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.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Simcha's Simple Cowl ~ and an Orange County "Moment"

If you are like me you have either received as a gift (or made a spontaneous purchase) of a single skein of gorgeous hand painted yarn.  And it's beautiful!  You love it! You can't wait to make it into something - anything!  But a quick search of online patterns leads to the disappointing realization that due to the limited yardage and strongly variegated colorway, finding a pattern is not as easy as you had expected.

At least that was my experience when my neighbor returned from a trip to Oregon and generously brought back for me a skein of gorgeous baby alpaca yarn from Foothills Yarn and Fiber shop in Oregon.  I knew due to the color and softness of the yarn that I wanted to make it into a cowl, but when I searched for cowl patterns I found that they all either required more yarn, or a solid color, or yarn with more twist, or more this, that and the other.  So I eventually threw up my hands and came up with a pattern for a super easy cowl that works beautifully with hand painted yarn in a limited quantity and named it Simcha's Simple Cowl.

As a brief segue, I have become a huge fan of cowls because I find that I wear them more than any other accessory.  I love them because they are easy to wear and can either be simple and practical (wonderful for hikes) or stylishly and elegant to wear just about anywhere.  For those who are not as familiar with cowls they come in two styles, namely, those that fit snugly around the neck and are called "neck warmers" (these I wear on my hikes) and those that drape loosely around the neck and are called "infinity scarves." Simcha's Simple Cowl is an "infinity scarf" and is designed to maximize the beauty of a limited quantity of yarn in a hand painted colorway.

It is my hope that you will find this pattern to be an easy and enjoyable way to showcase a single skein of special yarn in limited quantity that you may have.

Particulars:  Simcha's Simple Cowl (free pattern download);US 7 circular needles; 1 skein worsted yarn in Baby Alpaca (or similar soft yarn); 220 yards; finished dimensions 16" x 6.5" (i.e. 32" circumference). Due to the rolled edge of the cowl the width measure is slightly less than the actual total "knit" width of 7.5."

An Orange County Moment

Orange County, California is comprised of mostly coastal communities along the southern California coastline.  It is perhaps best known for the television show The Real Housewives of Orange County (a show that I have personally never seen) and, barring that, think of Orange County as California at it's most stereotypical i.e., surfing, vegan food, luxury cars, breast implants and movie star beautiful people.

While I don't spend a lot of time in Orange County we do have a beach house in San Clemente that is technically part of Orange County, although I like to think of it as an anti-orange county crowd where folks come to enjoy the quiet amd beauty of the beach. But I recently found even in San Clemente it is possible to have an Orange County "moment" as the following anecdote shows.

On a lazy afternoon whilst sitting outside soaking up the sun reading a book my attention was caught by the drama of watching two girls struggle with their jet skies that had washed up on the shoreline. Other neighbors had similarly been watching and apparently one had called for coastguard assistance because it wasn't long before an absolutely gorgeous lifeguard came sauntering down the beach looking like he stepped off the movie set for Baywatch.

He spent a few moments talking to the girls and then he turned around and looked at the neighbors on the beach and appeared to be motioning with his hand for me to come over.  I touched my hand lightly to my chest and looked around.  Could I, of all people on the beach, be the most qualified to assist in this rescue?  He looked straight at me and nodded yes.  I tried to exude confidence and competence as I gingerly stepped over the sand to meet him halfway.  When I reached him he favored me with a stunning smile and asked if I would assist him by holding onto his sunglasses and flip flops.  I had to laugh.  Only in Orange County does the lifeguard require an assistant to hold their sunglasses during a rescue and that is what I call an orange county "moment."

The above pictures are taken in San Clemente,California at sunset.

Until next time be well and love well and may your needles fly as you finish the last of your winter knits as soon spring will be here.