Snow Day jumper knitalong part four: the sleeves

Hello there – ready for the next part of our knitalong? This time you’re going to master two skills: knitting in rib and increasing. Yes, it’s time for the sleeves.

The first thing you need to do is cast on the number of stitches that the pattern tells you to for your size. Then you need to establish your rib.

All that ‘2×2 rib’ means is knit two stitches, then purl two stitches, then repeat these four stitches until you get to the end of the row. So you need to knit the first two stitches as I’ve done below:

Your yarn will be at the back. Bring it to the front, like so:

and purl the next two stitches.

Take  your yarn to the back again to knit the next two stitches, like so:

then bring it forward again to purl the two stitches after that, and so on and so forth until you have reached the end of your row. You now have one row of ribbing on your needle. Voila! You can see mine below.

Turn your work and rib the next row, as established. This just means that you knit into all the knit stitches (which look like they are wearing little v-neck jumpers) and purl all the purl stitches (which look like they are wearing turtlenecks). You’ll find that you knit two, purl two, all the way along the row. Keep working back and forth like this until you have an inch of ribbing. Make sure that you finish with a wrong side row. It’s impossible to tell right and wrong sides from ribbing alone, so a good trick is to remember that your cast on tail will be dangling from under the last stitches you knit on a wrong side row, and the first that you knit in a right side row. You can see that I’m just about to start a right side row in the photo below.

So that’s the ribbing mastered.

Now it’s time to start increasing. If we didn’t increase, our sleeves would either be too baggy round the cuff or too small around the top of your arm. But increasing is easy. While we’re increasing, we want to keep our ribbing looking good, so follow the instructions to the letter.

First, you need to purl the first stitch of the next row. I know that it’s a knit stitch, but you need to purl it. Trust me. You can see mine here:

You’ll notice that there’s only one knit stitch now, before the next pair of purl stitches. Move your working yarn to the back of your work. What you’re going to do is make another knit stitch, which is known as making one knitwise. You do this by knitting into the strand of yarn which runs between the knit stitch on your left needle, and the stitch you’ve just purled on your right needle. In the photo below, my pencil is pointing at the strand of yarn in question.

What you need to do is insert your left needle under this strand from the back to the front. The strand should now be lying over your left needle, like so:

Now you’re going to knit this strand of yarn as if it was a normal stitch. So you want to insert your right hand needle under the strand from front to back, and left to right. It can be a bit awkward at first, but don’t worry, it is right. You can make it easier by pulling more of the strand forward over the needle with your left index finger, to make a bigger gap for your right needle to get in under. Once inserted, it should look like this:

Okay? Now knit it, just like a normal stitch. You’ll now have a knit stitch and a purl stitch on your right hand needle, and the next stitch on your left hand needle will be a knit stitch too. Here’s mine:

That’s it. You just made a stitch, knitwise. Work the rest of the row in the established rib, stopping one stitch before the end. That means you’ll knit the next stitch, then purl two, knit two all the way to the end of the row, stopping before the last stitch, which will be a purl stitch. Leave it on your left needle. We’re going to make a new purl stitch from the strand of yarn lying between this last stitch on the left needle, and the one you’ve just purled on your right needle. My pencil is pointing at the strand in question:

Now, making one purlwise (for that is what we are about to do) follows exactly the same principles as making one knitwise, only we insert our needles differently. This time, you want to insert your left hand needle from the front to the back of the strand of yarn.

Once you’ve done that, you insert your right hand needle into the strand from back to front, right to left, ready to purl:

Then purl as normal. There! You just made one purlwise.

Knit the last stitch. Yes, I know that it’s a purl stitch, but if you look at your right hand needle you’ll find that you’ve already got a pair of purl stitches. So the final stitch of the row now needs to be a knit stitch. Here’s my completed row.

You’ll have noticed that, from left to right, the stitches are knit, then two purls, then two knits and so forth. This is correct.

Follow the pattern for the rest of the sleeve, paying close attention to whether each increase is knitwise or purlwise, and whether you need to knit or purl the first and last stitches of each increase row.

When you get to the top of your sleeve, you need to bind off in rib. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that you BIND OFF LOOSELY. You’d be hard pressed to bind off too loosely and to be honest, it wouldn’t really matter if you did. No-one is going to see this top edge as it is going to be sewn to the inside of the jumper (sweater). Bind off too tightly, though, and you won’t be able to get your arm into your sleeve. This is because the ribbing needs to be able to stretch right across that top edge, and if there isn’t lots of extra yarn available for it to stretch out nice and wide, it simply won’t be able to. So be generous with your yarn, and keep things looser than you think can possibly be necessary.

The other thing you need to know about binding off in rib is that you have to keep to the purl two, knit two pattern whilst binding off. That’s perfectly straightforward, but I’ll show you how it’s done anyway.

First, purl two stitches NICE AND LOOSELY. See below how the purl stitches on the right needle are loose?

With the left needle, lift the first stitch that you purled over the other one and off the end of the needle – just binding off normally. Resist the urge to pull anything tight:

Now, because we’ve just purled two stitches, the next stitch will be a knit stitch. You don’t even have to keep count; just have a look to see what the next stitch will be. You can see in the photo above that it’s wearing a v-neck (rather than a turtleneck) so it’s a knit stitch. Move your yarn to the back, ready to knit this stitch, like so:

and knit it.

Now you’re going to bind off the purl stitch which is sitting to the right of the knit stitch. Just lift it over and off the end of the needle, keeping everything very very loose, so that your work looks like mine, below.

The next stitch is another knit stitch, so knit it very very loosely. Fight the urge to pull that working yarn taut!

Then bind off the previous stitch. In this photo you begin to get a sense of how loose my stitches are – can you see how big that most recently bound off stitch is? That’s just what we’re after.

The next stitch is wearing a turtleneck, so I know I need to purl it, and so I move my working yarn to the front again like so:

and I purl it very loosely and bind off the preceding stitch and so on and so forth.

Once you’ve bound off a few stitches, just take a moment to check that you are binding off loosely enough. To do this, pull on your bound off edge and see how far it stretches. If you’ve done things loosely enough, the ribbing will be able to stretch to its full extent. In the photo I am stretching mine, and it is lovely and stretchy.

Keep binding off very loosely in rib all the way to the end of the row, stopping every now and then to check that everything is still lovely and loose and stretchy. When you get to the final stitch, as shown in the photo below, cut the yarn with a long tail and pull it through that stitch as you take it off the needle.

Now for the moment of truth. (Don’t worry, if you’ve kept things loose this is guaranteed to be fine.) If you take a look at the ‘Making Up’ section of the pattern, it tells you how far to measure for the armhole down the front and back. Multiply this number by two (for my size it says 7.5″, so that makes 15″.) Using your tape measure or ruler, see how far the top of your sleeve will stretch. You can see from the photo that mine stretched to at least 17.5″ without pinging out from under the speaker that was holding the far end down while I took the photograph. That’s brilliant, because I only need it to stretch to 15″. It’s got stretch to spare!

That’s the first sleeve done. Well done! Making the second will be a walk in the park, now. Happy knitting, and see you again for the final tutorial next Friday: making up.

Madeleine

How are you getting on with your Snow Day?

A small, sustainable wardrobe: how to buy new

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

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I know, I know. Shopping is the antithesis of having a small wardrobe. Buying new does not bode well for sustainability. But sometimes you need to buy something, and you need to buy it new.

I don’t use the word need lightly. I’m not talking about the perfect pair of shoes to go with a new dress, or the cruel temptation in the latest catalogue to plop fatly onto my hall floor. Not that I’m immune to such things: we are all human. No, I’m talking underwear and base layers. Tights, socks, thermal vests, bras and knickers. The things that I do genuinely think we need to buy new.

I don’t actually have any qualms about buying all of these things brand new, because I know that I will wear these basics over and over again until they are fit for nothing but the compost heap. What I do sometimes struggle with is how to buy them. Do I shop ethically but online, and risk a sea of plastic packaging? Do I worry about the delivery truck driving just to my house, when I could collect something from M&S on my bike? Do I spend more on my underthings than a couple of good meals? Is that obscene? Should I buy one set for me and one for charity? (Nobody donates underthings to charity, new or used). What do I do with the old ones? How many do I need? What colours? Seriously, I could go on. But life is short, and there are more important things to agonise about, so I have a few rules of thumb. In no particular order, these are personal my New Things purchasing guidelines.

Number one: buy organic if you can. Especially if you are buying cotton. Contrary to popular belief, buying organic isn’t about you. Quite frankly, with the amount of toxins sloshing about our daily lives I really don’t think that the residues of pesticides on our clothing – especially after multiple washes – are going to have a significant impact on our health. But they do have an enormous impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who grow cotton. They also have a tremendous impact on the health of the soil in which it is grown, and the surrounding ecosystem.

Number two: buy from a company that you trust to treat its workers fairly. Again, this is about people. I want to know – not just hope – that the people putting my clothes together are paid properly and treated with dignity.

Number three: buy less. Just buy what you need (and maybe a second set to donate, if you feel that way inclined). I have enough to get me through a week. I don’t need more than that. Let your laundry habits be your guide.

Number four: a little forethought goes a long way. I know it sounds dull, but sitting down and working out how many skin-coloured sets vs. other-coloured sets you actually need is a vital part of buying less. Work out which colours of tights will enable to you actually get dressed in the mornings. And for goodness’ sake, make sure you know what’s comfortable.

Number five: go local and go small. If you can buy what you need locally, then do. It saves on transport emissions as well as packaging. If you can’t, try to buy from a smaller company with ethical credentials. Most of us don’t have time to investigate the business ethics of every company we buy from, but you can get a sense of whether ethics are a priority or just a greenwashing exercise. Oh, and ask for plastic-free packaging if they don’t offer it as standard.

Number six: love what you buy. Don’t buy something that you don’t particularly like, just because it’s fair trade or organic or whatever. Hold out for something that you are going to enjoy putting on week after week until it falls apart. Otherwise you’ll be back on the shopping treadmill before you know it.

Number seven: aftercare. Now that you’ve bought it, take care of it. Wool and silk last far, far longer with a bit of attention. Wash things by hand, or at the very least, on the delicates cycle with some wool/ silk detergent. It takes far less time than you think.

I tend to do a little overhaul every spring and autumn and this autumn I’ve not had to buy much new. Some underthings and the thermal vest pictured above. None of it was cheap, but I’ve been wearing those vests for years and know exactly how long it’ll last. We’re being advised not to buy anything that we won’t wear at least 30 times, which is a very achievable target. I’ve worked my vests out at 135 days of wear – and that’s a conservative estimate. After a few seasons, it’ll be in no state for anything but to be snipped up and mixed into the compost heap. So I think it’s worth it, on all sorts of levels.

As I said, there are other things that I buy new, from time to time. No doubt they will be the subject of another post. Really, though, the same rules apply. That, and just trying your best, and not being too hard on yourself if you get it wrong and find yourself wondering what to do with that novelty PVC catsuit on November 1st. You know the drill. Only 29 more outings to go. Ready to do the school run in style?

Madeleine

Have I missed anything out? What are your rules of thumb for buying new?

The Saturdays

As a child, one of the books that I read over and over again was The Saturdays. In Enright’s tale, four New York siblings are bored every Saturday, until they decide to pool their allowance and let one person have an adventure with it each week.

It’s a very long time since I had a long and empty Saturday – what a treat that would be! But, busy as they are, they can still be boring. Between the cleaning and the shopping, the homework and mountain of logs to be stacked, Saturdays can be a bit mundane. This year, though, we seem to have stumbled upon a bit of a plan.

It turns out that a plan was just what we needed. (Who would have guessed?) With the children being the ages that they are, little rhythms have fallen into place. I make a vat of soup, to last the week. John visits the fishmonger, to buy something delicious for tea (moules frites, anyone?) Birthday cards are made and posted. One or another of the children bakes a cake. And then I have a little crafternoon, with anyone who wishes to join me.

It’s only a little crafternoon, because by the time the house is clean and piano practice done and the fridge full up for the week ahead and so on and so forth, there are usually just two or maybe three hours left to play. But that’s enough time, if you’ve planned ahead, to achieve something quick and crafty. Last week, I made beeswax balms. The week before, I worked on my Lionberry shawl while Ilse crocheted a snood with impressive speed. Before that, we made some beeswrap. Having everything to hand, ready to begin, is a wonderful thing. With a bit of preparation, cakes get baked, chairs waxed, pots filled with protective goodness.

This week, inspired by all the fun with beeswax, Ilse suggested that we use the candle-making kit she received for her birthday and, knowing that this Saturday was going to be particularly full of jobs, I agreed. We aren’t really a kit-making family, to be honest. We generally tend to make things up for ourselves. So it was particularly pleasant to set out the chopping board and a couple of sharp knives and look on, knitting in hand, as Ilse and Seb worked their way through all the candles in the kit. Apart from the odd bit of tricky cutting, I wasn’t really needed at all. I was quite happy, then, to nibble my chelsea bun, sip tea, and admire their progress – all the while knitting furiously on another jumper sample.

I worked out that I’ve knit three jumpers in the last month, and cast on for one more yesterday evening. There is no shortage of craft in my life. In fact, I fully intend to do less knitting as soon as the latest pattern is launched, for fear of doing damage to my hands. They are beginning to seize up a bit. So why, you might wonder, would I want to do yet more crafting on a precious Saturday afternoon?

I suppose it’s the difference between work and play: making something just for fun, as opposed to creating something with the intention of publication. Then there’s the family aspect of it – I love watching my children’s creativity. And the pleasure of bashing something out in a couple of hours flat, rather than taking days and days to get it right. Plus the satisfaction of ticking something off the ‘I’d like to…’ list.

Not all Saturday crafternoons are crafty, strictly speaking. Sometimes Fliss draws. We have plans for a Christmas cake quite soon, and a batch of garden chutney. But they are the sort of activities that don’t quite fit anywhere else in our week. Too long for a weekday evening, too short to fill a luxuriously lazy Sunday. As long as we’ve thought ahead and got everything we need, we can make these things in a couple of hours in an otherwise bustling day. Who knows how long it’ll last, how long before no-one wants to sit and knit with me. No doubt the family rhythms will shift again, before long. But for now, this is how we spend our Saturdays.

Madeleine

Please excuse the flatness of these photos – we’ve had high winds, grey skies and lots of rain, none of which are helpful in taking a decent photograph!

How was your weekend? Do you have a rhythm on Saturdays, or is every one different?

Snow Day knitalong part three: the front

Hello again! Ready to start the front? The weekend would be a great time to work your first few bobbles, so that you’ve got them down pat before the week begins again. Then you’ll be able to knit the rest of the front during the coming week, knowing exactly what you’re doing.

To start with, the front is exactly like the back. If you want a reminder of how the bottom hem and notches are worked, take another look at last week’s knitalong tutorial. Just bear in mind that the pattern specifies a different number of rows for the front and back notches – you don’t do as many for the front. Once you’ve finished the notch section, it’s time to start on the bobbles.

You begin by knitting however many stitches the pattern specifies for your size, in order to reach the point where you will make your first bobble. So take a moment to knit to that place, and then have a quick read of all the bobble instructions before making your first bobble.

You’re going to make a bobble out of the next stitch. In the photo below, the metal needle is pointing at the stitch that you are going to make the bobble out of.

Knit the stitch, but don’t slide it off the left needle. In the photo below, the newly knitted stitch is on the right needle, but the original stitch is still on the left needle (being held on by my index finger). You’ve just made two stitches out of one original stitch.

Put your yarn to the front of your work, so that you are ready to purl.

Now purl into the same stitch (the one that my index finger is touching in the photo above). You can see my inserted needle, ready to purl that stitch, in the photo below.

 

Again, don’t slide this stitch off your needle. You can now see, as in the photo below, that you have two new stitches (one knit and one purl) on your right needle, and still that same original stitch on your left needle (my index finger is holding it in the photo below).

Move your yarn to the back of your work again, as in the photo below.

and knit into this same stitch again, as you can see me doing below.

This time, you are finally allowed to slide that stitch off your left needle once you’ve knitted it. So you can see, below, that my thumb is indicating the three new stitches that we’ve made out of that single initial stitch. There’s a purl stitch in the centre, and a knit stitch on either side of it.

Okay? So you’ve turned one stitch into three. This provides the breadth of the bobble. Now we need to give it some height. To do this, we’re going to work just these three new stitches for a couple of rows of stocking stitch, as follows:

Turn your work so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front, so that you are set up like the photo below.

Purl the first three stitches. (They are the ones that you have just worked.)

Turn your work again so that the right side is facing you, and move your yarn to the back, as you can see below.

Knit these same three stitches.

Turn your work again so that the wrong side is facing you, bring your yarn to the front once more, as shown in the photo below.

 

Purl the same three stitches again.

Finally, turn your work so that the right side is facing, and move your yarn to the back again, as shown below.

This is the special bit. You’re going to knit all three of these same stitches together into one stitch. To do this, you literally knit the three stitches as if they were one. You can see that I’m doing this in the photo below. In fact, treating all three stitches as one even makes it look as if I’m only knitting one stitch. I’m not; my needle is inserted through all three stitches knitwise (i.e. as if knitting normally) at the same time.

Wrap your working yarn to make a knit stitch (as usual), move the right needle under the left (as usual) and slide all three stitches off the left needle – just as if you were knitting one ordinary stitch.

That’s it! You’ve made a bobble! It’ll look more like a proper bobble once you’ve worked a couple more rows. For now, just knit a few more stitches, keeping count so that you know when to make the next bobble. In the photo below you can see that I’ve knit my bobble, with all that bulk below and to the right of it, and then three more normal knit stitches.

I assure you that it’ll look much more like a proper bobble in a couple of rows’ time, at which point you’ll be able to give it a prod and a poke from behind to make it more rounded and full. For now though, just concentrate on getting to the end of the row. Remember, count your stitches and stop when it’s time to make the next bobble.

By the time you get to the end of your row, it’ll look something like this:

My empty needle is pointing at one of the bobbles.

Carry on in stocking stitch (knit the right side rows, purl the wrong side rows) for the specified number of rows, then work the next bobble row in exactly the same way. You’ll notice that on the next bobble row there are fewer bobbles and more knit stitches in between them.

Carry on knitting the front of your jumper until you reach the length specified for your size in the pattern, or your desired length (but only if you bought extra wool to allow for extra length). Don’t worry which row of the bobble-making pattern you finish on; it doesn’t matter. Just make sure that you make a wrong side (even numbered) row the last one you work.

Now it’s time to shape the neckline. We’re going to do this in a particularly simple way, with just a hint of shaping to allow the front neck to lie fractionally lower than the back. You’ll find that the neckline naturally curves gently into a lovely boatneck shape the first time you wear it.

Knit the whole next row, and turn your work, ready to purl. The pattern will tell you how many stitches to purl for your size; purl only this number of stitches and stop. It will look like this:

 

Now turn your work, make sure that your yarn is at the back, ready to knit, and knit the same (small number of) stitches back again.

Turn your work again, and purl the same stitches again. Your work should now look like mine does below, with the small section you’ve just worked a couple of rows longer than the rest of the neckline.

Now you are going to carry on purling the rest of the row, but you need to be really careful with the next stitch. Purl it really loosely, so that the longer section that you’ve just created will be able to stand up higher than the middle bit of the neckline. You’ll know that you’ve done it well if there’s just  the littlest of little holes to show where the join is. The needle is pointing at mine in the photo below.

Can you see how the fabric to the left of it is a couple of rows longer than the fabric to the right? By leaving that stitch nice and loose, the longer part of the neck will be able to extend straight up when we bind it off in a minute.

So, you’ve now purled all the way across the top of the front and are about to work the other raised shoulder bit. Knit the number of stitches specified for your size in the pattern, and stop. It will look like this:

Turn your work, bring your yarn to the front and purl those same few stitches back again. Now turn your work again and bind off the same number of stitches.

You’ll find that the last stitch to be bound off will be joined to the lower part of the neckline. Again, you need to make sure that this stitch is nice and loose so that the longer part of the front can stand proud of the lower part.

Knit all the way across the row. Then turn your work and, in purl, bind off the same small number of stitches specified in the pattern. Leaving a nice long tail, cut your yarn. Your front will now look like this:

Can you see the two bits that stick up at either end? They are the shoulders of your jumper.

You will need your needles to knit the sleeves next, so transfer the live stitches to a spare needle, stitch holder or length of spare yarn. That’s the front done!

Madeleine

How are you enjoying knitting your Snow Day? Any questions or feedback? Please let me know in the comments!

 

 

A small, sustainable wardrobe: we are the grown ups now

A series about the clothes we wear and the impact they have both on us and the world around us.

***

My Sharpen Your Pencils dress as modelled by the gorgeous Ella. We got together for a photoshoot in the summer holidays, and she wowed me with how a  woman in her late teens or early twenties might style and wear my clothes. There are more photos to follow of both of us in the patterns. The dress pattern will be available in the coming months.

For some time now, I’ve been mulling over how to present my patterns within the wider context in which they are created. In the end, a series seems the best way forward: a weekly post about clothing and its impact both on us and the world around us.

I have always been interested in the wider world, the health of our planet, and the living conditions of its poorest inhabitants. You don’t grow up in a country like Tanzania in the 1980s and then turn a blind eye to issues like climate change, pollution, poverty, or human rights. Perhaps it seems odd – frivolous even – to approach these issues through the prism of the clothes we wear. Perhaps it is. But we all, without exception, clothe ourselves each day. And when you are conscious of your daily choices in one sphere, this consciousness spills over into other parts of your life, until before you know it, you are buying your loose leaf tea in an old ice cream tub and looking for a car share buddy.

I can distinctly remember learning about climate change at school. I was an early member of Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots – a global environmental organisation which started in Tanzania, educating and inspiring children from kindergarten through to university about the change that they can make to the planet and its people. I remember reading Douglas Adam’s wonderful Last Chance to See, and about the rate at which the rainforests were disappearing, and being taught about the importance of educating women in eradicating poverty. So we kids made our changes: we stopped buying aerosols, and ate less meat, and learned to recycle our waste.

And all the time, I trusted the grown ups to sort the big things out.

More than twenty years on, little has changed. If anything, the rate of destruction has increased. We are producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year. Girls all over the world – including developed countries – miss school every month because of lack of sanitary ware. Between 150 and 200 species go extinct every day. Governments make decisions which they know are harmful rather than helpful to the world and its inhabitants. Even Lovelock’s fantastically optimistic Gaia hypothesis has lost its nerve.

We could do nothing. We could weep and wail and feel powerless in the face of big corporations, big government, big natural disasters that heap still more misery onto human misery. Or we could simply accept that we are the grown ups now.

I have money in my pocket, and I can choose where to spend it. I have places to go, and I can choose how to get there. I have children, and I can choose what sort of a role model I wish to be for them. I have friends, and I can choose what to talk about with them. And I have a voice, here on this blog, that I can choose how to use.

Most recently, I had the choice of what to do with the time that has opened up to me as my children grow ever bigger. I put a lot of thought into what I wanted the legacy of this time to be. In the end, I decided to start a business selling dressmaking and knitwear patterns. How, you might think, is that a positive choice? How will that make a difference? How is that being a grown up?

I started making my own clothes when our children were small and, frankly, we had no money for adult clothes shopping. More pertinently, we had nothing like the money required to buy the ethically made garments I really wanted. So as well as shopping second hand and accepting hand-me-downs, I decided to teach myself to make them. Of course, there wasn’t spare cash for patterns either, so I borrowed a book from the library and tried to draft my own.

Over a decade later, I’ve learned a vast amount. Best of all, I’ve taken charge of the choices I make. Knitting and dressmaking can be as sustainable – or otherwise – as you make it. Churning out clothes that you don’t need or don’t even want is no better than going shopping every Saturday. If you are taking clothes to the charity shop, you are still consuming too much.

Instead, I’ve become fascinated by detail, by skill, by versatility and material. I demand a huge amount of my clothes: that they be warm or cool or cross-seasonal, that they be comfortable, that they be attractive, that they fit into a reasonably compatible colour palette, that they have the sort of details that make them not just good enough, but exactly as I want them. One of the things that delighted me most about the reception of my Snow Day jumper was the number of people who commented on the little details. I added an uneven hem because it looks good and keeps my lower back warm. I added a very wide boat neck because I wanted a jumper that was both a little bit sexy but also cosy. The sleeves are ribbed to make them extra warm, because I feel the cold. And these details matter because that is my only jumper. I don’t have another jumper in my wardrobe. It needs to work hard.

In my wardrobe there is a fairly stable number of items, though of course it fluctuates a little. At the moment I have three pairs of shoes, three coats or jackets, one jumper and two cardigans, three dresses, three tops and four bottoms. Actually, I only have two bottoms, because I’m waiting to test the printed version of a couple of patterns. But there will be four, soon. I make my clothes exactly the way I want them, and then I wear them over and over again. Eventually they wear out, and I cut them up and make them into other things: quilts and potholders and so on, to give as gifts or use around the house. It works out that I generally need to replace one of each category each year. That means that I make one new knit, one dress, one top and one or two bottoms a year. I buy new shoes, coats and underwear as I need them, usually secondhand or from ethical companies.

Of course, having a tiny wardrobe isn’t going to save the world. But it was one of my first steps to making a significant difference. And I do believe that I make a significant difference. Every time I refuse to buy wrapped cheese, every time I log onto The Life You Can Save, every time I get on a train instead of an airplane. Spending less on shopping means that I have more money to donate or spend with trusted companies. Making my own clothes, and making them precisely as I want them, ironically means that I spend less time thinking about my clothes and more time thinking about things that matter. Each night I put away the few things that have needed to be washed. Each morning I put on whatever is clean and suitable for the demands of the day. I might wear the same things over and over again, but I couldn’t care less. I love all of my clothes and feel fabulous in them.

If you wanted to, you could work through all the patterns with me and, at the end of three years, we’d have sibling wardrobes. In different colours, no doubt, and different patterns and materials, but essentially the same. That would be fun. Equally, I’d be happy if people made just one of my patterns, so that they had that one great dress, or sweater, or pair of socks, and stopped buying more and more and more. Because the world just can’t take it any longer.

In my messy, imperfect life, making my own clothes is one of many things that I do to try to make a difference. I make mistakes all the time (though not in my patterns, I hope!), but I keep on trying. The internet is full of inspirational people sharing their personal passions. This is my offering: make the world the way you want it to be, from the clothes on your back to the cares in your head. Be conscious. Most of all, know that the choices you make do matter. We might not all be politicians or aid workers or company bosses. But we are the grown ups now.

Madeleine

Do you buy lots of clothes, in the search for the ‘perfect’ this or that? Do you make any of your own? What would your ideal wardrobe look like, in order to work for you and the world around you?

Balm

We have a habit of collecting those tiny pots of jam. You know – the ones which arrive with a B&B breakfast, or a cream tea, containing an individual portion of conserve. Waitresses smile as the children pocket them, still half full, to eke out onto slices of toast at home. Honestly, you’d think we didn’t have a cupboard full of homemade conserves just waiting to be eaten.

But I don’t mind really, because I know that jam, like most things, is more fun in miniature. I also know that, once nothing else can be scraped out of the tiny pots, they’ll go through the dishwasher and then they’re mine, to refill as I choose.

Sometimes they are simply filled with jam again. Whenever I make a batch, I tend to fill a tiny jar and put it aside to go with a certain red-suited gentleman’s festive gifts. Recently, since we made the change to plastic-free toothpaste tablets, we pop a tiny jarful in our toilet bags for travel. Sometimes they liven up a packed lunch, full of mayonnaise or mustard or ketchup. This week, I filled a few with balm.

I used to make beeswax balms a lot, until, somehow, I fell out of the habit. Instead, I’d taken to buying similar products. There is no moisturiser on earth as richly nourishing as a beeswax balm, and, homemade or not, I wouldn’t face the winter without one. They don’t contain any of the wonder ingredients touted on expensive face creams, but they are the most protective and healing thing I know of. And you can use them anywhere: on your face, of course, but also on chapped lips, hands, knees, elbows, to smooth down flyaway hair, to highlight a cheekbone. Depending on your choice of essential oils, you can use them for other purposes too: as perfume or decongestant, an aid to sleep or a special treat for weary skin. In case you can’t tell, I love my balms.

This week, I made a single pot of lavender-scented balm when I came in from work one evening. John was busy making tea so I took advantage of the hot Rayburn to quickly melt some beeswax. I hadn’t made balms in some years, and wanted to test my proportions before making a larger batch. Happily it was a success, so with John and Fliss requesting pots of their own, and the fact that I wanted to make a Vicks substitute for the approaching cold season, I made three more this weekend.

Follow my method by all means, but do remember that I am in no way a herbalist, doctor or anything of that ilk. This is just a commonsense approach to getting some goodness into your skin, hair and nails. Beeswax is incredible stuff, and forms a protective barrier on your skin which keeps the cutting winds out and the moisture in. I used almond oil this time, but I’ve used olive oil in the past, and will no doubt try something different in the future. None of us are allergic to anything, which makes it easy, but do bear such things in mind, especially if you’re going to give these as a gift.

Finely slice – or grate – some beeswax from your block. Put it directly into your jars. I aim for a quarter to a third of beeswax by volume, and just judge it by eye, but if you were using pellets you could get your measuring spoons out. Top the jars up with your olive, almond or alternative carrier oil.

Now fill a pan with water, drop a steamer basket in, and add your jars. You want the water to come partway up the sides of the jar, so that the beeswax melts in the water bath. Put it on to come to a gentle simmer.

As the beeswax melts, give it a stir to mix the oil and wax together. I happened to have some wooden skewers to hand, so I used one of those. It’ll make an excellent firefighter, later.

When all the wax has melted, carefully remove your jars from the pan, and add some essential oils. I used ten drops of lavender for a very gentle fragrance, ten drops of eucalyptus to invigorate John, and about 40 drops of eucalyptus for my pot of decongestant. Give them a good stir, taking care not to mix the scents. I used both ends of my skewer.

Put the lids on and admire. They should look like tiny jars of liquid honey.

And then, once cool, they look like my very favourite set honey, with a hole in the middle where I presume the mixture contracts as it cools. Aren’t they soothing, just to look at?

Next time, I’d like to try some different scents – perhaps something orangey and spicy to carry me through December. I also adore the smell of wintergreen and might make a pot of that for my soon-to-be dry, sore hands.  Fliss wants to find some tiny tins and fill them with a more highly scented blend, to give to her friends as solid perfumes. I might make some with honey in, as lickable lip balms, and I’m on the lookout for rosehip oil.

This time, though, I happy with my choices. Lavender is nothing short of a wonder oil, in my opinion. Ever since Ilse was badly burned on the upper lip by a stickily hot marshmallow, and a doctor advised lavender essential oil to combat scarring, I’ve been complete convert. It’s one of the few things I pack in my little toilet bag whenever we go away. It was what the midwives added to my bath, after Seb and Ilse were born, to help with healing, and what I drop onto people’s pillows when they can’t sleep. Just the other evening, Seb was still awake some time after going up, and a smear of balm under his nose sent him off to the land of nod in no time.

Eucalyptus, on the other hand, is invigorating and cleansing. The pot of stronger balm will be what I rub into the children’s chests – and my own – when we come down with coughs this winter, and around their poor sore noses when they have a cold. It is antibacterial and antifungal and a very effective decongestant. Plus it just smells wonderful.

So there you have it: beeswax balms. There are recipes for these all over the place, I’m sure. However you end up making yours, I hope you enjoy using them as much as I do.

Madeleine

Do you make any medicinal or beauty products for yourself? Do tell…

 

Snow Day knitalong part two: the back

Hello again! Happy Friday! It’s time for the second part of our knitalong: the back. You’ve had a bit of practice casting on and knitting while you were making your swatch, so this should be a breeze. In fact, if you get the first 26 rows done over the weekend, you’ll have lots of lovely mindless stocking stitch to relax with in the evenings throughout the coming week.

The first thing you need to do is cast all the stitches onto your larger needle (the one you swatched for). This just makes knitting that first row much easier, as the stitches will be a bit looser than if you cast them onto your smaller needle. However, the smaller needle is used to knit the rest of the hem. So you literally hold the larger needle (with all the cast on stitches on it) in one hand, and the smaller needle in your other hand. I’m right handed and knit in the UK way, so in the photo below the cast on stitches are on the larger needle (on the left), and I’ve just started to knit them all across onto my smaller needle (on the right).

Done? Right, now before you forget, put that larger needle away and pick up the other smaller needle. You should now be working exclusively with your pair of smaller needles. The pattern tells you to knit some rows of garter stitch. Just to remind you, that means that you knit every row. Don’t purl anything.

Once you’ve knitted the required number of rows of garter stitch, you’re ready to work on the notches. In this next section, you’re going to be knitting stocking stitch in the centre of the work, and garter stitch at either end. It’s actually really easy.

You also need to start using your larger needles again. So pick up one of your large needles and use it to work all the stitches of the following row.

We start on the right side, and just knit the whole row. Put the smaller needle (that you’ve just emptied of stitches) to one side, and pick up your other larger needle. You’re going to be working with your pair of larger needles for the rest of the back. Turn your work.

Then, on the wrong side, you need to knit the first five stitches only. In the photo below, that’s precisely where I’m up to. Can you see how the first five stitches are still in garter stitch? That’s because we’re still knitting both sides of those first five stitches.

However, we want the central section to be stocking stitch, so you need to purl all the way across the row until you are five stitches before the end. Don’t forget to bring your yarn to the front of your work before you start purling, like so:

When you get to those last five stitches, stop. Move your yarn to the back of your work again, ready to knit. Then knit those last five stitches, to create the garter stitch notch on the other side of the back.

Take a look at your work, without turning it. From the wrong side, which you’ve just finished working, it will look like the photo below. Those are the first five knit stitches (on the right), and then the purl stitches stretching off to the left. There will be five more purl stitches on the far left edge of your knitting.

Turn your work, and knit the whole row. By the time you finish this row, your work should look like the photo below, on the right side (the side you’ve just finished working).

Can you see the garter notch beginning to emerge on the right hand side? Work a few more rows (in the same way as the previous two) and it’ll be much clearer:

Carry on in this manner until you’ve worked as many rows as the pattern tells you to. Then stop and have a celebratory drink/ dance/ pat on the back. That’s the hardest part of the back done.

Now all you need to do is work the rest of the back in stocking stitch until it reaches the required length (see the pattern to find out what this is in your size). That means that you knit all the stitches on the right side and purl all the stitches on the wrong side. Easy.

Once you reach the length specified in the pattern (or the length you want, provided you bought extra wool), you need to bind off the first few stitches. The pattern will tell you how many for your size. I’m going to bind off nine.

Knit the first two stitches as normal:

then insert your left needle into the stitch furthest to the right, on the right needle:

and pull it over the other stitch and off the end of the needle, so that it is underneath the other stitch like so:

and then pull your left hand needle out of that stitch. It won’t unravel, because it’s been bound around the other stitch on the right hand needle. Clever, no?

Continue to bind off stitches, until you’ve bound off the right number (nine, for the size I’m making in the photos). The important bit to remember is that you’re not counting the stitches as you knit them, but when you pass them  over the end of the needle and bind them off. You’ll end up with one stitch on your right needle and lots still on your left needle, like so:

Knit all the way along the rest of the row until you only have the number of stitches that you want to bind off remaining on your left needle. Can you see that I have nine (below)?

Knit two more stitches. You’ll see, below, that I only have seven stitches remaining on my left needle. I haven’t bound any stitches off on this side of the back, yet. The pencil is pointing at the first stitch that you are going to bind off on this side:

Lift it over the other stitch and the end of the needle, as you would normally bind off, so that you have one bound off stitch. The pencil is pointing at the bound off stitch, below.

Now knit another stitch from the left needle to the right, like so:

In the photo below the pencil is pointing at the next stitch that you are going to bind off.

Bind it off. Continue in this manner, knitting one stitch and then binding off the previous stitch, until you reach the end of the row. You’ll be left with one stitch on its own at the end of your right needle, and nothing on your left needle. Cut your yarn (with a long tail) and pull it through the final stitch to secure it as you pull the stitch off the needle. Your knitting should look like this:

And that’s it!

You’ll need to use your larger needles again, so transfer your live (not-bound-off) stitches onto a stitch holder or something. I tend to thread a length of scrap yarn (in a different colour) onto a tapestry needle, and use it to pull the scrap yarn through all the stitches before taking them off the knitting needle. Then unthread the tapestry needle, and tie the two ends of the scrap yarn together. Put the back of the jumper aside for the time being.

Next Friday, we’ll start working on the front. Have a good week, and happy knitting.

Madeleine

How are you getting on? Please feel free to leave any questions or updates in the comments below. I’d love to know what colours people are making this in.

Distilled

I am a reader of books. Always have been, always will be. And yet, over the past few months, I seem to have gone back to the way I read as a child: hungrily, greedily, savouring every last word. Rushing through the last chapters of a book, wanting the ending, hating the end. I have read more books in the last few months than I can remember reading for many years. I have reverted from someone who will enjoy a few good pages each night before sleep to somebody who sits and reads all Saturday afternoon. Who wakes up on holiday mornings and goes back to bed for the next chapter or two or three.

I couldn’t think what had brought this about until I waved the children off to the school bus this morning and realised that it must be because I am no longer knee deep in toddlers. My friends and I talk about many things, but a current favourite is book recommendations. What are you reading? we ask one another. The conversation has shifted over the years from nappies to schools to bedtimes, and now we can talk about books again.

The book I opened last night came out a few years ago. I remember hearing about The Shore, probably on the radio, but it wasn’t until I saw a copy in the library on Monday that it came home with me. Three chapters in, I am transfixed. Short stories are a joy. They are the rock pools of the literary world: all life in microcosm. And The Shore is a whole coastline of them, linked by the tides of family life, by genes and marriages, affairs of the heart, and bloody determination. I am planning our next sojourn over a lunchtime sandwich.

In the meantime, I have knitting to do, and a pattern to work out. It came to my mind in fits and starts all weekend, so that by Monday morning all I had to do was sketch it out and begin on the work of explaining it. I am loving writing these new patterns, and this one, just like Snow Day, is aimed at new knitters. How, I thought all through Monday afternoon, do I make this as simple as possible? The challenge is in rethinking traditional solutions to create something that a person who can just knit and purl can make. To make something simple is devilishly elusive: it is the knitters’ equivalent of those equations that have to be simplified, reduced, distilled to their purest form. You puzzle and frown and then – oh! – you have it, and even the newest knitter can make sense of it all.

I suppose that’s what I’m loving so about The Shore. A book about many generations of a Virginia family, it could so easily have been a multi-volumed saga, full of extraneous details of who said what to whom. Instead, each tale strikes to the heart of its protagonist, so that we know, from a single encounter, who they are, what they stand for, where they came from. I can’t wait to find out more.

Madeleine

What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations?

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

And breathe

What I needed, after the excitement and busyness of last week, was a breather. A quiet weekend. A chance to pause and take stock. And, in a funny sort of way, that is exactly what I got.

A chance to set things straight around the place, to plan the meals for the week ahead, to empty the fridge into the soup pot and refill it with fresh veg. To chat with my children, home and away, and share a new project with them each. Somehow, in between the Saturday comings and goings to the market and the ballet studio, the house was cleaned. I read a novel – a whole, 595 page novel – in one weekend: a treat which is unlikely to be soon repeated. Seb baked a seed cake. Ilse, between piano practice and dance lessons and copious amounts of homework, started a snood with the leftovers from Fliss’ Snow Day and presented it to me, last night, complete. I added a few more rows to my Lionberry shawl. John finished sanding the fiddly bits on that ugly old chair I’d brought home, and gave it a coat of wax. It was to go in our bedroom but looks better in my studio, so there it’ll stay for now. Its seat has been recovered deliberately lackadaisically, using one of the fat quarters purchased at the mill, back in August. I want to be able to whip the fabric off again, and use it in a quilt, in a new year’s flurry of making.

Mother and Father joined us for our Sunday roast, and it was one of those glorious affairs which seemed to cook itself, everyone taking care of just one of two parts of the process. Seb peeled a sinkful of spuds, and put them on to boil. Fliss picked the fattest pears from the tree and tossed them in brown sugar and cinnamon, before Ilse topped the fruit with an almond sponge, to make an Exmoor In-and-Out. I cut vegetables from the garden, and left them ready in a pan. And John pulled it all together: roasting the potatoes, making a gravy, carving the rested bird. By the time the girls’ gently fragrant pudding was brought to the table, I felt entirely myself again.

Yes, it was one of those weekends where we pottered about and everything we did was like a deep and calming breath. There is something so pleasing in the familiar, when you are regaining your balance. Make soup – inhale. Cover a chair – exhale. On it goes, through bookish cuddles on the settee and the sound of someone making steady progress up and down their scales. Family life, with all its familiar rhythms, has restored my bumping heart to something steady once again.

This morning, at the start of a brand new day, new week, new month, I got things ready to begin again. While seeing to the hens, I picked a fresh bouquet of cosmos to grace the windowsill in my little studio. I tidied the debris of the last design into the children’s craft cupboard so that my basket is waiting, empty, for the wool I’ve ordered to arrive. The desk is clear. There is a fresh title in my design book, gracing a clean white page, ready to record the calculations of the day. Colours have been chosen, little details settled upon, test knitters primed and waiting. A pot of tea, the radio for company: there is comfort in the familiar. A deep breath, a clean space, and I am ready to begin again.

Madeleine

And you? What did you do this weekend?

Snow Day knitalong part one: gathering and swatching

I have been bowled over by the response to this pattern! Thank you all so much for your positive comments; it is a delight to read each and every one. I am beyond excited about the sheer number of people who have requested a copy, and so looking forward to seeing Snow Day jumpers popping up here, on Ravelry and on Instagram.

As the response is so big, can I ask you to be patient if your pattern doesn’t arrive immediately? Please give me 24 hours to send one out, and if you haven’t received one by then, just drop me a friendly email or a comment here and I’ll sort it out. Right, back to the knitalong…

Welcome to the first part of the Snow Day jumper knitalong! I’m so excited that you’re taking part, whether you’re an old hand or are newer to knitting.  The pattern specifically designed as a first jumper (sweater) pattern for newer knitters, with a little shaping for a flattering fit and a bit of texture for interest. If you’re new to the pattern and need convincing that you can knit this, read this post. The rest of us will wait right here for you.

Feeling more confident? Excellent! The next thing to do is to get your hands on the pattern, which is available entirely free from today until 31 October 2018. All you need to do is leave a comment (below), and I’ll email it to you as a PDF. Needless to say, your email address will only be visible to me, and I won’t use it to send you anything else at all. (Not even knitalong updates, which you might actually want. To receive email notifications of all my posts including those, sign up in the Join Our Community box in the sidebar/ near the bottom of your phone screen.)

Now that you’ve got the pattern, you’ll want to know a little bit more about the recommended yarn, and alternatives to this. Obviously I’ve knit this jumper twice, once in the recommended Drops Alaska, and once in my own handspun. Both were 100% wool, because it provides the structure and warmth that this pattern calls for. I ordered mine from here, and was very taken with both the mustard and dark turquoise colour ways. But my Drops version wasn’t intended for me, so I let Fliss choose the colour she liked the most. She chose the grey pink, which I must admit I wasn’t all that excited by in its balled state. Once I started to knit with it, though, it revealed all sorts of lovely marly qualities, with strands of yarn varying in colour from deep pink to purple to grey, with flecks of navy here and there. In the end, I liked it very much. Not all of their colours are mixed like this, but the ones that are are stunning.

I chose Drops for several reasons, the first and foremost being its affordability. I would really encourage you to knit this jumper with real wool, but some wool is really expensive. I’ve used Drops for several projects, including (but not limited to) Fliss’ Foxgloves cardigan, Seb’s Stars jumper, and Ben’s Big Softie. It washes and wears very well, and is a pleasure to work with.

However, I hope that the fact that I also made this in a wibbly-wobbly handspun gives you the confidence – particularly you more seasoned knitters – to go off and use whatever yarn you deem appropriate. Of course I can’t be responsible if it doesn’t turn out exactly like my Drops one. But that’s all part of the fun! I can’t wait to see what you choose, and how it turns out. You need an aran weight wool (17 stitches and 22 rows for a 10x10cm swatch).

As you’ll see, the pattern tells you how much yarn you’ll need for a hip-length jumper in your size. If you want to knit a longer jumper – and there’s no reason why you can’t, and this would be lovely as a tunic – order an extra ball or two of yarn. If in doubt, buy extra, as you can’t always get yarn from the same dye lot again, which is incredibly frustrating when you are four inches from the top of the second sleeve. Don’t ask me how I know that.

Once you’ve got your wool, you’ll need to determine what size needles to work with. Cast on using the size recommended on the ball band – 5mm for Drops Alaska. Work in stocking stitch as this is the main stitch used (knit 1 row, turn, purl next row) for 22 rows. This is enough to establish the width of your knitted swatch. Gently uncurl the edges and hold it flat, without stretching it at all. Measure the width. It should be 10cm almost exactly – you can see from the photo below that mine is.

But what if it isn’t? Not to worry. We all knit with different tension, and even needles purporting to be the same size can differ. All you do is go up a needle size (if your swatch was under 10cm), or down a size (if it was over 10cm).  Knit two rows (no purling) to create a garter stitch line across your swatch. It should now look like the photo below (see that row of purl stitches at the very top?).

Carry on in stocking stitch again, until you’ve done another 22 rows and can measure your swatch again. Keep adjusting your needle size until your swatch measures 10 cm across. Here you can see that by changing to 6mm needles, my 17 stitches yielded over 11cm, instead of 10. Needle size makes a big difference.

 Don’t worry overly about how many rows you knit per 10cm, as long as you are in the right ballpark (22 rows per 10cm). The pattern will tell you how long each part needs to be, not how many rows to knit (apart from at the hem and neckline). The important thing is to use the right sized needles to be able to consistently knit 10cm across with 17 stitches. I used 4mm needles with my handspun, and 5mm needles with the Drops Alpaca. As you can see, wool varies. As long as your gauge is right, your jumper will fit.

You will also need a pair of needles 1mm smaller than the size you have decided upon. You don’t need to swatch with these needles, as they are just for the collar and hem. For example, because my larger needles (the ones I swatched for) are 5mm, I’m going to use 4mm needles every time the pattern calls for my smaller needles.

 You can cast off your swatch, wash and block it, if you like, but I must admit that I never do. Instead, I frog it, wind it back on the ball, and cast on again for the back.

Speaking of the back, that tutorial – including photos – will be available next week, same time, same place. Hopefully you’ll have gathered your wool and needles and made your swatch by then. If you have any questions at all, you can either post them in the comments below, or send me an email direct at mrscecilygraham@gmail.com. In the meantime, why not snap the odd photo of your parcel of wool arriving/ swatching in front of the fire/ general knitting love and send them to me so that I can include them in next week’s post? Alternatively, you can use the hashtag snowdayjumper on instagram, or add your photos to your Ravelry account. I look forward to seeing all the yarn that everyone chooses!

Madeleine

Who are you making your Snow Day for? And is it your first ever jumper pattern?