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A Grinding Halt

Dear Kay,
I don’t think I can properly capture exactly what has been going on in terms of my knitting recently. Actually, I have been reluctant to go into it, because it really does feel like I’ve been in a dark place. A little compulsive. A little too far gone. Even for us, and that is saying something.
Here’s the thing: I finished that Keava Fair Isle sweater; I wallowed around in the landscaping for a while; I folded and refolded the thing in various places around the house–you know how it is when you finish something and you want to see how it looks draped across every piece of furniture that you own. I thought that would be enough Fair Isle for a while. I thought I’d gotten it out of my system.
But finishing that one sleeve had been akin to taking a single bite of cheesecake. What delicious cheesecake. Need more cheesecake. Cheeeeeeesecaaaaaaaaaaake.
In the back of my mind I’m always carrying around Fair Isle patterns that I admire. Among the ones that floated out once I realized that I needed to find another project:
1. Meg Swansen’s Schoolhouse Shetland Pullover from Knitting in America. A simple stitch pattern and an ingenious shoulder construction. Straight-ahead knitting, with some wacky I-cord action in there somewhere. It uses only two shades of yarn, which will be just the thing at some point. But I was jonesing for a lot of color at the moment, so I decided to wait on this one.
2. Sarah Swett’s Kestrals Alight Cropped Kimono from the same book–the indigo and madder version. The hand-dyed handspun yarn in this project is what makes me go wobbly. So color shifty and subtle, I was forced to contact a woman with an indigo dyepot. This project will take ten years to get going, but it will, someday, be incredible.
3. Alice Starmore’s Donegal. Great, puzzley swirls. Just my thing. This pattern appears in three different places: The Celtic Collection (1992), In the Hebrides (1996), and finally on her website, Virtual Yarns. Each version specifies a different brand of yarn. You got your Rowan Donegal Lambswool (discontinued), your Alice Starmore Scottish Campion (discontinued), and your Alice Starmore Hebridean 2-ply (not discontinued).
Not So Easy Peasy
This is where things get dark. I could have simply ordered up a Donegal kit from Virtual Yarns and been at least ten inches into the thing by now. But I happen to know that the loveliest yarn ever made was Rowan Donegal Lambswool. (Go ahead, you can argue this with me but I will not back down.)
Circa 1990s, I’m guessing it went out production about five seconds before I first laid eyes on The Celtic Collection. I’ve been collecting the stuff for many moons, and every time I take it out and consider it in the bright light of day, it really is marvelous, ever-changing yarn.
Each shade has at least five other shades in it. Juniper turns blue or green depending on what’s next to it; ALL the shades change, wildly, depending on what’s next to them. It is the damnedest thing.
Which is why the Donegal colorway in The Celtic Collection is so very sublime. I decided, about ten seconds after emerging from the vinca in my back yard, that I would rig up a colorway using whatever Donegal Lambswool I had, and get as close as possible to the original colorway.
These yarns look close, but o! each had its fatal flaw: too dark, too light, too heathered, too solid. The more I looked at them, the worse they got. What was I thinking?
I spent a lot of time considering skeins of yarn, trying to decide if Elderberry could actually be substituted with Scottish Campion in Grape. I studied my shade cards, held up balls of yarn to the light, just about drove myself insane. Because I knew, even as I stared endlessly at all this yarn, that nothing I cooked up was going to work as well as the original colorway from The Celtic Collection.
After my best efforts, I concluded I was about five shades shy of the eleven required by the pattern. I almost gave up and ordered a kit. Then I discovered Susette.
Enter Susette
Susette’s blog, Knitting Letters: A to Z is absolutely magnificent, and I don’t think I’ve said that about a blog before. She’s unionpearl on Ravelry. She is up to some very, very cool stuff, and she provides these black-hole lists of links that will send you off into William Morris, typography, and the Book of Durrow. This sort of blogging is a gift to us all. Really generous.
ANYway, it turns out that after ten years, Susette had recently FINISHED a Donegal using all the original shades. (Don’t you love how a project can take ten years? Isn’t that epic? Doesn’t that indicate a basic optimism about the universe, to keep a project in the wings for ten years?) Here’s her big reveal. It occurred to me that she might have leftovers, and if she would do some sort of trade with me, maybe I could have, for a brief and shining moment, a bit of all the original shades for Rowan Donegal Lambswool.
I think she understood my desperation. Her box of knitterly generosity arrived, and it really was a Rosetta Stone of yarn:
Rainforest? Rainforest is so dark that it’s almost black. But not quite. Elderberry? Much less eggplanty than I thought it would be. I have found no Jameison’s, Jamieson and Smith, Campion, Hebridean, nor anything that would substitute for these murky, unique shades.
(You see how far gone I was.)
So I cast on using Susette’s precious partial balls of yarn, immediately and without a blink, in order to see how the shades played out in the knitting. The true colors lie somewhere between these non-flash and flash photos:
To give you an idea of how nuts I was, I completed all this in two days. I don’t think I left the house. My children foraged like Civil War deserters. Hubbo would walk by, shaking his head sadly.
I knew, even as I worked that Tarragon into its destiny, that this wouldn’t last long. But I kept going anyway, wanting to see how much of the pattern I could squeeze out before the yarn disappeared.
At this point, I’ve scored some awesome Roseberry from Mary aka Divette on Ravelry, some Rainforest and Pickle on eBay, but it’s going to be a while. If anybody wants to deal with a desperate knitter, I’m willing to trade the guinea pig and/or beta fish for:
2 skeins #477 Tarragon
2 skeins #490 Elderberry
2 skeins #484 Bramble
2 skeins #482 Juniper
2 skeins #485 Bay
So here I sit, ground to a halt but itching to knit. Yarn, yarn everywhere, but not a foot to knit.

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  1. I have none of those yarns, but admire your perseverance/insanity.
    Can’t wait to follow this story over the next few weeks. Years??

  2. I love your attitude, Ann. Last fall I finally started my first strand-in-each-hand, knit-Continental-and-English-at-same-time fair isle project: a Jade Starmore kit from Virtual yarns. I fell in love. Once my hands finally got that technique, I was as wild as a kid who’s just learned to ride a bike. I want to do it ALL THE TIME! And once I’d opened the box of Hebridean yarn, I was already hooked on the colors. They glow. So yes, I already have two more kits waiting on my to-do list, and am thinking of buying more. . . why do you ask?
    (Btw, I have a “swatch kit” of teeny skeins of Virtual Yarns’ full color spectrum– and often sit and admire them like a dragon playing in its hoard of gold).

  3. You can have everything I still have lying around, but I’m not saying any of it will be USEFUL, you know? Well, not for this exact sweater, but it’ll be useful for something. I seem to think last time I sent you stuff there were skeins I kept here because a bit of me said ‘Ann will not WANT all of your hoarded crap’. But it seems you do. And I know it’s not crap, but you know what I mean. Tell you what, I’ll find it, I’ll e-mail you and tell you what it is. Some of it may even have Kaffe labels on it, it’s that old. x x x

  4. ps – I think Mary de B was right with the ‘i’ word…

  5. To bravely cast on while knowing you do not, yet, have enough yarn. Such spirit and determination.
    Your 2 days of knitting is lovely!!

  6. This is the best post EVER. You speak for us all, it’s just that few have ever thought that the (apparently not entirely) impossible could be achieved!

  7. How about “I” for “intrepid”? Go, Ann.

  8. I want to hear all about it when you find someone who will trade yarn for pets. All that swirlin’ Ann, it’s gotten to you, but it looks fun and it’s raht perty. I’ll enjoy the show from the safety of the hay wagon, though.

  9. Thing number one Wow! What grit, what determination way to get your OCD on Ann.
    Thing number two “You’re all nuts. I’m going to Moe’s.”;-)

  10. OMG. Just simply gorgeous.

  11. You are going to think I am crazy but hear me out.
    I have had great luck dying the shetland line from Webs to match discontinued colors. It’s already all heathery, and the different fiber colors do pick up the different dye colors in a way that maintains this. It sounds like a heavier yarn than the 2-ply jumperweight shetland, but it isn’t, maybe it’s spun slightly tighter.
    I would suggest looking at each yarn you want to copy, identifying it’s three main component colors, and then finding a yarn that is either close enough to be dyed just a few shades darker, or contains three component colors that will be changed to your original three using the same dye color. Start out with a very low dye concentration, repeat until you get it right. It sounds complicated but it isn’t. Let me know if I can be any help – I did spend two years studying color theory for no apparent reason.

  12. I knit that sweater ages ago, so I’ll check my stash and see if I have any leftovers…

  13. I’m sorry to report that mine was all Starmore yarn. Let me know if you might need any of that, though. Good luck!

  14. Have you posted on the ISO thread on Ravelry? (I think it stands for “In Search Of.” Lots of trading and whatnot going on there.
    Good luck! I am as obsessive as you (in fact, it’s kind of refreshing to know I’m not alone in this) but so far, yarn has not been an object of one of my international search efforts. Not yet.

  15. Hi Ann,
    Great post, loving the yarn love. Just to say, I’m from Ireland and my boyfriend grew up just down the road from Durrow, from whence ze fabled Book of Durrow came. Boy, are they proud of that book round those parts. And so they should be … So yes, I will be checking out that blog.

  16. Now the question is whether you’re going to have faith and cut your steeks without the crutch of a sewing machine.

  17. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever been as dedicated in a project as this. I wouldn’t call what you are doing insane, because at least you knew what you wanted to knit and what you wanted to knit with. Here I am just wandering amongst my stash trying to figure out what to make half the time.

  18. I’ve got everything that Ann lacks for her sweater, except one skein of Bramble (#484) and have sent Ann an email. If someone else can furnish the one skein of Bramble, we can get her back to churning out that sweater in no time at all!
    Mary G.

  19. I have been hoarding Donegal Lambswool for years. It was a great yarn. I have plans for it but I will look at the inventory to see what I can part with. You are very brave.

  20. If you needed leftover yarn from the Virtual Yarns kit, I could (and would!) help you out…as it is, I’ll have to simply wish you the best of luck. I promise you this, though…the final sweater is so very worth it.

  21. i do not have wooly stuff in my stash
    i like the colours and pattern
    if you all knitted dish cloths
    for larissa brown as kay did
    and as i did -they are posted
    all 132- kay is on first page
    and so am i -her web site then over
    to flicker- tourjours gai

  22. Ann, you are so you. It’s so marvy. Of course, you want something complicated to knit. I remember the million ends of Fern for the state fair. Of course, you love the colors AND you love the murk and you must create the incredible color play of fair isle with TWEEDY colors. This is why we love you, why we’re here, and why I’m so very glad that Mary G is hooking you up so we can watch the tweed slowly unfolding in the background of your life. I expect to see a blog post of you finishing it just in time for Clif’s graduation. From college. Somewhere cold enough to wear it during graduation.

  23. Glad to know that you are not offering to trade the children. Trading the pets is extreme, but trading the children would be wrong. Remember that in case these feelings come back stronger.

  24. Ann, Ann, Ann. Only a guinea pig and/or a fish?
    What kind of a knitter are you? If you were anywhere near as far gone as you suggest, you’d be offering your child(ren), and probably the neighbors’ by now, for the right yarn for this project.
    Then we’d know you’re serious…

  25. Golly. You have it bad, don’t you?

  26. Wow, that is going to be beautiful. Good luck, I don’t think I have Donegal Tweed, but I’ll look.

  27. Fantastic tale of knitterly passion & dedication.
    I have to say, when reading the beginning of the “I have everything Ann needs to finish the sweater…” post, I could’ve sworn somebody was about to take us hostage. I thought she was going to say “Leave the discontinued alpaca/cashmere/silk in an unmarked suitcase in the parking lot of Costco, and it will be exchanged for the Lambswool by a woman wearing a red jacket. Do not approach the case until she has gone.”
    But hey, someone actually has almost all of it! You’re on your way!
    (and no one had to be offered as a hostage, not even pets!)

  28. Rotsa Ruck, Miss Crazy Pants! You’ll be hiding out somewhere soon, hissing,”My precioussssss…”

  29. Yo ANN!
    eBay has an auction for the #482 Juniper – 6 skeins!
    You gotta at least try to get it.
    I couldn’t find any of the other shades there.
    Tiny Tyrant


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