reflections on making

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Halfway through the second month of 2020, I’m beginning to get a sense of how limited my time for making is at the moment (and is likely to remain for at least several more months). Hashtag PhD life, or something like that? I’m getting a little bit of knitting done here and there, but it all feels like it’s moving at a glacial pace. I have two sock projects on the go, which I sometimes bring on my commute to work on, but I’m still on the first sock of both pairs. Most of the sweaters I have on the needles are fingering weight sweaters, which prompted me to cast on a worsted weight sweater a few weeks ago in the hopes that I could bang it out, but that also feels slow and now I just have another WIP. So you could say I’ve been thinking lately about my priorities when it comes to my making this year, and I thought I’d share what I’m feeling with you all.

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Firstly, after being apart from the majority of my WIPs and my stash for six months, I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed by it all now that I have it back. Not entirely in a bad way – I missed it and I feel an excitement to work on projects with all these beautiful materials I’ve collected – but what makes it overwhelming is the relatively slow pace at which I’m working on projects at the moment. I managed to work through a lot of what I had with me in the fall, which felt very freeing, and I’m just not feeling that freedom anymore. This means I’m feeling two strong desires: one is to work through my existing WIPs (16 is the current count, going by my Ravelry project page), and the other is a desire to work from stash for new projects. I really, genuinely want to be doing both of those things. And that feels really good, although it’s clearly going to take a little while to work on the WIPs. A few of them aren’t so far from being finished (like my Galore as well as this summery sweater) and trying to get them wrapped up in the next couple of months will probably help a lot.

The other thing I’m feeling really strongly is a desire to make things for friends and family. This isn’t entirely incompatible with wanting to knit from my stash, luckily, but it is somewhat at odds with trying to get through my WIPs. Nonetheless, after being reuinited with *all my knits* I’m also feeling how much I don’t need anything new, despite all the yarn kicking around in my stash. Of course there are sweaters and other things I want to make for myself that I already have yarn for, but I have plenty of yarn to do more knitting for others, as well.

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I know a lot of this is really in line with how many other crafters are feeling right now – The Crimson Stitchery is one of my favorite podcasts, and Anushka has talked a lot in recent videos about storage space, stash, WIPs, and desire vs. necessity. I really appreciate her approach to crafting as it’s always creative and beautiful, but also thrifty and practical. (The tagline for her podcast is “making all things beautiful and useful.”) She’s hosting an initiative called Stashless2020 in which you can join in with the aim to do one of two things: either try to work through your existing stash to become completely stashless, or put less into your stash and work more from what you already have. I definitely fall into the latter category – even if I had all the time in the world to knit this year, I wouldn’t empty my stash – but I appreciate the encouragement provided by a group effort, and knowing there are others feeling the same. If you’re intrigued by the idea of Stashless2020, I’d encourage you to check out this video where Anuskha discusses the question, “Can I go stashless in 2020?”

I am so lucky to have so many beautiful things to make with, so when I feel frustrated by how slowly my projects seem to be going at the moment, I just try to remind myself: it’s not a race.

norwegian wool: lofoten wool

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The Norwegian Wool series is finally back with another fantastic smaller company: Lofoten Wool. Wool sourced from Northern Norwegian sheep (including the Lofoten archipelago, hence the name), naturally dyed, and spun down at Hillesvåg – it’s a dream. The Røst collection (pictured above, and named for the remote island where the wool is sourced) comes from the wool of the crossbred norsk kvit sau, or the Norwegian white sheep. Their heavier weight yarns are made with wool from the heritage breeds Gammelnorsk sau and spælsau. To me, Lofoten Wool’s yarns are the stuff that local wool dreams are made of. (Consequently, I might adoringly gush a little bit more than usual in this post.)

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I feel like I need to provide some context to be able to adquately convey the feelings this yarn inspires. Between the northern Norwegian sheep, the natural dyes Ragnhild uses to create her beautiful colors, and the ties to specific locations within Lofoten, this company has something special going on. For those unfamiliar with the Lofoten archipelago, it lies north of the Arctic Circle and it’s home to some of the most iconic Norwegian scenery there is. Islands formed from mountains that jut right out of the water make for dramatic landscapes everywhere you go, reaching out in a line from the mainland like an arm pointing toward Iceland. I haven’t been as far out as Røst (where my skein of yarn’s wool came from) – it’s way out there – but I have passed through Lofoten twice now and spent sime time exploring Nordland, the county where Lofoten is located (Hurtigruten, the coastal ferry/cruise, passes through Lofoten). While the landscape is very different, it’s easy to see similarities and find connections with other north Atlantic island communities like Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Shetland.

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Historically, fishing was the center of life in Lofoten. North Atlantic cod come to Lofoten each year to spawn, so cod fishing was the biggest industry (and it remains a big part of the local economy today). Many of the men who fished in and around Lofoten came from other parts of Norway, and when they were on shore, they lived in fishing cabins known as rorbuer. Many of these all over Lofoten have been converted to be used by tourists now (like these). The statue in the photo above sits at the edge of the harbor in Svolvær. It’s called Fiskarkona, “the fish wife,” and it’s by sculptor Per Ung. She faces away from the harbor, with an arm raised as if bidding farewell to her husband’s boat. Life in Lofoten was harsh, and the weather meant fishing could be dangerous, so I can only imagine what it was like to bid farewell to your spouse not knowing if their boat would return home.

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This brings me back to the yarn. I feel very fortunate that my favorite local yarn store carries Lofoten Wool so that I had the opportunity to check out some of their yarns in person. The naturally dyed colors are gorgeous, and I definitely fell in love with the indigo-dyed skein pictured at the top of this post as soon as I saw it. I have plans for this particular skein, but there’s enough yarn that I wanted to do a little bit of swatching just for fun, too. Both the blue shade of the yarn itself and the name of this particular color, brådjupt, bring to mind the clear blue waters of northern Norway for me (and cables felt like an appropriate medium for interpreting rippling waves). The swatch on the needles above uses a chart from Norah Gaughan’s incredible Knitted Cable Sourcebook – it’s a motif she calls Diverge. This 2-ply yarn from the Røst collection is a fantastically wooly wool: it’s kind of crunchy and lofty at the same time, somewhat like a woolen spun Shetland yarn can be; not luxuriously soft but also not unpleasant against the skin; pretty grabby but it still manages to cable beautifully. I think we hear words like “strong” and “workhorse yarn” associated with a lot of wooly wools, especially breed-specific ones, but those phrases seem somehow too heavy to describe this yarn. It is strong – with effort, it’s possible to break it instead of cutting it with scissors, but it’s much harder to break than the woolen spun Shetland yarns I’ve used. I think this yarn also qualifies as a workhorse yarn – it’s very well suited to this coastal northern Norwegian climate – but it feels lighter than that at the same time.

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Ragnhild of Lofoten Wool very kindly shared some photos of their sheep out at Røst, above – and as you can see, by the time you make it that far out, the landscape starts to look a little bit more like Shetland. What an incredible place to be a sheep, right? The sheep on Røst in the photos above are the crossbred Norwegian white sheep/norsk kvit sau. As I mentioned, Lofoten Wool’s heavier weight yarns come from the wool of heritage breeds, and the following photos are Ragnhild’s own flock of Gammelnorsk sau, also called villsau by some (“old Norwegian sheep” and “wild sheep,” respectively, though the latter name is a misnomer as they have been a domesticated breed for over a thousand years). They live on an island much closer to mainland Norway. You’ll also notice that there’s natural color variation amongst the heritage breed sheep, much like other northern European heritage breeds (Shetland or Icelandic sheep, for example).

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It’s such a fantastic treat to be able to knit with wool that has such traceable origins, and a huge thank you to Ragnhild for sharing these photos of the sheep with us!

To see the yarns and other wooly goodies Lofoten Wool has on offer, head over to their online shop. Lofoten Wool does ship internationally, but you should be aware that the cost of shipping can be high (especially outside Europe), You can get a sense of shipping rates abroad from Norway here (all prices are in Norwegian kroner, but you can use Google to convert to your own currency). A list of their Norwegian stockists can be found on the home page of their website, lofoten-wool.no.

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A note: with the exception of Ragnhild’s sheep photos, the photos of Lofoten featured in this post were all taken by me on a trip last August – some of them from a moving boat at dusk, so please excuse any motion blur!