Friday, October 16, 2009
High Time to Learn Fair Isle!
I have procrastinated for far too long on learning to knit fair isle. The main reason being that this style of knitting appeared both complicated and the patterns seem largely outdated. Enter Alice Starmore's Hat Trick a trio of hat designs inspired from flowers in her garden. I fell in love with these hats the minute I saw them and knew that the time had finally arrived to learn to knit fair isle!
The beauty of learning a new technique on a hat is, well, because hats are small! That means sizing and shaping issues are minimal and the time commitment to finish is short. Which boils down to less risk of investing in an expensive project that you never finish because you find yourself bogged down with troubling sizing issues or complicated pattern instructions which invariably lead to a project that languishes for want of love and attention.
Even so, I didn't embark upon this venture lightly, or without advance preparation. I've had the book The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, History, Technique, Color & Patterns by Ann Feitelson for years, which I pulled out and reread in earnest. The best piece of advice I gleaned from this book was that if I did nothing else I needed to master carrying two colors of yarn simultaneously if I was ever going to enjoy knitting fair isle. While it's possible to knit with just one color yarn at a time and then drop and switch colors as needed, this will never allow you to develop a rhythm or uniform tension.
Several methods of carrying the yarn are described in the book, along with the strong advice to try them all before settling on one. I followed that advice and found that carrying both yarn strands in my right hand afforded me the most uniform tension. This also happens to be the most common Shetland method where, after all, they developed this style of knitting and should know a thing or two about how best to go about it.
Something to remember about fair isle knitting is that you only have two colors of yarn in any single row. That means you only carry two strands of yarn at any one time, which, with a little practice isn't all that hard to do. I know it looks complicated but the richness and complexity of the designs is achieved through the genius of mixing both graduating and contrasting colors all the while using just two colors at a time.
I'm running a little long in this post, but when I'm knitting my next hat from this kit (they are all different in both pattern and shape) I'll take pictures showing my hand position to give you an idea of what yarn position worked for me. Unfortunately I did not find any great videos out there to make this any clearer than the pictures I found in Ann Feitelson's book, or I would have linked to them for you.
In summary, I think we can all agree that this is a beautiful design. But it is supposedly inspired by the Hebe flower (picture of a Hebe flower is shown below). Do you see it? I don't know. It's a tough call. I think if you consider how well I captured the plant life in my brooch (immediately prior post) this is a real stretch. But, who am I to say. Alice Starmore is a legend.
Particulars: Hat Trick (Hebe) by Alice Starmore; available as a kit from Virtual Yarns; US 2 double pointed needles; my only modification was not to increase to US 3 needles after knitting the brim sticking with the US 2 needles. I did this because I thought some of the pictures of the hat looked on the large size. As it is, it's a snug fit on my 21" head but I suspect with a few wearings it will relax some.
Mr Puffy Update
I explained to Mr Puffy that now he's doing so well there's been enough lolling about. It was time for him to be productive and useful again. I told him "all your fans have missed seeing you model." When he heard this, he was then only too happy to oblige.
Something to Try this Fall: Homemade Granola
I love homemade granola and this time of year it's particularly nice to have some on hand. My current favorite is Coconut and Macadamia Granola recipe courtesy of Andon-Rein Inn. I generally find that Bed and Breakfast recipes are tried and true and this is no exception.
The only modification (really a substitution) is that I use plain whole wheat flour instead of "pastry" whole wheat flour. I also skip the coconut extract, simply because I don't have any on hand and never seem to remember to buy any. I'm pretty generous with the quantity of unsweetened coconut, which I love. It's hard to find unsweetened coconut flakes but you might find it in the organic food section.
There are a number of ways to enjoy granola. It's nice sprinkled over a dish of fresh fruit. It is also great mixed in with a box cereal (which is what my parents like to do) or you can crush it into small bits and mix it with cream cheese for a fancy bagel spread. Mostly, I just snack on it by the handful.
For a quick and easy alternative recipe, here's Mr Puffy's own recipe for homemade granola:
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
3 cups slow cooking oats
Dried cranberries - roughly 1/2 cup (or to taste)
Chopped fresh pecans or almonds - roughly 2/3 cup (or to taste)
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. Mix together maple syrup, canola oil and vanilla extract. Pour wet mix over oats and stir until oats are well covered.
3. Spread mixture evenly in a shallow roasting pan. Roast 15 minutes.
4. Remove mixture from oven and add chopped nuts. Continue roasting for another 30 minutes - turning once more after 15 minutes. Watch oats and nuts closely and reduce oven temperature if they are cooking too quickly. They should be a nice golden color - not brown - which means they have over cooked. All ovens are different and some are hotter than others.
5. Total cooking time is roughly 45 minutes. Final step is to add dried cranberries after fully cooked and mixture is removed from oven. Cool completely in pan and store in air-tight container.
Until next time, be well, love well, and try making your own homemade granola ~ I think you'll enjoy it!