Sunday, January 30, 2011

Land of the Giants

Part of me feels I oughtn't to be allowed to wear a new knitted project until it's been blogged. My bubbly-sister-in-law once told me she had a rule that she couldn't use a gift until she'd written the thank-you note. Maybe that's where it comes from.

In any case, it's cold weather, and I have a warm cowl I need to tell you about, so I can wear it!

It all started back in the fall, at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, in Berryville, Virginia, where I was a volunteer helper this year at the fleece sale. We volunteers were there all day to talk about raw fleeces with spinners and interested passers-by and to take payments from anyone who'd found a fleece to his or her liking. Pleasant work, and, best of all, we were welcome to bring our spinning wheels and sit there and spin. 

I had brought along Miss Muffet, my wee little portable Louet Victoria spinning wheel. I'd also brought some natural undyed wool to spin, thinking it would be good for demonstrating to anyone curious about what the natural undyed fleeces would be like to spin once cleaned and processed. Only -- funny thing -- there at the festival, surrounded by all the brightly colored wools and yarns, I began to feel just a bit dour about the good honest plain-colored wool I'd brought.

I cast my eyes around wildly and scurried across the aisle to the booth where the Barefoot Spinner, from Romney, West Virginia, had hand-dyed spinning fiber laid out. I found some Falklands wool, a breed I had not tried yet, and picked out an 8-ounce ball in soft, light colors, a change from my usual palette.  Falklands wool comes from the breed of sheep inhabiting those self-same Falkland Islands that were at issue between Britain and Argentina in the 1980s. Their wool, I later learned, is considered especially "green" because the islands are free of the usual sheep pests and so the sheep are not exposed to pesticides.

With that, I repaired happily back across the aisle to spin the day away. It was lots of fun to spin and chat with people coming by, especially small children who were mesmerized watching the wheel go around and around.

I spun the wool as softly as I could, trying for a lofty yarn, with moderate success. The colors mixed and become more muted, as they often do, but were still quite pretty.

When it was all over, I ended up with 8 ounces of soft, bulky 2-ply handspun.  Now for something to knit with it. I'd had my eye on a pattern from the Holiday 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting magazine for a while.  In that issue, there was a feature with several giant loose cowls that draped around the neck and even the shoulders, by designer Cathy Carron.

One in particular, with a pretty cable and leaf texture, appealed to me. (It's called Cabled Cowl #12 in the magazine, and I understand it's since been published in the designer's new book, Cowlgirls as "Candy Wrapper.") And this cowl was big! It was loose and baggy, about a yard around - very different from the modest little neck-warmers I'd seen in past years. It hung around the model's shoulders and looked it might fit Harry Potter's giant friend Hagrid.  It was shown in a strong, solid pink, but I thought it might look pretty in the variegated shades of my hand-dyed handspun yarn.  I set to work and soon had it done. It was a pleasure to knit in soft, cushy handspun.  Although the cowl is really just a giant tube, the cabled pattern was interesting -- varied enough to be fun but intuitive and not particularly difficult. It was fascinating watching the colors shift, and the changes were gradual enough to be compatible with the texture. 

But the giant cowl really comes into its own when worn, bunched around the neck and shoulders, colorful and warm.  It's a nice memory of the festival and an attractive piece with an offhand style all its own. I'm really pleased with the way it came out.

 And now may I wear it, please? :)

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