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  • Guest blogger, Colleen Diamond

     I first started following Colleen on Ravelry.   I loved her finished projects and she seemed to be "favoriting" knits that I was also drawn to.   Not only does Colleen have an amazing style, she is also a very talented photographer.   All the photos in this post are hers.  Be sure to follow Colleen on Instagram and her Ravelry page.

    Colleen wearing her finished Telja sweater by Jenn Steingass from By Hand Issue 2

    Hello, My name is Colleen. I live on the Southern Shore of Lake Ontario. I'm an avid photographer who enjoys documenting my creative projects online.

    I've been making things with my hands all my life, so it was only natural I wanted to learn how to knit. My mother taught me to knit as a young girl, she showed me the basics, and I knit my first garter stitch scarf using a pair of vintage aluminium needles and acrylic yarn. Many years later (in 2004, to be exact) I revisited knitting after being inspired by Debbie Stoller's Knitters Handbook: Stitch'n Bitch. Knitting sort of became a way of life for me after that. There is not one day that goes by without me knitting or daydreaming about it.

    Lately, I've been putting my ideas on paper and writing patterns for my own designs. I'm much more confident at following a pattern than being in the design seat, but it's nice every now and then to switch gears and push myself out of my comfort zone. I'm often test knitting for designers that I know and admire their work  It gives me a better understanding of what it takes to be a good designer.


    If I'm not knitting, I love to naturally dye wool fibres with plants and kitchen scraps. I love the process of harvesting plant matter to make into a dye — I'm always stunned by the beautiful shades that nature can produce. Some of my favourites to dye with are black walnuts, black turtle beans, marigolds, avocados and European buckthorn. 

    Holding a basket of Léttlopi and wearing her Afmæli sweater by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    As a Canadian, I spend half the year being extremely cold! For that reason I need to find ways to keep as cozy as possible!

    Icelandic wool is like no other wool. For starters, it's incredibly warm and insulating, thanks to its two types of fibres. It is lightweight, breathable, water repellent and hard wearing. All of those qualities, plus the rustic feel of the yarn, and the wide array of saturated and natural colours make me choose it whenever possible, it's also very reasonably priced. 

    I always block my finished garments with a mild wool wash, in lukewarm water before I wear them as it softens the wool and blooms the fibres to a beautiful fabric.

    Wearing Grettir by Jared flood, knit in Léttlopi .

    Wearing her Aftur sweater by by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    The back of her Afmæli sweater by Védís Jónsdóttir for Ístex.

    I'm often drawn to the traditional designs of Icelandic patterns for their beauty and function. Usually the patterns blend Icelandic nature and landscapes into their designs which appeals to me as a knitter/designer.
    With a wide range of Icelandic patterns to choose from, my favourite is the bottom-up yoke. I love how quickly a lopapeysa flies off the needles — for me, it's the anticipation or reaching the yoke that makes me knit a lot faster!

    Ultimately, I love the task of picking colour combinations and watching the magic unfold as I knit. Each lopapeysa is like a work of art with the possibilities being endless. 
  • Blær


    When you think of an Icelandic sweater a delicate and feminine lace cardigan may not come to mind, but Blær, our sweater for last year's Icelandic Wool Month is just that.   Designed by Beatrice Perron Dahlen, Blær , which is Icelandic for a gentle breeze, is the perfect sweater for cooler spring mornings and evenings or for those that live in warmer climates.  Knit in Istex's Einband, this lovely cardigan is knit from the top down with a lace yoke inspired by traditional Lopapeysa motifs.  

    From the designer,  Beatrice Perron Dahlen: 

    “Icelandic wool lives up to its reputation in every way. It is light, warm and very resilient—an experience that every knitter must give themselves the chance at. Einband is all of those things, but even softer and lighter. It’s like wearing a divine cozy cloud. This piece was designed with the iconic Icelandic sweater in mind, but rather than bold colorwork on the yoke, it has a simple, elegant lace that evokes the diamond shapes so often found in a lopapeysa yoke. It is knit top-down and seamlessly, because I do love a top-down seamless yoke. Increases for the yoke are incorporated into the lace pattern. The neck and hems have a subtle ombre color change that could be tweaked for a different look, or omitted altogether. This timeless design will become a wardrobe staple and heirloom knit.” 


    Beatrice Perron Dahlen of Thread & Ladle is a knitwear designer from Maine.  Her newest book, Maine Knits is available here.

  • Hespa by Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    During my trip to Iceland two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Guðrún Bjarnadottir at her dye studio in Borgarnes.   My trip was in March which is the off-season of tourism and the Hespa studio was only open by appointment.   Guðrún was so kind to welcome my husband and me to her lovely studio and to share with us her story of naturally dyed Icelandic yarn, she also took us to her neighbor's farm where we got to see some Icelandic sheep.   We are so excited to be able to carry Hespa yarn at Tolt and are to happy have Guðrún on our blog today!
    Photo courtesy of Guðrún Bjarnadottir

    I started coloring with plants about 8 years ago when I was writing my masters thesis about Ethnobotany. I found old information about coloring with plants and became facinated by the idea. I started experimenting and lost control of my hobby. Coloring with plants combines everything that I am interested in: Agriculture, icelandic sheep, dye plants and plant identification, handcraft and old traditions. It all comes together in one dyepot. Coloring with plants is always a surprise, you can never get the same color twice while coloring with synthetic colors gives you the same colors again and again… It is the surprise part that keeps me going. If the colors stop surprising me I will probably lose interest.


    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    Coloring with plants is seasonal. In Iceland we have a short summer, 3-4 months, and I have to collect plants in autumn so I can color in the winter and then I wait very excited for the first plants to start growing. When I was younger my grandmother taught me to identify the plants and told my about how they were used in the old days. My mother was a handcraft teacher so I did a lot of handcraft when I was young. I live in the countryside, not on a farm but very close to many sheep farms. I only have to walk outside of my house to get most of my coloring plants and meet the sheep from the next farm. Some plants I have to go further to collect like the lichens and Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). I teach botany and plant identification at the Acricultural University in the next village so plants and the nature are very important to me. I am very lucky to live in the countryside in a beautiful house with my studio in the garage. Outside of my house is one of the best salmon fishing rivers in the area and the Troll peak (Skessuhorn) mountain that is symbolic for the West of Iceland is very close, there is also a Lake (Skorradalsvatn) and lots of beautiful nature and walking paths in the area. All this environment makes it perfect to work with nature and enjoy working in the area and at home in my studio.

    Photo from Annas trip to Iceland

    I color according to the old coloring tradition in Iceland. Our problem with coloring is that we are only a small Island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and we have very few plant species. We have about 500. We came as settlers from Norway to Iceland in the 9th century and in Norway they have 1300 plants. We also came from the British Isles and they have 4000-5000 plants so they have much more options of getting colors from nature. We can not get blue and good red from our nature so we have for centurys imported indigo and Madder root for those colors so that is according to our tradition. I color with the same process as people did in the old days but I have electricity and better dyepots (Stainless steel) and I also use houshould cleaning ammonium instead of old cow urine as people did in the old days. Same methods, same chemistry but easier and cleaner process.

    It is very important to me to respect nature, never take to much of the plants and be careful with the chemicals if I use chemicals that are bad for the environment. In the earlier centuries people used iron, chrome, tin and copper powder alot for changing the colors. To day we know that these chemicals are bad for us and the environment. I only use copper in very little amount and I take the leftover water to the recycling company. As a mordant for all my yarn I use Alum and that is not bad for the environment and I reuse it constantly.

    Coloring with plants and teaching provides a very happy and diverse lifestyle. In the winter I teach botany and in the summer plant identification for a few days. In the summer my studio is open for guests to look into the dyepots. I get to meet a lot of fun Icelandic students and people from all over the world that come to my studio in the summer and also in the winter. I go outside to pick plants, get to walk around in nature and working in my studio gives me great pleasure.

     Photo from Annas trip to Iceland


  • Skógafjall by Dianna Walla


     Photo courtesy of Dianna Walla

    We are thrilled that Dianna Walla was able to work with us again, this time designing, Skógafjall, a gorgeous Lopapeysa for this years Icelandic Wool Month.   Dianna is an amazing designer and we have been so fortunate to work with her in other projects, she designed our Hearth Slippers and also the lovely Aspen Socks from Farm to Needle book.   We also featured her other lopi designs during our previous Icelandic Wool Month celebrations, Moon Pulls and Moon Sprites.

    You can find Dianna on Instagram @cakeandvikings and her website, Paper Tiger.

    Photo courtesy of Dianna Wallla
    Where are you from and what brought you to Norway?
    I grew up in North Carolina but I've moved around a lot since I finished my undergraduate degree. I moved to Seattle, where my husband is from, in 2009 and it's definitely my second home. But between a semester abroad in France and a year of teaching in Hungary, I recently realized that Norway (where I've lived since 2015) is the fourth country I've lived in! We moved here for the master's program I'm currently in, but there are many things that drew both of us to the country. The language, culture, and history have been a big part of the fabric of my life for years. The incredible natural beauty, the climate, and the textile traditions based in wool are a big part of the draw as well.
    Photo courtesy of Dianna Walla
    When did you start knitting?  Designing knitwear?
    My mother taught me to knit when I was a child, but knitting didn't become such a big part of my life until I around the end of high school. In college, I knit my first sweater, had my first experience buying local yarn from a farmer's market, and I kind of never looked back. By the time I started my first graduate degree in 2009, I was getting interested in designing, initially by making larger and larger modifications to existing patterns. In 2010 I designed my first sweater from scratch (which ended up being the prototype for my design, Sundottir) and I learned a lot about swatching and how much math was really involved in the process. A round yoke is such an excellent blank canvas for creative expression. I kept experimenting, coming up with my own designs, and by 2012 I really became "a designer," in the sense that I started taking it seriously, building a portfolio of work and submitting to magazines and other third parties. I love that however proud I am of the work that I've done in the past several years, I'll always have a special place in my heart for Sundottir, the first sweater I designed.
    What inspired the design for this sweater?
    Since moving to northern Norway in the summer of 2015, I've garnered a new appreciation for Icelandic wool and its wonderful properties. Tromsø is farther north than the entirety of Iceland, but Tromsø and Reykjavík have very similar climates, and their northern latitudes mean the seasonal shifts in terms of both weather and light are very similar. Historically, the traditional calendars of both Iceland and Norway only recognized two seasons: summer and winter. I feel a kinship between Iceland and (especially northern) Norway. So as I've been learning more and more about the heritage sheep and wool varieties native to Norway, I've been thinking about their similarities to the Icelandic sheep. All of this makes Icelandic wool a great match for the climate here in Tromsø, so it made sense to draw inspiration from my own locale when it came to designing this sweater. I've experienced two Augusts here now, and in early August the surrounding mountains are still very green. Because we're so far north, the tree line is relatively low, so the deeply-colored mountainside greenery often gives way to lighter scrubby brush and finally silvery-grey rocky peaks. It forms a beautiful gradient of color and I've wanted to knit that into a sweater since my very first week here. This also provided the inspiration for the name, Skógafjall, which is roughly "forest mountain" in Icelandic. 
    Dianna's other guest blog post with us:
    It’s hard not to fall in love with Iceland -From March 2015, our first Tolt Icelandic Wool Month
    You can also read more about the Skógafjall sweater on Dianna's blog.
  • Stock Your Sock Drawer : Jenny Blumenstein

    To kick off our Stock Your Sock Drawer blog post series we have Jenny Blumenstien.   Jenny is a Tolt staffer, knitting instructor, knitwear designer, and knitwear model.  We are so lucky to have Jenny as part of our Tolt team!


    Do you consider yourself a "sock knitter"?   Why do you like to knit socks?
    There was a season in my knitting that I really enjoyed knitting socks exclusively. I consider myself more of a garment knitter right now but enjoy having a sock on the needle at all times. It's so portable!  I joke that I should have sock yarn and needles stowed in my glove compartment in case of emergency (when I leave the house without my knitting).
    When did you knit your first pair of socks?   Was it harder or easier than you thought?
    I knit my first pair of socks as part of a KAL with Knitpurlhunter in March 2011. I decided to also do my first pair two at a time because I knew that I wouldn't want to go through all the work of making one and then have the feeling of starting over. I didn't think it was harder or easier than I thought because I knew the whole experience was a learning one, but I remember being so excited when I got through the heel. It felt like this tube just magically became a "SOCK"!
    Are you a DPN or Magic Loop knitter and why?   Has it always been that way? If not when and why did you make the switch?
    I started off knitting socks using magic loop and two at a time. Then I went through a period that I knit them one at a time exclusively on dpns. Now I enjoy knitting them either on dpns or magic loop but one at a time because it makes them so portable.
    Do you have a favorite pattern or heel and toe construction?
    My go to sock pattern right now is Ann Budd's 8 stitch per inch pattern. It's a basic sock pattern that allows me to have a mindless knit with fun sock yarn.  I love learning different techniques, so I enjoy knitting different patterns because of the construction or design.  Silver Birch by Louise Tilbrook is a toe up sock that fit my feet so nicely and look sophisticated.  Hermione's everday sock by Erica Lueder has one of my favorite heel flap construction. Cookie A has so many patterns that are like having works of art on your feet.
    Is there a favorite sock yarn at Tolt that you have worked with or want to work with?
    I love the colors and the durability of Hazelknits Artisan sock.  I've knit with 3 of the Arne and Carlos colorways made for Regia. It makes knitting a basic sock pattern so much fun.  I've also tested washing a pair in my washing machine and putting it in the dryer to see if what they put on the label was true. They came out fine! I love using YOTH Little Brother or Magpie swanky sock for a more luxurious pair of socks.  I would love to knit a pair of socks using The Farmers Daughter beautifully dyed yarn....soon.
    Do you have any tips, tricks or advice you can give to other sock knitters new or experienced?
    There's so many different techniques and ways to knit socks. If you've tried and didn't get a certain result there's always another way, so don't get discouraged and give it another try. 

    Jenny will be teaching the Stock Your Sock Drawer series at Tolt, you can check out her classes here.   Be sure to share your projects with us on Instagram by tagging us at #toltknits and #stockyoursockdrawer .

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