on the rest. So what does this mean? Perhaps it's as simple as personal preference - I enjoy knitting certain Fair Isle motifs and take inspiration from the things I enjoy, which are probably different from the knitter sitting next to me,  who may like knitting lace and nothing else.

Anyway, I knitted up a little cuff in North Ronaldsay yarn, and then added steeks to it so I can turn it into a needle book. I have a horrible habit of losing my tapestry needles, and I'm also interested in trying nålbinding, so I need something to keep the needles safe (I'll probably make some nålbinding needles from Fimo clay, since I don't have any tools for shaping bone or wood). I'll take some photos of both the needle case and the nålbinding needles when they're finished.

I also took a trip to the local craft shop, which also doubles-up as the post office. Inside is a cave of wonders for the yarn enthusiast - I bought some Manos del Uraguay lace yarn and am crocheting it up into beautiful cowls (again, it's another thing to share when they're done). I spent much of my free time spinning, as I took my Hitchhiker wheel with me, and learned to do do Peruvian plying! It's perfect for when you have some left over singles on one bobbin that you don't want to waste, but isn't enough to mix in with something else. I can't seem to find any good videos detailing how to do it, so maybe it's something I can make in the future? Who knows - I have so many dominoes in my head at the moment and they're all chapping!

New Host and Exciting Things

Pumpkibun pattern is available through Ravelry

Pumpkibun pattern is available through Ravelry

Well finally it's here - the new design of my site! I found that Blogger just wasn't working for my anymore. It was fine for the occasional update, but I didn't feel invested in the content or layout. As I've got a couple of projects in the works just now, I wanted to create a cleaner, easier to navigate site with dedicated spaces for galleries, projects, a blog and most importantly - categorised patterns. My first pattern for sale is currently available through my Ravelry shop and is free to download until the 22nd of October as a Halloween promotion.

Upcoming Pattern Publication

I'm excited to announce that one of my patterns will be appearing in the upcoming issue of Inside Crochet! It's been a process of creating and editing that's stretched over a couple of months, but I'm beyond happy to see one of my patterns in print. The learning curve has been massive; I have quite severe dyscalculia which makes measuring and counting stitches very difficult. Crochet and knitting help in that they are repetitive and are visual so I can see and feel progress in my hands, rather than trying to retain numbers in my head in an abstract way that I can't visualise or understand. Writing down numbers doesn't necessarily work either; I often dial incorrect phone numbers, read the wrong date on a calendar or diary and subsequently end up missing appointments. One of the worst aspects of having difficulties with numbers is being unable to plan measurements on paper. Often I have to make several prototypes of one object, rather than plan it out and have to make only a couple of amendments.

Because of this, working out written patterns for my crochet and knitting can be very challenging. When I'm creating an original pattern, I keep comprehensive notes as I go. As soon as I've finished the first version of the piece, I then make another using my first set of notes, marking anything that doesn't add up. All of this comes after sketching out what I want the finished item to look like, complete with rough dimensions and a swatch so I can calculate yarn quantities. For someone with dyscalculia, the entire process of creating an original piece of crochet or knitting comes with extra challenges. But not working on crochet and knitting does have a negative impact on my everyday abilities with numbers. When I go through a period of neglecting crochet and knitting in favor of spinning, I find that I'm less able to approach a task that involves numbers, even if it's something as simple as reading a bus timetable. Working with yarn is one of the few activities I do where I don't feel overwhelmed by numbers and sequences, so creating original patterns and items means a lot more to me than simply seeing something in print - it's proof that I can break through my number blindness and create something that can be shared and enjoyed by others. So please look out for my pattern in issue 71 of Inside Crochet and share your own version of it with me!

Working on the Baa-ble hat while I was at Shetland Wool Week

Working on the Baa-ble hat while I was at Shetland Wool Week

Shetland Wool Week

A couple of weeks ago, I took a trip up to Shetland to attend Shetland Wool Week. Although I've lived on Orkney for just over four years, I hadn't travelled up so when I found out about Shetland Wool Week, it seemed to be the perfect excuse to finally book a trip.

I visited Jamieson and Smiths in Lerwick and bought the yarn for this year's pattern, the Baa-ble hat, and managed to knit it up in just over a night. I also ended up getting a set of shade cards and some cobweb weight yarn. I'm planning on making a crochet shawl in the style of traditional Shetland lace with the cobweb yarn, but I also took a class on how to spin for lace and want to spin some of my own yarn up in cobweb weight. It'll take forever though, so that's why I went for some pre-made in the meantime!

The trip to Shetland was planned a bit late in the day for getting onto a lot of the courses I was interested in, but I spent some of my time there at the museum in Lerwick, and also visited Jarlshof at Sumburgh. After reading the excavation report numerous times, it was great to finally see it in the flesh. I've started planning for next year's Shetland Wool Week already, so fingers crossed that I'll get to see even more archaeology while I'm there!