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April 2015
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June 2015

May 2015

Help me out with the name game

Recently I lost my favourite fingerless mitts, so I rummaged in my yarn stash for some sock yarn and cast on an idea I'd had for a while for a pair with mock cables of the back and thumb.

I was very satisfied with the result and got compliments on them immediately. But when I came to write up the pattern I realised that the yarn was an oddment I'd picked up at a bargain price outside a small craft shop in Wales and that I had no details of the yarn at all.

So I decided to make a second pair as a sample (and I wanted to wear the first pair). Another rummage in the stash and I realised that I finally had the perfect project for a bright skein of Twinkle Yarn from Easy Knits, in the Pumpkin colourway. 

Purple gold mitt collage

With these finished all that remains is to take some final pictures and - sometimes the hardest part - to name the pattern.

And this time I'm stuck, so perhaps you can help. Please take a look at the snaps above and tell me what you would call these mitts. If it helps I have generally given gloves, mitts and hats people's names.

All suggestions welcome in the comments.

Inspirational thinking and memory

What inspires you to create something? 

With me, it can be so many things that I carry a notebook with me all the time - if I don't I inevitably ended up having an idea and drawing on a scrap of paper or even a ball band - plus I have a section on the Evernote app to gather images that inspire me.

Sometimes it is a view or something else I see that gets the creative juices going, or a shape or a texture. Sometimes I look at a skein of yarn and it tells me what it is going to be. But I am also heavily influenced by memory and familiar sights and images. Or they combine as for this scarf created when a skein of yarn reminded me of beech trees in Belfast when I was younger.

Barnet park Collage

Recently memory and childhood have been strong influences on a series of shawls, wraps and scarf I've been designing.

As a youngster I spent a great deal of time on the north west Irish coast (an area that now forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way route). It is an area of rich shape and colour and beautiful and stupendous views.

Sea shoe sky CollageThese images stick in my mind with the result is I have been playing with textures and stitch patterns to reproduce the the shapes and textures of the landscape - as well as spotting yarns that evoke memories of these places.

Sea shoe sky Collage 2

Some influences will be clearer than others - for example bright turquoise may not seem a fit until you understand this was the colour of the salmon fishermen's ropes and nets.

There is some writing up and some photography to go but soon I will share this very personal project. If for not other reason than I need to at least take pause in this obsession. So I'm setting myself a summer deadline to complete this set.

But that's not to say that other patterns and ideas aren't crowding my head and my notebooks. On a recent return to the north west coast I saw these tulips and then this decor on the dusty entrance to a famous house (with some particular childhood connections) in quick succession - they are now gelling into a plan for some vibrant skeins of nordic yarn that have been the subject of a half-formed idea for a couple of months. 

Sligo tulip Collage

And so the cycle of inspiration continues.

A tour of Bergere de France

As part of my trip to Reims in France as a knitting expert with Arena Holidays, I had a chance to tour the Bergere de France yarn factory.

At this site, which employs more than 300 people, they take in raw fibre - wool, acrylic, cotton, linen, etc - at one end and ship finished yarns to shops and individual consumers at the other. They produce 15 million balls per year across 40-plus yarn lines in a total of some 600 colourways, so I was intrigued to see it was done.

Because I have had lots of contact with indie dyers, the sequence of yarn production in my head was spinning first, dying later, so I was surprised to discover it works the other way round at Bergere.

Fibres are dyed separately in giant baskets pretty much as tall as me for up to 8 hours at temperatures of 98C. The hot water is then used to heat the factory offices - part of the company's green effort.

Dye room CollageBaskets of undyed yarn are lowered into the stainless steel vats in the floor

After the dye stage the acrylic fibres need to be stretched and broken so they can be worked into yarn, which means you see long streamers of fibre passing over head before being piled into baskets.

Acrylic collageBreaking the acrylic fibres

In fact before you reach the spinning room there are so many giant baskets and cages filled with dyed fibre that you are hard pushed not to dive in.

Fibre party  CollageComplying with the no touching rule is difficult

In the first stages of spinning, fibres are still kept separate, all going through a two stage spinning process first into fine threads and then thicker strands on machines that take up to 8 hours to prepare.

Spin CollageSpinning is complex to set up and a critical process

It is only at this stage that the fibres are combined. Threads are wound together in the correct proportions for the final yarn - so for a 60% wool 40% acrylic, strands of the correct thickness would be wound onto bobbins together in a 6 to 4 ratio. These are then spun to create the final yarn.

These yarns are wound into balls on industrial ball spinners that finish by puffing a little steam into each to puff up the yarns and popping a ball band on.

Balls CollageThe final product

It is a fascinating and exciting process as we as being a remarkably dust and fluff free one and I really enjoyed the visit and learning about industrial yarn production.

Plus it was followed by a trip to Bergere's factory shop where you can find packs of yarn sufficient for a woman's jumper for Euro10 or less. Heaven!

The whole group enjoyed the visit and Arena is already planning a similar trip next year - watch this space.

Update we will be repeating the trip in April 2016 - check out the Arena website for details