Friday, March 20, 2015

Stac Shoaigh Shawl and the Perfect Brew

The British are coming!!!  The British are coming!!!  British yarns that is.  For Americans that statement has a slightly different connotation having to do with Paul Revere and the revolution, but that was then and this is now and what I'm talking about are beautiful British yarns.

After seeing Ysolda's Tweet in January describing her 2015 Shawl Club and how it was going to feature exclusive yarns from some of her favorite British mills and dyers with patterns designed specifically for that yarn, I threw caution to the wind and used my Christmas splurge money to join. After what seemed like forever my first shipment arrived in February with a yarn spun from soay sheep a rare breed roaming on the St. Kilda Archipelga in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. After ripping off the wrapping paper and giving the beautiful sheepy yarn a few sniffs and a squeeze I wasted no time casting on to knit this fabulous shawl that Ysolda calls Stac Shoaigh.

But I am calling mine my Outlander Shawl.  It was entirely serendipitous that this yarn arrived just as I began watching Outlander, a romantic epic series set in the highlands and based on the novels written by Diana Gabaldon.  I can't believe that any of you aren't familiar with Outlander, but if you aren't, buy it and read it (you can thank me later).  I also highly recommend the Starz TV production as it's exceptionally well done and you will see lots of beautiful rustic knits worn by the characters.  As I knitted away on my Stac Shoaigh Shawl watching Outlander the two became interwoven as one as the memory, tactile experience and fabric became entwined.  Now wearing this shawl I feel ready to be transported back in time to an adventure in the highlands, minus the violence, lack of modern bathroom facilities, and discriminatory attitude toward women.  But other than that I'm ready!

Ysolda describes her inspiration for this shawl as follows:
The large holes, organic curves and sharp points were inspired by the tunneled rock formations of the sea stack Stac Shoaigh while the garter stitch and feather and fan is reminiscent of everyday "Hap" shawls from the Shetland isles.  Perfect for a Shetland, Soay fibre blend.
It's easy to see these design elements and inspiration in the shawl.  I would also point out that the leaf motif (both at the top and along the garterstitch edge) gives a nice feminine touch that softens the otherwise strong elements in the shawl.  No matter how you describe it, this is a rustic and beautiful shawl that could easily have been worn by a Scottish lass living in the bronze age.  And yet.  The yarn came into my hands whereupon I knit this shawl that will be worn in present day Los Angeles, California.  Isn't modern transportation and web interconnectedness a marvelous thing!  Thank you Twitter and thank you to Ysolda too!

Particulars:  Stac Shoaigh designed by Ysolda as part of her 2015 Shawl Club; 1 skein Soay Bronze spun by Blacker Yarns; US 7 circular needles.  Blocked dimensions 60" x  23"  Truly one of my favorite knits because the yarn is so special and the pattern was a perfect match for the yarn.  Incidentally I've also knit a traditional "hap" shetland shawl that Ysolda makes reference to above, as well as a number of Ysolda's patterns including her elephant toy, MousieIshbel Shawl and Hipster Style Hat.  

A Perfect Brew

I recently read that tea is the number one beverage in the world (excluding water).  And why not?  It's full of health benefits and is delicious too.   Although I suspect the large Chinese population may skew the world numbers because in the United States coffee seems much more popular.  I have never heard anyone say "let's go out for a cup of tea" it's always coffee.  The reason is, and it may be just be me, but it seems that for some reason drinking tea in the united states has been unfairly associated with sick days, little old ladies, and yoga devotees.  And if that's what you think then it's time to update your perspective and join the rest of the world in enjoying this delicious and healthy beverage.

Because I think poor brewing technique can share the blame for tea's lackluster reputation in the united states, I'm going to share an important tip to enjoying a good cup of tea, namely, you must use a teapot to brew your tea. While simply dunking a teabag into a cup of hot water will indeed impart "flavor" it will not produce anything near the complex and rich flavor possible when brewed in a teapot for the right length of time (generally speaking blacks 3 minutes, greens 2 minutes, and oolongs 3 to 5 minutes but the tea package should give a suggested time).

I don't think it matters too much the style of teapot, although certain teapots work better for certain teas.  Pictured below is my Chinese teapot that I use to brew green teas and oolongs but I've also happily enjoyed a cup of green tea from a classic English style teapot too.  What is more critical is to "decant" your tea after the right length of brewing.  If you leave your tea to sit brewing too long it will turn rancid and bitter so you need to pour your tea into a mug or a small pitcher so you can enjoy it at peak flavor.

Now my secret for making tea even more healthy and beneficial.  While it's brewing toss in a few dried goji berries (the red berries pictured above) to release their powerful anti-oxidants into your brew. This is a trick I picked up while in China a few years back and is an easy way to incorporate these ultra healthy berries into your diet.

So pick up a teapot if you haven't one already and start enjoying tea as the rich satisfying brew it should be.

Until next time, be well and love well and may you enjoy the unfolding of Spring whilst sipping a cup of delicious perfectly brewed green tea (I recommend trying an oolong but any green tea will do) and if you don't know where to start TeavanaHarney and Sons, and Mighty Leaf, have a nice selection to tempt you.