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?

Introducing Snow Day, completely free

Snow Day is now available as a pay-for pattern via Ravelry.

My first commercially-available knitting pattern is ready for release. May I introduce you to Snow Day? A simple, modern textured knit, Snow Day is a sweater pattern aimed at beginners and experienced knitters alike.

I demand a lot of my knitwear. It needs to be flattering. It needs thoughtful details, to make it stand out from the crowd. If intended to be worn in the depths of winter, as Snow Day is, it needs to be warm. But it also needs to be soft and robust and made of natural materials. The Snow Day jumper ticks all those boxes, and I have to admit, I love it.

It is also, dare I say, very stylish. What with its elegant boat neck and bobble-stitch texture on the front, it brings together some of the most timeless elements of what we’re wearing now. The notches on the side seams, along with the longer back section, echo many of the sweaters available from high end stores. And those ribbed sleeves, particularly when knitted long with thumb-holes to pull over your hands, are the cosiest I’ve ever had. It is most certainly fit for a day in the snow.

This is a sweater with a mission. This is a First Sweater: the sweater that newer knitters can accomplish well and without tears. All my care and expertise lie behind each detail: the simple breadth of the neckline that requires no picking up of stitches, the easy-to-attach drop sleeves. I’ve said it before: if you can knit and purl and cast on and bind off, you can make this. Because those are the only prerequisite skills.

As promised, the pattern is written twice. First, each instruction is written in the standard knitting-pattern format. Then, beneath each coded direction, is the translation. Each italicised translation contains the same instruction written out in full, and extra information on how to accomplish it.

There are also five tutorials waiting to be published on consecutive Fridays, taking the beginner through each stage of the construction. We begin, this Friday, with choosing yarn and needles and making a swatch. I’ve deliberately left enough time for your parcel to arrive in the post. Then we move on through the back, the front, the sleeves and, finally, the making up. With every instruction comes a photograph, showing exactly what you need to do. Not that any of it is complicated. As I say, if you have basic knitting skills, you can definitely make this jumper.

Once I’d knit my handspun prototype, I cast on again in a different size and the recommended yarn. I could not be more pleased with the Drops Alaska. The springiness of the wool, combined with the round 3-ply yarn, results in a texture that positively pops. Fliss put it on for her photoshoot, and I had to persuade her out of it at bedtime. It is soft and thick and warm, and looks lovely with a t-shirt or blouse peeping above that sweeping neckline. Hers is knit in the smallest size – 32″ – and perfectly appropriate for a girl approaching her teens. Her version looks playful and modern and sweet.

Knit up in a neutral and worn without the tee, it is a far more grown-up affair. I’ve been wearing mine both ways. In fact, I’ve barely taken it off since the shoot.

John took the photographs on the beach at Sandsend, last Saturday afternoon. The waves were huge, egged on by the equinox, and as the only sunlight was in the shallow water, I pulled my wellies on and waded in. Needless to say, it wasn’t long until a particularly big wave got me, and for the second half of the shoot I was soaked from the waist down.

Which only goes to show what a versatile jumper this is. Throw on a gilet and a snood and I was toasty, despite the sloshing in my boots. From elegant to everyday to layered up for a chilly afternoon by the sea, this jumper fits the bill.

If you’d like to make one yourself, the pattern will be available completely free from Friday 28 September until Wednesday 31 October. The online tutorials will remain free, on this blog, indefinitely. You can take as much or as little time over this as you please.

I, for one, won’t be hanging around. There’s nothing I want to do more, in October, than curl up with a good pattern and a basket of yarn. If you feel the same way, pop back to the blog on Friday and leave a comment, and I’ll send you the pattern as a free PDF. My treat. And in the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing all the different Snow Days produced in the weeks to come. I hope you’ll join us.

NB From 1 November 2018 onwards, the pattern will be downloadable directly from its Ravelry page.

On hold

I have been meaning to make elderberry syrup for three weeks now. Mrs Beeston raves about it. Mr Winter has been tempting me with tales of his bottling exploits. Even Mrs East keeps asking whether I’ve got round to it yet. Three weeks on, the answer is still No. But at least the berries are no longer on the tree.

Instead, last Thursday, I made five minutes to run out and cut a basketful of the drooping clusters. All day, while I was waiting for the kettle to boil or for a reply to an email, I ran a fork through the tiny branches, knocking the berries into a tub, before sticking it in the freezer. They, like so much else right now, are officially On Hold.

These past couple of weeks, everything that can be shoved in the freezer has been. Pears? Freeze them. Tomatoes? Freeze them. A box of softening purple plums? Fr – ooh, actually, lets stew those with brown sugar and cinnamon and have them on our porridge. And everything that can be dried, has been. The airer on the landing, that sifter of warm upward drafts, is currently hung with mint and hydrangeas. The garden is collapsing, and I am catching what I can.

The thing about putting things on hold is that it doesn’t make them any less important. I still want to use that bag  of avocado pits for an weekend dye session; its just that I have neither the time nor the fleece just now. When I’m pickling cucumbers (eight kilos and counting) I can’t deal with the marrows, too. And while I’d like to claim that it’s just the rush of September that knocks me off my feet, the truth is that things are put on hold all the time, in this house. I left half the elderflowers on the tree in May because I was tired of preserving them. On hold, they turned into the berries I picked last week.

The trick is to know what’ll keep, and what won’t. Some things get better, given time. French beans are maturing into dried haricots – and next year’s seed. Cooking apples just keep getting sweeter. But those gladioli won’t keep coming forever, and there’s a limit to the number of days I’ll have cosmos by my desk. There’s already an empty seat at the after-school teatime table. Neither I nor all the science in the world can freeze these fleeting years.

One day – a foggy, November day, perhaps – I’ll pull those berries from the freezer. Knowing Ilse, she’ll be with me to stir our witchy brew. Another day, perhaps when everyone else is out at dance or Scouts or just visiting their friends, Fliss will help me draw and dye and fix that elusive pink from the avocado stones. Only last week, Seb spent a happy afternoon turning frozen black bananas into a raisin-studded loaf. Ben’s stashed a bag of sloes against a home-for-the-holidays gin session. And, thanks to John, that fruit will slowly become next winter’s crumbles and puddings and pies.

It’s not a case of putting things off. I’m just saving them for the right moment. When they can be a focus, and not a distraction. A pleasure, and not a chore. And a welcome reminder of all this rush in the still and frozen days to come.

Madeleine

And you? What are you putting on hold?

Small pleasures

First, there is pleasure in giving. Fliss has been asking for a waxed fabric sandwich wrap all summer, and I finally made her one on Sunday evening. The best part was letting her choose whatever she wanted out of my fabric stash. She chose what is also my favourite: this beautiful vintage floral green, and I know it brings her as much pleasure every lunchtime as it would me. We are neither of us fans of the cumbersome, and a simple wrap-come-tablecloth that folds away into nothing beats a lunchbox any day.

Then there is also pleasure in deliberating. I don’t have much of a stash, as a rule, but I did a bit of shopping while we were in London to make up new pattern samples. The teal linen, which is heavy and rich with drape, was to be a new Sharpen Your Pencils dress, only now I’m dreaming of a new lined A-line skirt in it instead. The floral viscose was to be a Beat the Blues Blouse, but wouldn’t it make the most satisfying of secretly-lovely linings for my skirt? Extravagant, yes. But I think I might be persuaded.

On the more frugal side of things, plans for my scraps are evolving. This little heap of 2 1/2″ squares were to be a postage stamp quilt, and maybe they still will. Or perhaps they’ll be an English Paper Piecing project, instead. I’m thinking of a tea cosy constructed of tiny hexagons, nestled together to keep the pot warm. It is the sort of long slow project that I would like to reserve for weekend afternoons, before the sun slips away behind the hen house.

Speaking of hens, our little flock of chicks is not quite old enough to join the ladies in the big house, but it won’t be long. For now, they are taking it in turns to enjoy the garden. They set out with such determination, arguing over fallen apples and particularly satisfying scratching spots, before ending up in the inevitable chicken cuddle under a tree. Even when the grown girls are out and the little ones are safely in their run, the hens nestle up to the wire. Perhaps we could let them all out together, but I think the small ones aren’t quite big enough to deal with the jostling yet. Sorting out the pecking order can be a stressful business. Everyone is happy, just now, so we’ll keep it this way for a while yet.

Generally, one or the other of us keeps an eye on the chicks while they’re free-ranging, because there are a lot of foxes about just now. We can see them from the kitchen window, but Seb is quite happy in the hammock with a blanket and a book, and John has been sanding this chair on the patio. Spotted for sale in a front garden, I brought it home in early July and put it in the garage. It sat there, untouched, until I lost the ability to see past the dark varnish and faded seat and began to regret the purchase. It was on its way to the St Leonard’s Hospice shop to earn its second lot for charity in two months when I found John halfway through the project. I’m so glad he didn’t ask, and just got started, because I’ve fallen for it all over again. A new seat cover will take no time at all, so once he’s finished with the mouldings and fed the wood with beeswax, we’ll have a new chair for our bedroom.

I am under no illusions that either of us will actually sit on it. No, it’ll be where I lay my clothes out for the following morning. Old habits die hard, it seems, and it is so much easier to ease yourself out from under the covers if no thought is required. Besides, a pile of clothes you made yourself is always a little thrill. This morning’s selection was particularly pretty, in my eyes. Soon it’ll be too cold for my chambray peg trousers, so I’ve a pair planned in chocolate tweed as a second sample and winter alternative. The only question is which floral to use for the inner waistband and pockets.

First, though, I have another Snow Day jumper to knit. I let Fliss choose the wool, as it will be for her. This grey-pink is a little too lilac for my taste, but she loves it and I love knitting for her, so all is well. If you need me, I’ll be in my studio, knitting and taking tutorial photographs. Probably with a tea tray and a drama on the radio. Now that is a pleasure, and not a small one. I am looking forward to those hours.

Yet what might not come across in this post of crafting highlights is the hustle and bustle of our surrounding life. I got up at some ridiculous hour yesterday to take John to the station to catch a flight to Sweden, before a full day of work then home to children (who I love) and homework and dinner and packed lunches and laundry and ironing and washing up (which I don’t) and trying very hard to stay awake until it was time to collect them from Scouts (which I managed, only just). In between all of those things, nestled a row here and a row there of my Lionberry shawl, begun at the weekend and continued, all too briefly, in bed after my morning-taxi-driver run. I’ll be putting it aside now, until the sample jumper is gauge-swatched, knitted and blocked. But it’s there, coiled in the base of my basket, waiting for a moment when I need just five minutes of the small pleasure of wrapping wool around a needle and watching what emerges.

Madeleine

What’s bringing you pleasure at the moment?

September again

16 September 1935

Why is it that while spring arrives so tentatively, autumn simply announces itself? Here I am, she says, and, like it or not, here she is. She’s here in fogged-up morning windows, in windfalls on the lawn, in retreating cucumber vines and tired children adjusting to new school routines. Like her or not – and there is much to admire in her red-haired-pale-faced beauty – she’s a stubborn one, and stares down the fast-fading summer.

I’d like to treat September as the start of a new year, and in many ways I do. I feel it in the children as they set off to school each morning, in their blackly polished shoes and trousers with growing room intact. I feel it in the evening when they tumble in the door, satchels full of new books with as-yet pristine covers. I approach the new year as they do, in my best handwriting, not wanting to spoil all that is fresh and clean and novel. This year, I tell myself, will be the year that I really focus on the piano. I’ve started to learn Debussy’s Arabesque No.1 and for an hour and a quarter last night I went over and over the passages, learning arpeggios, trying to commit tricky fingering to memory. If I did that every night, it really would make a difference. Just imagine how well I’d play, this time next year.

I’ve seen enough Septembers to know better. I’ve lived enough to know that it can’t really be the start of a new year, this slipping away of the sun. I’ve spent enough chilly hours at the piano to know that, blanket or not, there’s a limit to the time I’ll spend away from the crackling fire and other, cosier pursuits. And yet there is still enough of a sense of something new to incubate a little hope that, this year, something new will happen. Something will be achieved.

In the garden, cornucopia is no longer the word. It overflows no more. Today there was a measly solo cucumber on the vine; the season of courgettes morphed into monsters is done. Every day, there is a little less. Fewer beans on the vines, less spinach to cut and wash. And yet we are hungrier than ever. To make things stretch, our meals have many elements. Not just an omelette, but with beans and bread on the side and a hot baked apple to follow. Porridge and toast and – oh go on – an egg for breakfast. My usual soup, warmed up in the aga, is not enough for lunch without a thickly buttered roll. There was so little left of our roast last Sunday that the only leftover in our Monday pie was a single chicken breast, bulked out with gravy and copious veg. Mashed potatoes? Yes please, with everything. The children baked biscuits and cakes just days ago and, already, they are gone. Yesterday, there was nothing to add to the stone in our soup. For the first time since June, we need to buy more from the grocer.

And yet there is an odd sort of thrill in the end of the garden season. A new beginning is in the air – far off enough to be pristine and ideal in its conception. A weighing up of what went well and what… didn’t. My cosmos, for instance, have been a delight. The broad beans have not. This year, I grew the best potatoes we’ve ever had, and I’ll be chitting the same variety come 1936. And I have grander plans than that: for island beds of flowers tough enough to survive the hens’ attentions, and walls of willow waving in the breeze. In my mind’s eye, I’ll be digging a lot, this winter. Digging, and playing the piano, and making changes that won’t be washed away with the turning of the earth.

Perhaps that’s why September makes me feel so strange: both ill at ease and excited, all at once. Because in one way it’s another chance to get things right, to make a change, to move forward in my life. And at the same time, it is full of reminders that that’s just what life is doing: moving forward, taking my children with it. Those school books aren’t just a clean version of the previous year’s. What was to be, next year, is now. I can’t make out whether autumn is as lovely as she pretends, or whether there’s hint of  malice in those cold eyes. Whatever the truth, she’ll only give way to winter, but that in turn makes way for the gentle spring.

Cecily

How do you feel about September? And have you made plans for the coming year?

If you can knit and purl, cast on and cast off, you can make this

The first thing I ever knitted was a jumper. A grey jumper, with a v-neck, in some sort of wool-acrylic mix. I was twenty and staying with my parents for a few months. My mum, casting around for something to fill my evenings, took me to the local wool shop and bought me the pattern and the wool, and sat me down, and taught me to knit all over again.

I say all over again because like most people, I had knit a bit as a child. A wobbly teddy bear scarf, if I remember rightly. But it hadn’t stuck, and I certainly couldn’t remember how to do it.

A few years later, I wandered into a little wool shop in York. I was expecting our second child and wanted to knit a big cardigan to wear throughout the pregnancy. On the racks were some magazines and a couple of Debbie Bliss books and I flicked through the pages until I found a beautiful drapey affair in duck egg blue. The shop assistant helped me to choose an appropriate yarn and some needles, and I went home and stowed my new book on my bookcase and the yarn in a drawer.

And there it stayed. Because I couldn’t make head nor tail of the pattern. Clearly my mum had done all the tricky bits for me, the one and only time I’d knitted as an adult. In fact, I couldn’t even remember how to cast on, or, erm, knit. And this was in the days before youtube, or even the internet, in our house.

In the end, a friend showed me how to cast on and knit, how to purl, and eventually, at the end of a very long hat, how to cast off. I made a couple of hats, for babies, with pompoms on their ends, but they weren’t what I wanted to make. I wanted to make a cardigan.

Eventually, after borrowing just about every craft book in the library and a lot of sheer bloody-mindedness, I made one. Then another. And then I started to design my own.

I’ve found it really interesting, speaking to people about this particular sweater pattern. I carry my knitting around with me, and post photos of it on the internet, and so lots of people have made comments along the lines of Gosh, that’s really lovely. So I tell them that it’s a pattern designed specially for new knitters. Would they like a go?

Oh, no, they tell me. I can’t read a pattern.

The thing is, you don’t need to be able to read a pattern to make this jumper. It – like all my beginner patterns – will help you to learn to read a pattern. It will help you to go off and make all the standard, commercial, codified patterns you’ve ever dreamed off. But you don’t need to be able to do that yet.

If you can knit and purl, cast on and cast off, you can make this. Heck, if you can knit and purl and know someone who can cast on and off, you can make this. The entire pattern is written out in duplicate: under each section of knitting-pattern-code is a much longer section explaining exactly what to do in plain EnglishWith extra instructions for the bits you might find confusing, or tricky, or just odd. In other words, this is a pattern where I’ve written in all the things I’d say to my just-begun-knitting-friend Mrs. Piper if we were knitting it in the pub together (which we must do again soon, Mrs. Piper). On top of that, there’ll be a friendly week-by-week knit along taking you through everything with pictures – and I’ll leave it up permanently so that you needn’t feel rushed. Of course, it goes without saying that I’ll answer any questions you might have.

 

In my real life, beyond this blog, I’m a teacher. I’ve spent literally years learning how to teach people as effectively as possible. So when I decided to start selling patterns, it was quite natural for me to want to make the first collection for beginners. This jumper is my knitting primer, if you will. You start at the bottom of the back: just a bit of knit-every-row garter stitch to warm up. Then there’s straightforward stockinette all the way up the back, to really get your hand in. Once you’re happy with that, you can choose whether you want an extra (little) challenge on the front, in the form of bobbles, or whether you’d like to keep it plain and simple. We don’t cast off around the neckline, so knitting the edging on is a simple case of a few more rounds of knitting every row. The sleeves are knit two, purl two rib: the next step in any knitter’s journey, with some simple increases to keep them looking good. Then you just sew it all together and weave in the ends in front of a good film.

At the same time, though, for all its simplicity I wanted this jumper to be something I wanted to wear. What’s the good in making your own wardrobe if that’s where it’s going to stay, ill-fitting and lumpen and sad? So I added some flattering little details – notched side seams, an inch of extra length at the back, optional extra-long sleeves with thumb-holes for cold hands, a tiny bit of shaping around the front neckline so that the boatneck collar lies beautifully over your collarbone. The sleeves drop elegantly away from your shoulders, keeping it casual, but the body isn’t so big and baggy that it doesn’t show off your curves. Once I’d sewn in the last end, on Tuesday night, I slipped it on to find that it was all I’d hoped for: comfy and warm and cosy and attractive. I will be living in this, this winter.

I do so hope you’ll join me in making one of these over the course of the next few weeks. Knitting a jumper is such an autumnal thing to do: a way to make the darkening days appealing, somehow, like cinnamon and candles and long walks through reddening woods. The pattern is, of course, to be entirely free for the duration of the knit along, and is yours to keep thereafter. If you are a new – or even an aspiring – knitter, make this the autumn of your first jumper, and one day you’ll be telling your own story to the people you teach how to knit.

Madeleine

If you’re already a knitter, do you have a story about when you first learned to knit?

New knitters (and old!) feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

If you’ve not already subscribed, you might want to, just so you don’t miss the pattern when it comes out.

This way for free patterns

Last week the children went back to school, so I picked a bunch of the prettiest double-click cosmos to take to work with me in my little studio upstairs. It’s a tiny room, just big enough for a desk, a chair, and my spinning wheel tucked into a gap at the end. Nestled between two bedrooms at the front of the house, it’s the space above the porch, and I can look out of the tall sash window at passers-by while the sun streams in and fills the room with warmth. In fact, it’s the cosiest room in the house, which is perfect for wintry days when I’m the only one at home. With the door shut, a cup of tea and perhaps a hot water bottle on my lap, I can settle in for hours. Or that’s the hope. It’s only been mine since the spring.

Normally, at this time of year, I do a little stocktake of my wardrobe and plan the things I’d like to fill the gaps with. Not one to enjoy excess, I keep a smallish wardrobe of under 40 items, including tights and wellies and suchlike. I know that limiting options is not to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy the challenge of creating a versatile collection. All of my clothes can be dressed up and down and mixed and matched, and so three dresses and tops and bottoms and jumpers and shoes result in a surprising variety of looks. And if you happen to feel that the sartorial more is the merrier, my clothes give you all the more options to play with.

Inevitably, I find that I need to replace one thing from each category: a new dress, a new top, and new bottom of some sort, and a new jumper (sweater). That’s the way I’ve structured the patterns for this year: one of each, with a few essential accessories like knickers and Fairisle wrist warmers. The plan is to release one a month, to match what I like to make as the autumn shifts towards winter and, blissfully, spring. I know I’m not alone in considering the autumn to be knitting weather, so the first pattern will be my new jumper.

I’ve explained before that the patterns are aimed at new or newish makers, and the knitting patterns are no exception. One of the hardest things about learning to knit is learning to read a pattern. We can all make the stitches long before we can decipher that secret code. So my knitting patterns have the standard pattern written in bold, then a detailed set of jargon-free instructions and photographs beneath. They are clear enough for anyone who can cast on, knit and purl to follow.

As it’ll be the first pattern to be released, it’ll be available completely free through this blog for a limited period of time. So if you fancy making a comfy, boxy knitted jumper with (or without) popcorn bobbles on the front and super-warm ribbed sleeves (I’m thinking that it’ll go perfectly with a cosy body-warmer when out and about), stick around. There will be photos of the finished jumper and more details about it next week. It’s probably a good idea to sign up for email notifications so that you don’t miss either that post or the pattern when it comes out, as it won’t be free forever. (You’ll find the sign-up under ‘Join our community’, in the sidebar.)

If, on the other hand, knitting is not your thing, don’t despair. There’s a rather lovely but very simple lined A-line skirt coming out in October – perfect to pair with your new jumper or any others in your collection. This, too, will be a free first pattern for a limited time, so that you can see just how I’ve constructed and written it to make it completely accessible to anyone who can work a machine (or is willing to sew all those seams by hand). Again, sign up for email notifications so that you don’t miss out.

There are lots of other plans in the offing: other pattern giveaways, FAQ pages, tutorials, a photo gallery of your finished projects and link up parties to your posts about the patterns. There will be a toe-up stripy sock pattern – aimed squarely at beginners – as well as a gorgeously flattering pencil dress, an embroidered tee, the blousiest summer blouse… All of which makes me think that I really ought to be getting back to it. I’ll be upstairs in my studio, if anyone needs me. (Those words still send a little thrill down my spine.) It’s going to be such an exciting year, I just can’t wait for it all to begin.

Madeleine

PS – Are you a knitter or a sewer or both? Or are you just starting out in your me-made wardrobe journey? What’s in the pipeline for you, this season?

A new sort of garden to grow

Needless to say, the school holidays have a rhythm and ritual of their own. At first we dash away – to London this year, then on to Devon and Cornwall to camp. Then there’s a spell at home, when the children and I set the house and garden to rights, and shop for new uniforms, and visit the shoe shop to see whether their feet have grown too much for last year’s shoes to see a little more service (inevitably, they have). Then there are nametapes to sew into new shirts and trousers, a mouthguard to fit to the newest secondary school pupil, bags and bottles and lunchboxes to check over and football boots to pass down to the next in line. Apart from Ilse, who was understandably thrilled by her new uniform, we find this part of the summer best got over with as quickly as possible. Then there’s another trip away – to Ireland, this time – before a last few days at home, tying up loose ends.

On my list this year were the children’s scrapbooks. All year, we collect bundles of their memorabilia: ticket stubs, maps of visited cities, postcards they write home to their future selves when away on foreign soil. Photographs that arrive in the post after a special weekend with a grandparent, and little notes written by friends, adorned with swirly lovehearts and impossibly scrolled signatures. Last year, and – dare I admit? – the year before that, we never got round to collating their precious bits and pieces into their scrapbooks. This summer, SCRAPBOOKS was scrawled insistent and bold across the top of my master list and, finally, in that last week of August, we cut and reminisced and glued and admired until they were all done. Fatter now, and on their second volumes each, they have rejoined Ben’s and mine on the shelf in the front room.

That said, I am not one to finish a holiday with a job, no matter how delightful that job turns out to be. Oh no. In this house, the last day of the holidays is sacrosanct. Everybody knows that, on that last day, we will all be going out together. In years past it’s been a walk along the Nidd Gorge, or a drive out to a castle to watch a falconry display, picnic and all. This year, York was lucky enough to have a new attraction: a pop up Shakespearean theatre called the Rose, and the children had been to see Macbeth there (with my parents) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (as Fliss’ birthday treat). As the cast took their bows at the end of the latter, John and I looked at each other, the same thought in both our minds. Once home, we booked groundling tickets one last time, to see Romeo and Juliet on the last afternoon of the holidays.

Walking into town that day, Fliss counted that she’d seen no fewer than seven plays this summer. Isle and I had seen five, Seb six, John four and Ben – well, he’s been doing his own, university student, things. Whichever of Fliss’ seven we’d shared with her, we had to agree that it had been a pretty spectacular summer of theatre. For me, two of the York productions had been the very best: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Secret Garden. The children had loved those, as well as Matilda, which we took them to while in London. And although I had been expecting the big, expensive productions to be good, I was blown away by the far more modestly priced Secret Garden, which could have given any of the others a real run for their money. The lighting, the magically transformative set, the eerie music and sheer convincingness of the actors cast a spell over us all. Even if it hadn’t been one of our favourite children’s stories, we would have fallen in love with it that night. In fact, Ilse has asked me to read it with her again, and so a little of the summer is winding its way into these early September evenings, when uniforms have been exchanged for pyjamas and the children are tired and excited by the newness of it all.

There was just one project on my list that didn’t get ticked off before the start of term, but it’s one that I’m quite happy to be finishing off this week. A jumper, started long ago now, but that I had to stop and spin the rest of the wool for, is still on my needles. I’ve finished the second sleeve now, and all that’s left is to work out the configuration of the top of the body and how much ease to work into the pattern for a neat but comfy fit. I can’t wait to finish it off, partly because the days are drawing in but partly because it’ll be available here, soon, as a pattern of my own designing. And then? Why, of course I have the next woolly project lined up, but you’ll have to wait and see what that is. I am loving September this year, despite my own season in the garden drawing to a close and the ever-challenging winter on the horizon. Loving it because of this space, and all the plans I have for growing it, and seeing what blossoms and blooms.

Joining in with Ginny’s Yarn Along at Small Things

Madeleine

PS – What projects are you planning for this autumn – knitting or otherwise?

Thoughts from the mill

2 September 1933

Months ago, when spring was late and it wouldn’t stop raining, my good friend Mrs Bow and I planned a trip to Quarry Bank. Ever since reading Mrs Gaskell’s North and South, I’ve longed to visit a northern cotton mill, see the machinery in action and learn more about the workers’ lives. Fliss read the novel this summer and fell in love with the unromantic town of Milton (as well as, I suspect, the very romantic Mr Thornton), and Seb, Ilse and Mandy Bow will all be learning about the industrial revolution in their history lessons soon. More than any of that though, Mrs Bow and I decided that we were in need of a good day out, and so plotted this little field trip for the end of the summer holidays.

Of course, the mill is still a working factory, but on Tuesday some of the longer-standing members of the workforce were holding demonstrations of cotton processing through the ages. Although the children seemed to find the cottager hand-carding and -spinning the raw fibres a little mundane (apparently spinning is so everyday) I had to resist climbing over the baskets and having a go myself. Cotton must be more difficult to spin than wool, and the woman was using a small version of a great wheel, which she spun from while seated. Most wheels nowadays have a treadle to drive the mechanism, which leaves both hands free to draft and spin the fibres. On a great wheel, you use one hand to turn the wheel and the other to draw the fibres back as the twist runs into them. The woman was quite skilful, and I was impressed by the fineness and evenness of the thread she produced.

If I’m honest, there wasn’t much about the cottage industries of carding, spinning or even weaving that we didn’t already know, as we’ve read a lot about this over the past couple of years. Nor was the operation of the spinning mules a mystery; we saw some in action in Wales last year. What I didn’t know was how cotton was spun nowadays, and when I asked I was sent up to the top floor where the modern machines were in action.

It turns out that the iconic spinning mules, with children crawling forwards and backwards to clear and reuse the waste cotton beneath, were superseded fairly quickly by the American invention of the ring spinner. Yet because British mills had already invested in expensive mules – of such quality that they are still in operation today – works such as Quarry Bank have only invested in ring spinners in the past fifteen to twenty years. The quality of the cotton produced is much the same, but the ring spinner is much faster and, more importantly, requires far fewer people to operate. Suddenly we have a machine which, despite rising standards of living for the workers, is still cheaper to produce than it was last century. No wonder cloth is more easily available than ever.

With the memory of the Great War still fresh in our minds, we are in little danger of taking cheap cloth for granted. Clothes are still too expensive, whether ready made or home sewn, for people to discard them on a whim. Most people I know will still make things over, and mend them, rather than buy new. But the bolts of bright cottons in the shops in York are very tempting, and we are well enough off for me to indulge the girls when they ask very nicely for a new summer frock even if they haven’t quite outgrown their old ones. Looking at the whole process under one roof, from the bales of fluff shipped in from around the globe, to the smooth and colourful finished article, makes it seem like an awful lot of resource to spend on something new to wear. Never mind the historical human cost: the children scrambling to get away from the heavy iron in time, the fluff on the lungs, the Indians who lost their fingers to the cruel British stranglehold on the industry – there must be other human costs that we don’t or won’t see even today.

All in all, our visit to the mill left me better educated and resolved to stick to my self-imposed rules about fabric. As someone who sews, it would be so easy to have a whole cupboard full of lovely prints and textures at my disposal. Instead, I try my hardest to buy new only when I really need to, and from a trusted source, and to make every purchase something so beautiful and so special that I’ll treasure it until the last scrap has been sewn into the most kaleidoscopic of quilts. Having said that though, I did buy a little pack of their fabrics to sew into the quilt I have planned for this winter. If nothing else, it’ll remind me of our visit to the mill and what I came away thinking.

Cecily